The federal government is partnering with an Indigenous organization in St. John's to breathe new life into a church and create a new community space.
First Light, an organization that provides programs and services rooted in Indigenous cultures and languages, purchased St. Joseph's Church on Quidi Vidi Rd. earlier this year.
Now, with the help of $9.9 million in funding from the federal government, the group is working to expand its services into the new space.
First Light executive director Stacey Howse said the funding will enable new programs and services, along with the addition of a gymnasium and the creation of a memorial garden to remember those impacted by residential schools. The space will also include an Indigenous health clinic.
"We're able to grow our programs and services, and provide much more support to our community members who need it the most," said Howse at Friday's funding announcement.
"'Reconciliation' is used time and time again. And to be able to put concrete action behind the words of wanting to work towards reconciliation by making this meaningful investment into our community so that we're able to support the community.… That is a meaningful step towards reconciliation."
Howse said First Light hopes to begin renovating the church in the new year alongside renovations at their location on Water Street. She says every part of the renovation will carry significance, especially in the garden area being steered by Indigenous elders and residential school survivors.
"The stone, right down to the type of material that is used. Corten steel, which as it gets older it becomes stronger, which symbolizes a residential school survivor," Howse said. "It will be a place of education, awareness, reflection, but also healing to look forward to the future."
St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O'Regan said the funding is an important step on the path to reconciliation, adding that St. John's has one of the fastest-growing urban Indigenous populations in Canada.
"There's a growing community here in this city, and we really do have to meet its needs fast," O'Regan said at the announcement. "First Light is taking it to an entirely new level, and we are really, really happy to partner with them on this."
O'Regan said the space will be able to serve as a connection point for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, which he says will play an important role in reconciliation efforts.
Putting the new space inside an old Christian church is a symbolic place to house First Light's programs and services, he said, referring to the church's role in residential school history.
"It's important that we celebrate here, but you can't truly celebrate and understand your history unless you take it all in. Unless we take it all in, and learn from that," O'Regan said.
"Symbolism matters, so I think this is really appropriate."