WEATHER ALERT

Reconciliation in the air as HBC hands Bay over to Manitoba First Nations group Century-old department store to be transformed into hub of Indigenous life

North America’s oldest company, which helped colonize Canada and subjugate Indigenous peoples, handed over one of its flagship stores to Manitoba First Nations Friday in a ceremony steeped in history, symbolism and references to reconciliation.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

North America’s oldest company, which helped colonize Canada and subjugate Indigenous peoples, handed over one of its flagship stores to Manitoba First Nations Friday in a ceremony steeped in history, symbolism and references to reconciliation.

An exchange of gifts and — perhaps most importantly — the reclaiming of rent in beaver pelts and elk hides marked the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s transfer of its downtown store to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

“Together, with the Hudson’s Bay Company, we’re leading change and reconciliation,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels told a crowd of about 150 people attending the ceremony on the former store’s main floor, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Heather Stefanson and Mayor Brian Bowman.

Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels gifts hides to Hudson’s Bay Company governor Richard Baker (left) at the transfer ceremony in Winnipeg Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

“This marks the beginning of a new future for First Nations peoples and for all Canadians,” Daniels said.

The massive building at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard will become Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn — “It is Visible” — an ambitious multi-use facility. Plans include 300 affordable-housing units, assisted living for elders, a museum, a daycare where children learn Indigenous languages, a health and healing centre offering both western and traditional medicine, a rooftop garden and the rebirth of Winnipeg’s beloved Paddlewheel restaurant.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief, Jerry Daniels speaks during the ceremony.

The federal government has committed $65 million to the project. The province will advance $10 million for the affordable-housing component and $25 million for preserving the historic building with the fund announced for that purpose in last year’s budget. And the city is in discussions with SCO about its contribution.

“Today’s announcement is reconciliation in action,” Trudeau told the gathering. “For the Southern Chiefs’ Organization to become the new stewards of the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Winnipeg is an inspiring and inspired act of reclamation.

“This marks the beginning of a new future for First Nations peoples and for all Canadians.”
– SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels

“It’s not just about a building, it’s about rebuilding trust, rebuilding landmarks and rebuilding relationships. This moment today is a tangible example of the kinds of steps that are being made across the country between Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners.”

On May, 2 1670 a proclamation by King Charles II granted the Hudson’s Bay Co. exclusive trading monopoly of lands in the traditional territories of First Nations people, forever changing the 34 Anishnaabe and Dakota nations that make up the SCO, Daniels explained.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS HBC Governor Richard Baker.

“The British Crown required the payment of rent in the form of two elk hides and two beaver pelts when they or their heirs and successors visited the territory now known as Canada,” he said.

“(They) represent the turning point of our collective history.”

HBC governor Richard Baker acknowledged the company’s definitive role in the colonization of Canada, the results of which produced “entrenched racism across systems and institutions, inter-generational trauma and centuries of inequality.”

“These things cannot be remedied by a single action, a single promise or a single speech,” Baker said after exchanging the hides and pelts with Daniels. “Meaningful reconciliation is a long and difficult path.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the ceremony along with several other dignitaries.

He said the company plans to stay on that path with SCO as it turns the building into a place to live, grow, heal and meet.

“This will be a legacy-defining project created by community for community,” he said.

Bay redevelopment ‘exciting shift’

The project is an important step towards reconciliation and building a more inclusive downtown, says Kate Fenske, executive director of the Downtown BIZ. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Posted:

Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgogn — “it is visible” — is living up to its name by drawing applause from groups set on putting life back into downtown.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization plans to transform the Hudson’s Bay Co. building at Portage and Memorial into a place to live, grow, heal and govern.

It’s an “exciting shift,” said Kate Fenske, CEO of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

“It’s about people, about community and it’s an important step towards reconciliation and building a more inclusive downtown that all Manitobans can be proud of,” Fenske stated.

Read full story

Daniels said he hopes construction will begin in a couple of months and that it will take three years to transform the massive, century-old six-storey structure.

Imagining new life in the building that has been boarded up for the past 17 months gave Stefanson “goosebumps,” she said after the ceremony.

“I think this is going to bring back that vibrancy to the downtown area of Winnipeg,” she said. “It’s going to be a place for people to gather. It’s just going to be so exciting for our city and the province.”

Bowman said the talks with SCO have focused on tax increment financing and streetscaping.

“The value of seeing this kind of investment in our community is significant,” he told reporters. “I’m hoping what it will do, for some in our community, is to help everyone see what I see — the strength, resilience and wisdom we have from Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Bowman said the elegantly decorated ceremony was entirely Indigenous led, something that wouldn’t have occurred 300 years ago or even a decade ago.

SUPPLIED An artist's rendering of affordable housing units for families and postsecondary students at the Hudson's Bay store.

The historic significance wasn’t lost on 14-year-old Dakota Plains First Nation resident Sophia Smoke.

“This is so much bigger than any of us will ever understand,” the oral historian told the group.

“We will only understand when it is written in the history books…. We are rewriting our history. Today our grandparents’ prayers have been answered. This is only the beginning of our journey towards reconciliation.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Prime Minister Trudeau gets his photo taken with the Spirit Horse Singers after the ceremony. The Southern Chiefs Organization took posession of the downtown Winnipeg, Hudson’s Bay Co. building during a two-hour ceremony Friday morning, which was attended by Prime Minister Trudeau, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief, Jerry Daniels, HBC Governor, Richard Baker, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, and Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs and Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada. The vacant six-storey building, which opened in 1926 was closed in November 2020. 220422 - Friday, April 22, 2022.
SUPPLIED The Hudson’s Bay Company’s flagship building in downtown Winnipeg has been handed over to the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO). - child care Winnipeg Free Press 2022
SUPPLIED The Hudson’s Bay Company’s flagship building in downtown Winnipeg has been handed over to the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO). - Governance House for the Chiefs of the southern First Nations Winnipeg Free Press 2022
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Special guests (from left), Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Prime Minister Trudeau, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, and Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs and Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, receive commissioned blankets from SCO and paddles from HBC. The Southern Chiefs Organization took possession of the downtown Winnipeg, Hudson’s Bay Co. building during a two-hour ceremony Friday morning, which was attended by Prime Minister Trudeau, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief, Jerry Daniels, HBC Governor, Richard Baker, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services Canada, and Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs and Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada. The vacant six-storey building, which opened in 1926 was closed in November 2020. 220422 - Friday, April 22, 2022.
Southern Chiefs’ Organization gives a blanket to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Mayor Brian Bowman looks on at a Hudson’s Bay Company transfer ceremony in Winnipeg Friday, April 22, 2022. One of the landmark stores formerly run by the Hudson’s Bay Company is about to undergo a major transformation in the name of reconciliation with Indigenous people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

History

Updated on Friday, April 22, 2022 7:44 PM CDT: Add apostrophe to Southern Chiefs' Organization.

Updated on Saturday, April 23, 2022 4:00 PM CDT: Fixes typo

Report Error Submit a Tip