'The support of the community has been humbling': Bruce Oake addictions recovery centre breaks ground

After years of hurdles and pushback from some community members, a recovery centre for men battling addiction to drugs and alcohol is starting construction.

50-bed facility in Winnipeg is dream of Oake family, who lost son to overdose in 2011

Family of the late Bruce Oake celebrate the official groundbreaking of a new drug and alcohol treatment facility in Winnipeg. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Ground has been broken at a new 50-bed treatment facility for men in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Crestview.

It's the dream of the Oake family, whose son Bruce died in 2011 from a drug overdose.

"It's been such a long journey to get here, and to actually be here right now, on the official groundbreaking, which is subsequently Bruce's birthday as well. It's a lot of emotions," his brother Darcy Oake said, at the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre is being constructed at the former decommissioned Vimy Arena, which the city sold to the province for $1.

Over $11 million of the $16 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. 

Centre will offer free, long-term treatment

The family said this centre will be different than what is currently available, focusing on two main barriers to recovery.

If you can't afford to pay for treatment, you'll be able to come for free, and the facility will also focus on long-term recovery.

"You can stay for as long as it takes you to get clean," Darcy said.

"Because the one thing we found in the 40-day programs that Bruce had gone into was, he would get clean, he would be good, and then he'd just go back out and live in the same life as before," he said.

"[It needs to be] a whole mindset, restructuring of the way you live your life, which doesn't just happen, for us anyway, in the 40 days. "

The site of the new facility will be here where the empty Vimy Arena stands in St. James. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The facility will be modelled after a leading recovering centre in Calgary.

The creation of the non-profit centre faced a number of hurdles, including an outspoken opposition concerned that the presence of the facility would drive down property values, increase crime and traffic, while reducing green space.

But people with first-hand experience spoke out, including Jennifer and Rodell Bautista, who lost their son Gabriel Pereira to drug addiction a year ago.

"This place would have been somewhere we could have brought him to, somewhere that could have helped him with his mental-health issues, could have helped with his addictions, could have helped him with learning how to cope in life again, because as an addict you lose everything," Jennifer said.

Rodell said, "It would have meant the world. It would have been an option that wasn't visible to us at the time. And that was through no lack of effort."

Jennifer and Rodell Bautista lost their son Gabriel Pereira in July 2018 after a battle with drug addiction. The couple say a facility like this would have made the world of difference for their son. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The facility won't offer detox, and all participants will need to be sober and stabilized, following a curfew and submitting to drug testing.

"The men of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre will be focused on one thing: getting their lives back. Sobriety. And they will be good neighbours," said Bruce's father, Scott Oake.

The hope is to have the facility up and running by March 2021, and there will likely be a wait-list to get in.

"We've been at this for years. We always had faith we would get the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre built. Now we know we will. The support of the community has been humbling," Scott said.


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter at CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.