Nova Scotia

Reconciliation becoming reality as 'Legacy Room' project takes shape

Chief Morley Googoo envisions designated places in restaurants or universities across the country where Canadians can talk and learn about reconciliation.

'For reconciliation to work everybody has to play a role,' says AFN chief

Morley Googoo, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, hopes to have 500 companies signed on for the Legacy Room project by the end of the year. (Emma Smith/CBC)

When Chief Morley Googoo scribbled "big idea" on a napkin at a Halifax restaurant last year, he knew he was on to something. The regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations was picturing designated places across the country where Canadians could talk and learn about reconciliation.

Months later, Googoo's vision is taking shape.

The Killam Library Learning Commons at Dalhousie University has been chosen as one of Canada's first Legacy Rooms. The busy space, which sees thousands of students a year, will display special plaques and provide resources about residential schools and reconciliation. 

"The dedicated space that they provided is going to be, hopefully, a standard for every other university across this country to follow," said Googoo, who represents Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador at the AFN.

A representative from the university said the space could be unveiled by the fall, and that the design will be decided upon based on consultation with the Indigenous Advisory Council.

The Killam Library Learning Commons will be the first Legacy Room at a Canadian university. (Emma Smith/CBC)

From idea to action

Googoo was struck with the idea of Legacy Rooms after watching a Heritage Minute about Chanie Wenjack, who was 12 years old when he died while trying to escape a residential school in Ontario.

Wenjack's story inspired Gord Downie's Secret Path project, and Googoo wanted to continue the work of turning reconciliation from a word into an action.

For many residential school survivors who testified during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, it was the first time they shared their experiences, said Googoo.

"And even the children of the descendents of the residential schools really just learned for the first time what their parents or grandparents went through," he said. 

"It's so important that we all learn that history so we can shape the way of the future." 

Each Legacy Room will have a plaque honouring Downie and Wenjack, and companies that sign on will also commit money to the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. 

Legacy Rooms will have plaques with information about the the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. (FUSE Marketing Group/David Bastedo)

The restaurant where Googoo had the revelation, the Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar, will have a Legacy Room as will a handful of other companies, including the Waterfront Development Corporation and Armbrae Academy.

"For reconciliation to work everybody has to play a role, so legacy rooms will inspire, motivate, call to action, companies but even individuals," said Googoo.

'Safe zones'

The final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada outlined 94 calls to action. But Googoo said many Canadians still don't even know how to talk about reconciliation.

He said the "physical spaces represent safe zones" where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can talk without fear of being judged.

"If it's not a safe place, people are not going to trust and open up and talk about it and if we don't have people talking about it, change is not going to happen," said Googoo.

Mike Downie, Gord Downie's older brother, is involved with the project, and is expected to visit Halifax in the next couple of weeks to help officially launch the Legacy Room initiative.

But Googoo isn't stopping there. He has plans to have hundreds of companies signed on by July — possibly 500 by the end of the year.

"When we have that room telling our stories from people from Indian Brook, Shubenacadie, Millbrook, it makes it more real. Wow, this happened like 40 kilometres from here," said Googoo "It just doesn't really seem like Canada could have done this." 

With files from CBC's Information Morning