Ottawa

Ottawa MP continues fight for aboriginal centre

Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar says he wants to carry on fighting for an aboriginal centre on Victoria Island because it's a vision he believes in.

Ottawa Centre NDP MP Paul Dewar says he wants to carry on fighting for a national aboriginal centre on Victoria Island because it's a vision he believes in.

The idea was a long-held dream of Algonquin First Nations elder William Commanda, who died last week at age 97.

William Commanda was chief of the the Kitigan Zibi First Nation near Maniwaki, Que., between 1951 and 1970. (Canadian Press )

Dewar said the man known as "Grandfather Commanda" had a unique vision to bring together different aboriginal cultures and preserve them, but the project has been on the shelf for years.

"If you go back to the '70s. Jean Piggott, who was NCC [National Capital Commission] chair, was the first one to say this is the place where we should have this centre. Then more recently, it was NCC chair [Marcel] Beaudry who said we'll put some money into this," Dewar said in a CBC Radio interview Monday.

Beaudry left the job about five years ago, and while the NCC has remained committed to the project, there's still no funding in place,

"That's unfortunate, but what we do have is a commitment that that piece of land will be used for that purpose," Dewer said.

The project now requires money, or more specifically, a foundation "to leverage money to then get money from the federal government," he said. "That's the way it works these days in terms of getting projects."

World-renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, a friend of Commanda's, has drawn up plans for the project, which would feature curvy lines, similar to Cardinal's design for the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau. The aboriginal centre would reportedly cost $85 million and include a museum, elders' residence and restaurant.

Victoria Island is located in the Ottawa River between the Chaudière Falls and the Parliament Buildings.

"Victoria Island is a sacred land for the Algonquin people," the MP says on Facebook. "The island sits in the shadow of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, awaiting the building of a national aboriginal centre, which was promised by the government before."

Dewar told CBC the island is important historically because it was a meeting place for aboriginal people to trade and form treaties.

He's urging people to join a Facebook group in support of the campaign to secure federal funding for the centre.