The Southern Chiefs’ Organization is well on its way to turning the largest corporate gift of reconciliation in Canadian history into a mixed-use development game-changer for Indigenous people in Manitoba and the downtown Winnipeg economy.
The Hudson’s Bay Company donated its iconic building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard to the SCO in April 2022. Since getting the keys earlier this year, its workers have cleaned out the six-storey, 655,000-square-foot space and done some demolition in the first steps of what is expected to be a $130-million renovation by the time it reopens in 2026.
The blueprints call for more than 300 units of affordable housing and assisted living for families, post-secondary students and elders on floors three through six. (They will be studio apartments with one, two or three bedrooms.)
The main floor will be a public space acknowledging Indigenous lands and waters and honouring the victims and survivors of the residential school system.
The remainder of the first and second floors will include a child care centre, health and wellness centre, restaurants—including a reborn Paddlewheel—offices and a museum.
“Through projects such as this one, First Nations leadership is demonstrating that we can and must be part of leading revitalization efforts in downtown Winnipeg, in Manitoba and in Canada,” says SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.
“The transformation of this building 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.”
The transformation of The Bay building is taking place at the same time and across the street as True North Sports + Entertainment’s $500-million redevelopment of Portage Place mall. Its one million square feet is being transformed into an “urban ecosystem” featuring a health centre, housing, grocery store, community services and urban green spaces.
“SCO looks forward to creating economic opportunities and contributing to a vibrant downtown Winnipeg with this project. We look forward to working with True North and our other neighbours and partners in the downtown,” Daniels says of the project, dubbed Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, which means “it is visible.”
It’s estimated there will be more than one million person hours of work on the redevelopment front alone, which will result in “significant” job creation for Indigenous people.
“We embrace a First Nation, holistic approach to economic development. This is a first step in our journey towards economic reconciliation. Our intention is that throughout this project, First Nations people will be involved. This is how we want to work,” he says.
“Our citizens will be a part of the project from start to finish, working in all areas including security and workplace safety, carpentry, drywall, roofing, flooring, painting, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and other critically important trades.”