Fundraiser launched to help rebuild 17th century longhouse replica damaged in fire on Six Nations

Two organizations in Six Nations of the Grand River have started a fundraiser with a $1 million goal to help replace a replica 17th-century longhouse badly damaged in a recent fire.

Fundraiser aims to raise $1M in a year to fix longhouse replica that burned in late July

An intricately built wood and bark building is in a grassy field with a bright blue sky behind it.
The Ogwehoweh Skill and Trades Training Centre (OSTTC) has begun fundraising to rebuild the Longhouse Ganǫsa'ǫ:weh, a 17th century replica longhouse that burned down in July. (Submitted by Six Nations Tourism)

Two organizations in Six Nations of the Grand River have started a fundraiser with a $1 million goal to help replace a replica 17th-century longhouse badly damaged in a recent fire.

The Ogwehoweh Skill and Trades Training Centre (OSTTC) and non-profit group Grand River Employment and Training (GREAT) started fundraising on CanadaHelps.org on Aug. 8.

The fundraiser is called Ęjidwahsrö:ni, which means 'we will build again' in Cayuga. 

The money from the fundraiser will go toward building materials, like birch bark, which need to be imported. The deadline for the fundraiser is in a year.

"It is an important part of our culture and has a very positive impact in our community," said Erin Monture, Grand River Employment and Training executive director.

She said Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services told her it is still waiting for the official report. 

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The replica longhouse (also called Ganǫsa'ǫ:weh  which means 'real or original house' in Cayuga) opened in 2018 and is an important cultural cornerstone, a tourism boon, and a source of pride for the Six Nations community, according to Monture.

A longhouse is seen from a distance.
The longhouse burned on July 22 and suffered extensive damage. (OSTTC Longhouse Ganǫsa’ǫ:weh/Facebook)

The longhouse caught fire on July 22.

No one was in the longhouse during the fire and no one was hurt, but Monture said the fire was "devastating" for the community.

That said, she added there's been an outpouring of support to rebuild the longhouse.

"My phone was going crazy," she said.

Longhouse a big loss for community

Monture said that was a week before Six Nations' big summer pow wow and the longhouse was booked solid the week it burned.

"It definitely does have a bit of an impact on us in that tourism aspect," she said. 

Monture said the original longhouse was built through the winter, using labour from all local tradespeople and youth from Six Nations. She said it took six months to build the original longhouse. 

A group of visitors sit on log benches inside the intricately built longhouse. Behind them are platforms used for sleeping.
Before it was destroyed, the longhouse was a place to teach Haudenosaunee people about their own past and educate visitors about Haudenosaunee culture. (Submitted by Six Nations Tourism)

Former longhouse cultural coordinator Kerdo Deer said he had a small part in raising the building when it was first built. He said a small team of six or seven builders put the longhouse together.

"This was an opportunity for us to have a longhouse in our own community, and be able to teach about our own culture," she said. 

Monture said the longhouse was often the first stop for visitors when the elected local counsel in Six Nations would have meetings with ministry members about infrastructure, funding and local programs. 

"They make the stop at the longhouse to really show them, 'This is who we were and who we are as a people,'" she said. 

'We are still carrying on'

Monture said the fundraiser is one of numerous efforts ro raise money. 

Monture said before OSSTC tries rebuilding the longhouse, it has to assess whether the fire damaged the grounds, and if they have to relocate the build. She also said there will be an archeological assessment. 

"Currently where we have the longhouse… we have found artifacts that pre-date 10,000 years," she said.  

"We're right along the Grand River, so our spot was very populated back then with longhouses and different nations that would stop."

When the longhouse burned down, it had six full-time employees. Monture said she has found a way to keep all of them employed by continuing the educational programming in new settings. 

Monture said community members have come forward to offer space to host classes. She said employees have also been able to teach from the Kayanese Greenhouse beside the longhouse, and on walking tours beside the Grand River. 

"Everybody was saddened by this, but we are still carrying on," she said. 

Monture said there are plans in the works to potentially use a former visitor's extensive photographs of the old longhouse to create a virtual tour, while Grand River Employment and Training and OSTTC work toward rebuilding. 

While a virtual longhouse would be a temporary solution, Deer said having the physical building adds a lot to the learning experience. 

He said it's important for visitors to see, "how or where people would sleep, how things were stored, and stuff like that." 

"You can explain all those things outside of the building, but being in the building is going to be a richer, more of a visual type of setting," he said.


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with the CBC's Ontario local news stations, primarily CBC Hamilton. She previously worked with Hamilton Community News. Cara has a special interest in stories that focus on social issues and community.