Mi'kmaw Friendship Centre wants your ideas for its long-awaited new building

The sale isn’t final, but that hasn’t stopped the executive director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre from dreaming of the possibilities a brand new building brings.

Centre preparing to develop former Red Cross site on Gottingen Street

The centre is holding a community engagement session next month. (Ekistics Planning + Design)

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax is drumming up funds and ideas for a new 70,000-square-foot building down the street from its current, cramped home. 

Halifax municipal council broached the idea of selling the former Red Cross site to the centre last summer, and took another step in December when it signed a confidential option agreement. 

While the sale is not yet final, executive director Pam Glode-Desrochers said her team has reached a crucial point in the process — community input.

"I think it's more about having an ownership of it than us just going in and putting up a square building that's an institutionalized building," she said. "We want people to feel like it's their building."

Pam Glode-Desrochers said the initial plans include a sweat lodge, more office space and the potential for health services such as a detox unit. (Ekistics Planning + Design)

A public meeting is planned for early February, and the centre is encouraging people to register their ideas and post pictures on its Facebook page.

"They can be from the Indigenous community but we're also going to extend the invite to anyone in the neighbourhood who would like to be part of the dialogue," Glode-Desrochers said. 

Focus on health

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre released preliminary architectural renderings last summer, but Glode-Desrochers said the plans are very much in the early stages.

What's clear is that people want a focus on health, such as a wellness centre, palliative care services and a detox unit.

Pam Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre, with Mayor Mike Savage when the city agreed to look into selling the site last summer. (Pam Berman/CBC)

Coun. Waye Mason said the details of the deal are confidential, as is the price, but it will be sold at market value.

The centre is looking to the provincial and federal governments for support, and Mason expects the municipality to pitch in somewhere between $1.5 million and $3 million.

He said it's exciting and not just for the city.

"This will be the biggest, and probably will always be the biggest, and most important, [friendship centre] in Atlantic Canada. This will kind of be the urban Aboriginal beacon for Atlantic Canada," Mason said.  

Could open in 2022

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre has been on the corner of Gottingen and Cornwallis since 1984, and Glode-Desrochers said it no longer works for the centre's growing needs. 

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre is running out of space at its current home on Gottingen Street. (Submitted by Jenna Chisholm)

"Having the capacity and the ability to get involved in economic development and actually make sure that all those funds are going back into community development, I think that's the biggest thing for me," she said. 

The goal is to start building in two years and open the doors of the new centre two years after that. 

"I want to make sure that it's authentic, and I want to make sure that when you look at it, people get a real understanding of the territory that we're on, and you know what? The Mi'kmaq are still here and they're not going away," she said.