HALIFAX — With an additional $28.8 million from the federal government, Halifax’s Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre plans to build a spacious downtown complex to better serve the growing population of urban Indigenous people.
The friendship centre currently offers more than 55 programs, including early childhood education, housing support, language training and harm reduction, and it is currently housed in a temporary location. The centre supports more than 7,000 Indigenous people in Halifax and has moved three times since its 1972 opening.
Pam Glode-Desrochers, the centre's executive director, said Thursday “the point is to build something that’s going to last."
Over the past 10 years, the friendship centre has gone from running eight support programs to more than 55, and staff has jumped from about 20 to over 200 employees. Glode-Desrochers said she expects the centre will continue to grow.
The director said the new 70,000-square-foot building will house the centre's existing programs, community gathering spaces and a new health clinic. She said they hope to eventually house a café and offer a "makerspace" where people can learn to make crafts and build.
“First and foremost, we’re going to make sure that language and culture is throughout the whole building,” Glode-Desrochers said. She said the project marks an “unparalleled turning point” towards reconciliation in the city.
Glode-Desrochers said there is no timeline attached to the start or completion of the project, as work is ongoing to obtain permits and finalize building designs in consultation with the community.
“The reality is the timeline will shift and change, but we’re going to push our partners really hard to get things done," she said. The price tag is a “moving target,” and the numbers being discussed range from $60 million to $65 million, but Glode-Desrochers said they will build with whatever funds they have.
The $28.8 million announced Thursday for the project is on top of $4 million previously announced by Ottawa. Halifax Liberal MP Andy Fillmore said Thursday the funding means the "longtime dream" of building this new facility "is finally coming true."
Halifax Regional Municipality is working with the centre so the land at the proposed site can be transferred to the organization, Glode-Desrochers said. This would mean the centre would not have to pay for the land.
She also said conversations with the Nova Scotia government about funding for the centre are going well, and she hopes there will be another announcement in the coming weeks.
Glode-Desrochers said the site for the building is historically significant because it's at the edge of the Citadel Hill National Historic Site, a British fortress built in 1749 when Halifax was founded.
“It’s right next to one of the oldest colonial pieces that we have," she said. "Colonization began here first, and we want to start the wave of decolonization where it started."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the last name of Pam Glode-Desrochers.