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This article was published 12/5/2020 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The historic Bank of Montreal building on the corner of Portage and Main will be reimagined as a place to preserve, teach and celebrate the rich history of the Métis Nation as the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) partners with BMO to establish the country's first Métis-owned heritage centre.
"There's so many stories to be told, it's going to be fascinating for anybody to really get a grip on understanding how a nation can be born, created and still standing strong no matter how many oppositions or attempts to rid it of existence," said MMF president David Chartrand. "That's what's going to be told in this heritage centre."
The announcement of the Métis Nation Heritage Centre's new home came on the eve of Manitoba's 150th birthday, timing Chartrand said holds deep significance in celebrating the Métis Nation's role in founding the province and negotiating towards Confederation.
"When you see a flag flying as a Métis citizen, knowing that your land was taken from you, you know 150 years ago you lost your land, you lost your home, you lost your future, really, and here you are 150 years later getting a piece of your land back," he said Tuesday. "You’re bringing home a piece of your property and your history."
The BMO main building at Portage and Main has always held significance for Manitobans, located at one of Canada's most famed intersections, the centre of the Red River Settlement and the intersection of major trade lines on the Red River Cart trails. For Chartrand, the historic location is an ideal place to ground the legacy of the Métis people's unique history, culture and language.
For John MacAulay, BMO's regional president for the Prairies, the building holds both cultural and personal significance. He took great care, he said, in deciding on a partner to continue the landmark's legacy in Winnipeg.
"Four generations of my family have worked in that building, so it's not just personal to BMO, it's personal to me and my family," MacAulay said Tuesday. "We are really proud to be working with the MMF to create a forum for both Winnipeggers and Canadians to learn about the language and the culture, the contributions to the development of Canada."
Staff at the downtown BMO branch were expecting to clear out of the building by spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the process, leading staff to close the building by March 19, MacAulay said. One of three BMO teams, mostly retail workers, are still employed there while the rest have found positions at other branches in the city.
There is no "magic date" for the building to be transferred over to MMF and work to begin on the heritage centre, MacAulay added, but the bank is excited to start working on establishing the historic building as a place of cultural importance and a step towards reconciliation.
"It’s such a rich history and it’s a rich history rooted in Winnipeg, which I think is really special," MacAulay said. "Reconciliation is about intent as well as practical decisions, and I think this is evidence of a practical decision."
For Chartrand, the partnership marks a commitment to reconciliation not only between governments, but with the private sector as well — be it pipelines, Hydro or major banks.
"This partnership with BMO is the perfect example of reconciliation," he said. "We're setting the stage that we believe in future industry."
Most importantly, however, it is a chance for Métis people to write history on their own terms, providing an education Chartrand believes is lacking from current conversations and institutions.
"You're going to see this opportunity where we can educate the world about the creation of a nation. And the formation of that nation with its own culture, music, dance that comes with it," Chartrand said. "We never let the story die of who we are. We never let anyone take it from us."
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.