The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund Legacy Space is officially open in Halifax City Hall. There are 25 legacy spaces throughout Canada but this is the first to be opened inside a city hall.
Legacy Spaces are designated spaces dedicated to providing information regarding Indigenous history, and about the journey of reconciliation. Spaces are meant to be safe and welcoming, and a place where people can ask questions without judgment.
“I don’t think there’s enough talk about people trying to find out from Aboriginal people, or Mi’kmaq in my case. There’s a gap there,” said Morley Googoo, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“We don’t just need to know about residential schools, we need to know about our communities right now, where we’re going, how we are a positive contribution to society.”
Mayor Mike Savage said he is proud of the space and is planning to encourage fellow mayors across the country to adopt the idea.
“I think understanding each other is really what it comes down to,” he said.
Savage admits history taught in schools has often been one-sided and Legacy Spaces provide an opportunity to learn about the other side. He said in addition to the Legacy Space, regional council is doing other work to build relationships with Indigenous communities.
“We as a council want to establish a government-to-government relationship with the Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs,” he said. He pointed to councils’ decision to temporarily remove the Edward Cornwallis statue as an example of how they are working to build that relationship.
Legacy spaces have come out of the work of the late Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Downie advocated for Indigenous issues and worked to inform Canadians about the true history of residential schools by sharing the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who died trying to escape a residential school in 1966.
During his final concert that was broadcast to millions of Canadians, Downie encouraged people to do something.
“I think there’s such a power in the timing,” said Sarah Midanik, CEO and president of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund.
“Gord’s an incredible storyteller, and he’s an influential Canadian, so when he said, ‘Do something,’ I think there’s a lot of weight to that.”