Hudson’s Bay Flagship Store Moved to an Indigenous Group

It was a long and sad end for the 600,000 square foot store. Only two of the white monolith’s six sales floors were still in use when the cash registers finally fell silent.

At that time, early 2021, many had high hopes that the Bay store would avoid the fate of the neighboring Eaton store, which had been demolished to make way for the Winnipeg Jets arena. But the fate of the property was very uncertain, with a realtor appraising the site at $0 because of the cost of renovation or demolition.

A little over a week ago, however, the milestone’s future was assured – and probably not as many as expected. The Bay announced that it was donating the property and building to the Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents Manitoba’s 34 First Nations. Having secured nearly 100 million Canadian dollars in funding, most of it from the federal government, the Southern Chiefs have ambitious plans for the site: affordable housing, assisted living, healing centre, day care, museum, meeting spaces and restaurants, among others. amenities. The plans also include a revival of the old shop’s Paddlewheel Restaurant, which many readers fondly recalled in their emails last year.

Above all, the Bay’s decision to hand over its former headquarters to a First Nations group in the city with the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada is deeply symbolic. The Bay, more than any other organization, was a driving force behind the European colonization of Canada. The company was founded in 1670 to explore the fur trade in Rupert’s Land, an area that makes up about a third of present-day Canada. King Charles II, without consulting the indigenous population, claimed the territory as England’s and gave it to his cousin. The company’s relationship with the indigenous people from that moment on was largely one of exploitation.

“It is quite fitting that First Nations are given this land back,” Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs Organization told me. “I think this shows that corporate Canada has an interest in taking an active role in rebuilding its relationship with Indigenous Peoples.”

Chief Daniels told me that negotiations for the acquisition of the building took at least 18 months. Early on, Chief Daniels said, he traveled to New York with, among others, Phil Fontaine, the former national head of the Assembly of First Nations, to meet with Richard A. Baker, the real estate mogul who owns the chain of department stores. He said that in addition to agreeing to hand over the building to the group, Baker promised to work with the bosses on its revival.

The plan for the renovation is in advanced stages, Chief Daniels said, although negotiations are still ongoing for additional funding of about 30 million Canadian dollars.

The often ill-defined concept of “land back” has become the focus of many indigenous peoples in recent years. Many Indigenous Peoples define it as when governments return land – or crown land, as it is commonly called – to First Nations and other Indigenous groups. Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, acting head of the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Manitoba, said the bay project would not truly qualify as land back unless the federal government formally recognized the lodge as an urban reservation or sovereign Indian territory.

But he nevertheless praised the project, known as the Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, in which he was not involved.

“It’s a fantastic initiative,” he said. “People must be very proud.”

Professor Sinclair said the project would benefit more than just indigenous people, arguing that it would also be a boon for Winnipeg and its struggling center.

“Indigenous peoples will be reoccupying space that has important historical value to us,” he told me, “but they will also be cleaning up a mess that a big company left behind.”

This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai, Canada’s news assistant at The New York Times.

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Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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