Dormant for decades, Mississaugas of the Credit council house to get a facelift

Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN) has secured nearly $500,000 in federal funding to repair and renovate the council house, a historic building that has fallen into disrepair.

The red brick building at the geographic centre of the reserve was the political home of MCFN’s elected band council from 1882 to 1988. Councillor Ashley Sault looks forward to meeting there again.

“The interest is to bring back the building for usability,” she said. “It’s just sitting here, but it is a big part of our history, so we don’t want to lose it.”

After opening in 1882 — some 35 years after the Mississaugas moved to their present home bordered by Six Nations and Haldimand County — the council house became a gathering point for band members, doubling as a community centre, schoolhouse and concert hall.

Most unusually, a factory opened inside the council house in the 1960s when a Waterloo-based company contracted MCFN to make burlap upholstery for car seats. The manufacturing equipment was pushed aside for council meetings.

“The council house was the centre,” said historian and former MCFN chief Carolyn King, who is on the committee working to restore the venerable building.

As an employee of the band’s economic development office on the upper floor of the council house, King remembers attending council meetings in the unheated chambers in the 1980s, with snow blowing under the doors.

By the time she was elected chief in the late 1990s — the first woman to hold the office — council was already meeting elsewhere. Today, the seven-person council meets at the community centre.

The renovation plan calls for the offices to be removed and floor-to-ceiling wainscotting restored, along with as much of the original wood floor — currently covered by carpet — as is salvageable. Taking out the upper floor will allow for the return of a public gallery and the tall windows that filled the original council chambers with sunlight.

Sault said the end result of the renovation — which is expected to cost about $1 million — will be a space that encourages civic participation while connecting visitors with the past.

“The building in itself will be its own museum because there are so many stories that can come from just bringing it back to what it originally was,” she said.

MCFN received a Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to inspect the building in 2015 and determine what repairs would be needed. The resulting plan has strong community support from MCFN’s approximately 900 on-reserve band members, Sault said.

“Pretty much everyone said to restore it or renovate it back into its intended purpose,” she said.

A timeline for the work is pending council finding the rest of the money.

To King, restoring the council house is part of a broader effort to preserve Anishinaabe language, history and culture, a process that includes repatriating artifacts scattered around the world and welcoming band members who live off the reserve and have never visited the land their ancestors called home.

“Trying to stay who you are is a challenge,” King said. “A restored building is going to help us bring people in and keep telling our story.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator