Manitoba

'It's not the end,' community leader vows after Hillside Beach cultural centre destroyed by fire

Community members involved in a cultural centre in Hillside Beach, Man., are entering a healing period after the centre burned to the ground in a fire earlier this week, says the leader of the organization that runs it.

Windy Hill lodge, part of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, burned to the ground Wednesday

The fire started just before midnight on Wednesday night, said Diane Redsky, and had completely destroyed the building by the time she got a phone call at 3 a.m. (Lynn McKenzie Watling/Facebook)

Community members involved in a cultural centre in Hillside Beach, Man., are entering a healing period after the centre burned to the ground in a fire earlier this week, says the leader of the organization that runs it.

A fire started just before midnight Wednesday at the Windy Hill Retreat Centre, a cultural learning centre run by Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, said Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi.

High winds made the fire spread quickly, Redsky said. By the time she got a phone call about the fire at 3 a.m. Thursday, the building had been destroyed.

It's a complete loss, she said.

"It really just consumed the entire building, and the entire building went up in flames and is completely demolished," Redsky said.

The loss of the centre is a blow to the community, Redsky says. (Submitted by Diane Redsky)

"We are completely devastated by this tragic loss, because it's not just a loss for an organization. It's a loss for an entire community."

The official cause of the fire has not been determined, Redsky said, but fire officials told her preliminary indications suggest it was electrical.

A group of Indigenous youth leaders spearheaded the creation of the centre in 2007, Redsky said. Since then, it has been a cultural centre for Indigenous youth, a respite for people from Winnipeg who may not otherwise have been able to get away, she said.

It's also been a hub for building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Hillside Beach area, about 100 kilometres northeast of the city.

"It meant so much to a whole bunch of people. It's not the end," Redsky said. "It's absolutely not the end. We are going to rebuild."

Send your stories: Ma Mawi

Since the fire, Redsky has received an outpouring of support and offers of help from people who valued the centre.

"The common response is shock. We're all shocked," Redsky said.

"We all now have an opportunity to reflect back and think about what Windy Hill has meant to us, and so there is an outpouring of stories that we're hearing and how Windy Hill has made a difference in their lives."

Rubble is all that's left of the Windy Hill Retreat Centre. (Submitted by Diane Redsky)

The centre was insured, she said. It received funding from a variety of partners, including the federal and provincial governments and the Winnipeg Foundation.

The site was surrounded by sacred land used for ceremonial purposes, she said, which was undamaged by the fire. A private home on the property also was untouched by the flames, but was damaged by smoke.

Ma Mawi is dedicated to rebuilding the centre on its site, but won't rush the process, Redsky said. The first iteration took years to build and was led by the community, and she wants that for the rebuild, too.

Organizers haven't laid out a timeline, she said.

"In the meantime, we're encouraging people to share their stories with us," she said. "That will guide and direct the next phase of rebuilding, and what that will look like."

Windy Hill was built in 2007, spearheaded by a group of Indigneous youth leaders. It became a cultural gathering place for the community. (Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre/Submitted)

If you have a story or photo you'd like to share, you can take it to Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre at 445 King St. in Winnipeg, or email it to info@mamawi.com.

If you don't have a story but you'd like to be involved in rebuilding, you can contact the centre, too.