Task force's 10 recommendations for Brandon's downtown spark optimism, momentum

The Task Force was created in October 2021 to give ideas to Brandon's City Council on things that needed to be done to help the downtown core, peoples' wellness and safety, and support local businesses. A list of 10 initiatives was recently shared with the community.

Tier of suggestions starts with transitional housing, outreach and Indigenous perspectives

A man wearing a big winter jacket and toque stands outside a door that says "Chez Angela."
Chez Angela owner and general manager James Chambers stands outside his bakery in downtown Brandon. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

When James Chambers was a teenager, he remembers Brandon's downtown core as bustling with many things to do.

"My wife and I, we had just started dating," he said. "We were going to the Strand Theatre, there were two bowling alleys, and there were two theatres downtown.… It was dynamic."

In 2018, Chambers opened Chez Angela Bakery and Cafe in downtown Brandon, but the area wasn't anything like it used to be. Now Chambers is part of the downtown safety and wellness task force hoping to revitalize downtown by bringing more businesses and people back to the core. 

The task force found that around 25 employers and hundreds of employees have left the area over the years, said chair Tim Silversides.

"That has a huge impact when you take those people out of the downtown and the businesses that they provide," he said.

Brandon's city council created the task force in October 2021 to brainstorm ideas for ways to help the downtown core, support local businesses and improve residents' wellness and safety.

It recently released a list of recommendations the task force hopes will help breathe life back into the core.

Top 10 are all key

Silversides said narrowing the recommendations down to 10 was difficult — but all are key in creating a healthy downtown.

"Once you have a healthy population downtown, then the safety and the business development becomes an awful lot easier because people feel really comfortable being in the downtown areas," he said.

The top four recommendations are creating transitional housing with Indigenous supports, creating an Indigenous Wellness Centre, launching a mobile outreach unit to help people access social and health services and setting up incentives to build residential housing. 

A man wearing a suit smiles for the camera.
Downtown wellness and safety task force chair Tim Silversides says it will take time and hard work to see the initiatives shared by the group have an impact in Brandon. (Submitted by Tim Silverside)

Other recommendations include improving addiction and mental health supports, promoting commercial developments, addressing derelict buildings and enforcing bylaws against trespassing and public consumption.

Brandon City manager Ron Bowles says the task force brought people who know the community together with those that had expertise in safety, business, social services and health services.

"The task force realized fairly early on in their education and talking to the community that many of the opportunities stemmed out of homelessness, mental health and addiction," Bowles said.

The "task force realized quite early on that homelessness, mental health and addiction are where the city can get the biggest opportunity."

A man wearing a toque stands in a city's downtown surrounded by snow.
City manager Ron Bowles stands in downtown Brandon. He says the task force brought together people with knowledge and expertise. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Silversides said the city's role is to fund and advocate for the recommended changes. In January 2024, the task force will review how well it did. 

Momentum, excitement for task force

Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette, co-chair of Brandon's Community Wellness Collaborative, says the task force could have a great impact in downtown Brandon.

Each recommendation would be amazing to move forward on, she said, especially when looking at ideas like creating more transitional housing and facilities with Indigenous and trauma-informed support.

These have been ongoing issues in the community and giving them a spotlight makes people think about them. Gravel-Ouellette said when these issues are recognized by the greater community it can help build momentum to create change. 

"These are complex issues and I'm really happy to see that they're being raised and that there's some thought and some momentum being put into making some changes and addressing these," Gravel-Ouellette said.

Over the years, Chambers said he's seen various efforts made by public and private organizations to support Brandon's downtown — but in many cases, these efforts were unco-ordinated or lacked collaboration.

"There's a kindling fire of optimism there," Chambers said.

"I feel like in the first time that I've been an observer, say over the last eight to 10 years, that there's a more concerted effort to push all of these things forward at the same time and with a measure of co-ordination."


Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with