By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — 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 company’s six-storey, 655,000-square-foot building in downtown Winnipeg is being given to the Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 34 First Nations communities in Manitoba.
The site will be transformed to include almost 300 affordable housing units, a museum, an art gallery and restaurants.
There are also plans for a health centre that will embrace both western and traditional medical practices.
The official announcement is expected Friday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on hand.
A source with the Manitoba government, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, says the province will contribute $10 million to the initiative, with the federal government and Winnipeg city hall also pitching in.
“Today can be another step forward to a brighter future, one that reflects what our ancestors dreamed of,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs Organization said in a press release Thursday.
“This project is an act of reconciliation and is our vision to revitalize the heart of Winnipeg’s downtown, for the benefit of all.”
The Winnipeg store was closed in November 2020, and the municipal and provincial governments have been working to help find a new use for the site.
A major hurdle for any new development is the fact that the building dates back almost a century, has been granted heritage status and needs major renovations.
The store opened in 1926 as the Hudson’s Bay Co. was evolving beyond its fur-trading roots to become a retail giant. It was one of the company’s “original six” flagship stores and its annual Christmas displays in windows along Portage Ave. drew crowds for decades.
But it suffered as consumer habits shifted, and entire sections of the store were closed off over the years as the store scaled back.
Last year, the Manitoba government announced a $25-million trust fund to help preserve and enhance the building. The government said the money could be used for a variety of purposes including preserving the facade, structural repairs, and historical displays.
HBC had been in discussions with a number of organizations on the site’s potential future.
“HBC’s Truth and Reconciliation journey requires actions that demonstrate our commitment to moving forward together with Indigenous communities,” HBC Governor and Executive Chairman Richard Baker said in a statement Thursday.
“We believe SCO is the right steward for this location, and can create a new community landmark that will help advance reconciliation.”