There was a celebratory atmosphere as McMurray Métis broke ground on a $22 million cultural centre Wednesday, taking a big step toward a long time dream.
The cultural centre will also be used as office space, grounds for training and employment and child and family welfare support. It will also display Métis artifacts, like the cache of interviews with elders a summer student found that were thought to be lost in the 2016 wildfire.
"It's going to be a hub for this community," said Bill Loutit, CEO of McMurray Métis.
The federal government is contributing $16.5 million for the project, and the McMurray Métis are paying the rest.
Loutit said he expects the project to cost more than the predicted $22 million, but the nation is prepared to pay the bill.
"We've been saving and planning for this for some time," said Loutitt. "We have a hard time going out asking for handouts. And we're not going to do that."
The cultural centre will be shaped like an infinity symbol down at the confluence of two rivers in Fort McMurray.
The land has special meaning to Loutitt, whose family used to live there.
"My grandparents actually lived on this land," said Loutitt. "You should see the gardens that grew on this property.
"You would not believe the carrots and onions coming out of the ground, looking like they're basketballs or something."
The cultural centre will include a greenhouse garden on the roof. Loutitt said it's an opportunity to try and grow food during the winter.
He added that gardening is important in Métis culture.
"We were always gardeners," said Loutitt.
"A lot of traditional stories are passed down in the kitchen."
He said he's not yet sure how well the greenhouse will do in the winter, but they want to give it a try.
The federal funding is part of the Canada Infrastructure Program, which will give $178.2 million for 18 infrastructure projects in northern Alberta.
"This project, along with the 17 others announced today, will help build strong resilient communities, support local economies, and improve people's lives for years to come," said Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna in a news release.
Métis Nation of Alberta president Audrey Poitras said she's pleased with the project and emphasized that the construction of the centre will create any good-paying jobs for members.
"This announcement is an extremely positive spot in a dark year," she said.
Wood Buffalo Deputy Mayor Verna Murphy said the centre will help the community come together in the spirit of reconciliation.
"It will serve as a record so future generations will be able to know and celebrate our region's rich Métis culture."
Construction of the centre is set to begin next spring. Loutitt expects the centre will be finished in 2023.