The Wasaya Group unveiled its plans for a new student living centre in Thunder Bay as it kicked off fundraising efforts at a banquet and concert Wednesday night at the Valhalla Inn.

The centre — which is estimated to cost about $15 million to build —  will house students from First Nations communities who are attending Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School.

Wasaya Group executive vice president MaryEllen Thomas said, in the wake of several First Nation youth deaths in Thunder Bay over the past decade, students and their parents have been asking for this kind of initiative.


Although Wasaya Group executive MaryEllen Thomas says she can't reveal yet exactly where the proposed site for the centre is, she said it will be close to DFC High School in Thunder Bay. She said the centre and its residents will be good neighbours. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"They want to ensure their safety while they're in school and while away from home," she said.

The Dennis Franklin Cromarty Living Centre will be located close to DFC High School and house 150 students in double rooms. The centre will have 24-hour security and recreation facilities.

It will also provide support services, including counselling, on-site.

Thomas said another important support will be guest rooms to accommodate family members visiting from students' home communities, so parents can spend time with their children.

'Time to start investing' in First Nations youth

Jonathan McKay, who graduated from DFC two years ago, said he wishes those kinds of services were around while he was in school.


Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School graduate Jonathan McKay says having a supportive residence for students from remote First Nations communities will be beneficial. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"Being able to have your family come out and stay with you for a couple of days, that helps out a lot," he said.

McKay said another challenge he faced was getting together with friends socially outside of school because students are billeted in boarding homes all over Thunder Bay.

"[The centre]

 would have made life much more easier … my school life much more easier, he said. "Just being with your friends and being under one roof with your friends."

Thomas said the Wasaya Group hopes construction can start on the DFC Living Centre next year so that it can open its doors to students in 2015. She called on the public for support.

"It's really time for people across Canada ... to start investing in our First Nation youth," she said.  

Thomas said she hopes to raise part of the required $15 million through fundraising — but noted Wasaya Group will announce some new partnerships next year, which are expected to help generate revenue.

Partners to date include architect Leonard Alfred Wood and building contractor Dowland Contracting Limited.