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Hudson's Bay gifts Winnipeg flagship building to Manitoba First Nations organization

·2 min read
The Hudson's Bay Company heritage building in Winnipeg is photographed Thursday, April 21, 2022. One of the landmark stores formerly run by the Hudson's Bay Co. is about to undergo a major transformation in the name of reconciliation with Indigenous people. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)
Hudson's Bay is giving its iconic flagship building in downtown Winnipeg to an Indigenous organization, it announced on Friday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

The Hudson's Bay Co. (HBC) is giving its iconic flagship building in downtown Winnipeg to an Indigenous organization, a move that is being billed as an act of reconciliation that will include 289 affordable housing units.

HBC will gift its Winnipeg building – one that has been shuttered since November 2020 – to the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO), an Indigenous group that represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba. The SCO says it will convert the building to include 289 affordable housing units, as well as a health facility, childcare centre and cultural space. The organization will receive $65 million from the federal government and $35 million from the province of Manitoba to help fund the project.

"Reconciliation is not just a word. It is meant to have action, and this is an example of that action today," SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said at a news conference in Winnipeg on Friday, alongside HBC executive chairman Richard Baker, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and other dignitaries.

"Up to 500 people will find shelter and opportunity for success here. It is a place for our elders, with meal service, on-site medical attention and incorporation of both Western and traditional healing to create optimal wellness... This is a place to be honoured and supportive of First Nations people, our rich history and invite all who wish to come and learn together."

The six-storey, 60,000-square metre Winnipeg location is one of the original six Hudson's Bay buildings which first opened in 1926. The building had undergone several rounds of renovation over the last few decades and received heritage designation from Winnipeg's city council in 2019. But in that year, an assessment of Hudson's Bay's real estate portfolio found the building was worth $0.

"Since we closed the doors, and even before, locals have been asking about this flagship HBC location, wondering what we had planned for it," Baker said.

"Today's announcement is an important one, one that I'm confident will shape Winnipeg for decades to come... The key difference now is that the work being done here in this building will be driven by First Nations. This will be a legacy-defining project, created by the community and for the community."

The project's working title is Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, or "it is visible." The heritage building's historic facade will be preserved, while the interior renovation will prioritize low-carbon materials as well as reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The extensive renovation is expected to create jobs during the construction phase and significant long-term employment once complete.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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