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Downtown landmark to get new life as Winnipeg Hudson’s Bay building transferred to Southern Chiefs

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Winnipeg’s iconic former Hudson’s Bay building will get a new life after sitting vacant for two years. Will Reimer reports. – Apr 22, 2022

Winnipeg’s iconic former Hudson’s Bay building will get a new life after sitting vacant for two years.

The downtown landmark, located at 450 Portage Ave., was gifted to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) Friday, to be redeveloped to include almost 300 affordable housing units, as well as a child care centre, a museum, an art gallery and restaurants.

A health centre that focuses on both western and traditional medical practices is also in the cards, among other initiatives.

In Winnipeg Friday morning for the transfer of ownership, which included a symbolic “rent” payment of pelts and furs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the day “historic.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Winnipeg Friday. Global News

“Today’s announcement is reconciliation in action,” Trudeau said.

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“For the Southern Chiefs’ Organization to become the new stewards of the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Winnipeg is an inspiring and inspired act of reclamation.

“The history of the Hudson’s Bay Company is a long one in this country — woven in inextricably with the story of Indigenous peoples, the story of the need for reconciliation.

“This moment today is a tangible example of the kind of steps that are being made in communities across the country between Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners.”

Trudeau said his government has pledged $65 million toward the redevelopment project, while the province of Manitoba is chipping in an additional $35 million.

The downtown landmark, almost a century old, was the company’s flagship store when it opened its doors in 1926.

The six-storey, 655,000-square-foot department store closed in November of 2020, causing much speculation since then about its eventual fate — especially after it was given a $0 valuation in 2019.

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Read more: Vacant Bay store in downtown Winnipeg to be used in part for affordable housing: sources

HBC’s governor and executive chairman Richard Baker said the transfer to SCO had been in the works for over a year, and that it’s part of the company’s own steps toward reconciliation.

With origins in the 17th Century, the Hudson’s Bay Company controlled much of the fur trade in the country for generations, and Baker said its legacy — especially with regard to Indigenous people — was top-of-mind during the negotiations.

“The impact of our company’s history is not lost on me and it’s part of the reason we’re all here today,” he said at the announcement.

“These things can not be remedied by a single action, a single promise or a single speech — instead they demand real effort from everyone — the state, the church, businesses and society as a whole.

“This is a historic and symbolic day. But it’s also much more than just symbolism. The revitalization of the Hudson’s Bay Company building will have real positive impacts on First Nations people here in the city, and it will have a positive impact on Winnipeg’s downtown too. It will create jobs and economic prosperity.”

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Baker called the building an “integral part” of Winnipeg and its history, and said the SCO has a revolutionary vision for its development.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels called the occasion an example of reconciliation being more than just a buzzword.

“(It’s) a day where we can reflect on the past, and commit to this bold vision of the future we can journey towards together.”

–With files from The Canadian Press

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