Nfld. & Labrador

Indigenous creative arts centre and office relocation happening with influx of federal cash

First Light — formerly the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre — is receiving more than $3 million from the federal government to move its headquarters and establish an Indigenous creative arts and performance centre. 

More than $3 million will be spent to convert former churches

Danny Pottle, interim director of First Light, says the organization has been tight on space since it first opened in the 1980s but things have gotten particularly cramped in the past decade. (Katie Breen/CBC)

First Light — formerly the St. John's Native Friendship Centre — is receiving more than $3 million from the federal government to move its headquarters and establish an Indigenous creative arts and performance centre. 

Interim executive director Danny Pottle said Monday an internal feasibility study found the organization was operating at a 67 per cent space deficiency and that more room is sorely needed — especially given the Indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada. 

"In the last eight, nine years in particular, our main building on 716 Water Street just does not give us the capacity that we need to administer and implement our programs and services," Pottle said. 

Caledonia Place is currently office space but was previously St. Joseph's Church. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The plan is to move administration and community-oriented Indigenous programming to Caledonia Place on Quidi Vidi Rd. in St. John's and another smaller building directly behind it. 

Caledonia Place is currently office space, but was previously St. Joseph's Church. 

Another church, Cochrane Street United, will be converted into an Indigenous creative arts and performance centre — church service will continue to be held there Sunday mornings. 

Cochrane Street United will become the new Indigenous creative arts and performance centre. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Some First Light programming is already taking place at that site, but the $3,049,728 will go towards further operations and renovations. 

Towards reconciliation

"This is more than a project. This is a community coming together," said Francois-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of infrastructure and communities — the department supplying the funding.

"This is about this [generation] and future generations, so that the heritage of Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador can be put on display so we can favour Indigenous art we can favour Indigenous culture," he said, noting a connection to reconciliation. 

Pottle said work should get underway in the next few months and that he expects it may take up to two years to transition the organization's headquarters over to the new space. 

Once the move happens, Pottle said more housing services will operate out of the existing headquarters on Water Street.

Caledonia Place hasn't been purchased but Pottle said talks are ongoing with the owner and he's confident the sale will go through. 

The province isn't contributing to the project financially, but on Monday, the premier commended the federal government for its contribution. 

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