The Hudson’s Bay Company, which facilitated the settlement of Western Canada 352 years ago, is about to transfer its former flagship department store in downtown Winnipeg to Aboriginal ownership.
On Friday morning, The Bay will hand over its six-story, 655,000-square-foot building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 Anishinaabe and South Dakota nations in Manitoba.
The SCO plans to spend $130 million in the coming years to transform the former Bay Building into a mixed-use development called Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, or “it’s visible.”
Plans for the project include 300 affordable housing units for Southern First Nations people, two restaurants, a public atrium, rooftop garden, museum and art gallery.
One of the restaurants, on the ground floor, will serve First Nations cuisine. The second will be a reboot of the Bay department store’s Paddlewheel restaurant.
The project will also include offices for Indigenous entrepreneurs, a health center, daycare, senior center, a new government headquarters for the SCO, and a memorial for victims and survivors of residential schools.
The SCO plans to transfer two beaver pelts and an elk pelt to Richard Baker, Governor and Executive Chairman of the HBC, as nominal payment for the building, which has been valued at $0 due to the cost associated with the renovation of the 96 year old building. structure and maintenance of its heritage elements.
“What we wanted to do was really create an opportunity to create reconciliation, to create a real symbol of what the future holds for the Indigenous peoples of this country,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in an interview at The Bay on Thursday. .
“It’s the most iconic building, I think, in Winnipeg and probably in all of Manitoba and we wanted to make sure that if we had the opportunity to acquire the building, we would do everything we could to meet the needs and create as much opportunity for the aboriginal community and also for Winnipeg in general.
Baker said in a statement that it was important to his business to ensure The Bay was redeveloped in a sustainable and meaningful way.
“We believe [Southern Chiefs] is the good steward for this place and can create a new community landmark that will help advance reconciliation,” he said.
The Downtown Bay opened in 1926 as one of the most prominent commercial structures in downtown Winnipeg at a time when the city’s growth had already been stunted by the aftermath of the First World War, the inconclusive outcome of the Winnipeg General Strike and reduced rail traffic subsidies that fueled the city’s initial growth.
The department store fell into decline in the 1990s as Winnipeg’s downtown retail sector lost its luster, first to suburban neighborhood malls and later to online retailers .
The Bay’s operations were scaled back floor by floor until the building closed in November 2020, when the second wave of COVID-19 precipitated an originally scheduled closure for the following winter.
City and provincial officials began working on a redevelopment plan soon after, with former premier Brian Pallister announcing provincial funding of $25 million in 2021.
Daniels said the Southern Chiefs’ Organization began discussions 18 months ago. Daniels said he flew to New York to meet The Bay’s Baker in 2021.
The Grand Chief noted the symmetry in the reception of the building of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was established in 1670 to facilitate the fur trade in what would become Western Canada.
Trade routes that stretched from York Factory to Hudson Bay would open up Indigenous lands to European settlement, including the future site of Winnipeg at the Red River Settlement.
“It’s about reconciliation, economic reconciliation,” Daniels said. “It’s about reclaiming the land, reclaiming the land and also helping and supporting us to reclaim that land and make sure it succeeds.
“So we have a commitment from HBC to not only transfer the building, but also to work with us as a partner and support us in any way we can.”
A provincial government source said the province will contribute $10 million to the project. The federal government should commit its own cash.
The City of Winnipeg is expected to provide tax incentives. A city source said a proposal is expected to go to city council in June.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Heather Stefanson and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman are expected to join Daniels and Baker for the transfer ceremony Friday at 10 a.m.