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The new $14.2-million Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health expansion, at the corner of Montreal Road and Bradley Avenue in Vanier, is expected to be completed by fall 2012. (Wabano.com)

Construction crews broke ground Monday to officially begin building Ottawa's biggest Aboriginal centre, the multimillion-dollar Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.

The $14-million project was envisionsed as a hub for members of the surrounding native community to connect with their roots.

Brad Pickody, who teaches drumming at the centre, said the 25,000-square-foot centre was important to him and his family as a cultural resource and a place away from potentially bad influences.

"Living in the city is a totally different experience from living in the bush," said Pickody, who moved his family from the Chapleau reserve, west of Timmins, Ont., three years ago.

'Sense of belonging'

"In the bush, you have a lot more hunting and trapping, canoeing, cutting wood. You really have to look hard to find that here in the city."

Allison Fisher, the executive director of the Wabano centre, said that 70 per cent of aboriginals in Canada are leaving reserves and moving to cities. That's why the new revamped facility means so much.

"It's to create a sense of belonging with our kids," she said.

As the centre continues to fundraise to make up the remaining $7 million for the project, Fisher hopes the Ontario government will help out with funds.

Centre serves 10,000 people

Pickody's son, Sage, was especially excited about the new structure.

"I think it's going to be wicked. It's really important because it keeps part of our culture here," he said.

The project also involves the refurbishment of the existing building, which currently serves about 10,000 people a year, offering social services, cultural programs, health care and mental-health counselling.

The project, designed by acclaimed architect Douglas Cardinal, the designer of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is expected to be completed before fall 2012.