Transforming the Bay downtown
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The historic Bay building, at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, has been an iconic presence in downtown Winnipeg for almost a century. As a young boy growing up in Long Plain First Nation, I can remember taking the bus from Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg with my grandmother to visit the Bay and shop on special occasions. These are fond memories.
And yet the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is also a stark reminder of our shared colonial history. As the oldest company in North America, it relied on First Nations people who were critical to the fur trade and the company’s success, but this vitally important contribution is often invisible in the Canadian story.
We continue to see the trauma and pain in so many of our people, including on the streets of downtown Winnipeg. The harsh legacy of colonization remains a challenge that all Canadians must make the effort to learn about and address.
HBC, under the leadership of governor Richard Baker, has gifted this historic building to us in the single largest act of corporate reconciliation in Canada. Through partnerships with HBC and the three levels of government, collectively we are bringing a new vision to life.
In the next few months, interior demolition and renovations will begin to revitalize the building and this corner of the downtown. The main floor will house a museum and gallery, and through it we will tell our own story. We can reclaim and preserve our sacred artifacts, including those currently in Vatican vaults.
Public space will acknowledge our lands and waters in an atrium lit by skylights, offering a place to reflect and honour residential and day-school survivors, and our children who did not make it home.
We are building hundreds of affordable housing units for families, post-secondary students and elders, with a licensed daycare on site where children can learn to speak our stolen languages. Two restaurants will attract downtown office employees and students, including a reboot of the beloved Paddlewheel.
The improvement of First Nations peoples’ health and wellness is also incorporated, with a health and healing centre that embraces both western and traditional practices. The rooftop garden will provide further space for fresh air and wellness breaks.
We embrace a holistic First Nations approach to economic development. A key value of development is providing a means to reinvest in the community for the benefit of all. Through projects such as this one, First Nations leadership demonstrates that we can and must be part of leading revitalizations efforts in downtown Winnipeg.
Most importantly, this is about much more than bricks and mortar. This is about creating a symbol of hope and prosperity. According to the latest census data, Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous population in Canada, and Indigenous youth are one of the fastest growing segments of our population. These children are our collective future.
First Nations youth want to feel pride in who they are, and a sense of belonging. They need to see themselves reflected in our urban life. They need role models, and safe, healthy, thriving spaces where they feel welcome and safe in downtown Winnipeg.
The Bay transformation allows us to reclaim and shape our own narrative in the spirit of genuine economic and social reconciliation, as we support the transformation of Winnipeg’s downtown.
Knowledge Keeper Margaret Swan named this project Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, “It is visible.” The Bay has stood downtown since 1926. Almost hundred years later, we are visible.
Jerry Daniels is Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations in what is now called southern Manitoba.