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Youth centre embraced by Thunder Bay residents

A meeting Thursday night to voice concerns about a proposed youth centre in Thunder Bay took an unexpected turn when almost the entire crowd supported the concept.

More than 100 people show up to meeting that largely supported proposed youth centre

Instead of voicing their concerns, nearly all of the 100-plus people at a public meeting Thursday night spoke about why they favour a new youth centre. The Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre wants to turn an old banquet hall into a youth facility. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

A meeting Thursday night to voice concerns about a proposed youth centre in Thunder Bay took an unexpected turn when almost the entire crowd supported the concept.

"It's going to go ahead … plain and simple. We're going to do this."

That's what Mayor Keith Hobbs told about 100 people who showed up to support the proposed centre, headed by the Indian Friendship Centre.

Fewer than a dozen people who were against the project attended the meeting. Joe Wiedner said he was concerned about the programming being too ambitious.

"If you look at all your programs that the Indian Friendship puts out, there's no way you're going to have it for a multicultural youth centre,” he said. “This is going to be a First Nation youth centre only."

Wiedner's concerns were addressed by project officials who said the centre would be open to all young people.

Overcoming 'fear'

Thunder Bay resident Peter Globensky said he understands why neighbours are concerned and asked for acceptance.

Instead of "fearing those people” who will use the centre, people need to learn more about them, he said.

"They may be yellow, they may be brown, they may be a different colour," said Globensky. “The best way to overcome that fear is to reduce it by getting to know the other."

Dozens of people at the meeting, like Rael Mercier, wanted the project to move ahead.

"I think we're all here because we've come together to realize that there's a need for this youth centre,” Mercier said. “I think we should stop finding reasons for this not to work."

At the end of the night, Hobbs thanked Michael Lemesani for organizing the meeting that was supposed to provide a forum for those who had concerns about the proposed centre.

Hobbs offered to pay for part of the cost of renting the hall, as Lemesani had used his own money to do so.

The centre still needs federal, provincial and municipal funding before moving forward.

The proposed plans for a youth centre at the former Prosvita Hall in Thunder Bay include adding on the the existing building. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

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