THUNDER BAY – The proposed $44-million Matawa Training and Wellness Centre took a major step toward completion on Thursday, thanks to a hefty investment by the federal government.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu and Thunder Bay-Rainy River MPP Marcus Powlowski announced Ottawa would contribute $13.8 million toward the centre, housed in the former city owned Dawson Court on Algoma Street.
When completed in 2024, the centre will be home to Kiikennomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services (KKETS), the Matawa Health Co-operative and Awashishewiigiihiwaywiin, Matawa’s social services department. It will also employ up to 300 people.
All three entities have outgrown their current spaces and will be expanded in the new facility to meet the growing needs of Matawa’s people located throughout Ontario’s North, including Thunder Bay.
Robinson Meshake, president of Matawa’s board of directors, said the money, part of the federal government’s Clean, Green Infrastructure fund, will be used to complete the next few phases of the project, using climate-friendly technology to make it as energy efficient as possible.
“Currently this building needs a lot of renovations. In the back, with KKETS, we need to renovate some space. We need to update some training spaces. There’s need for classrooms. We also have to renovate the kitchen space and develop the community gardens,” he said.
The building’s boiler and heating systems also need to be upgraded.
To date, the family teaching kitchen and food pantry have been complete, with six family transition units, including common areas, expected to be done by early summer.
By next March 21 individual accommodation units and the Awwashishe programming space and playground will be complete. Renovations Matawa Health and other shared spaces will be done. By the end of next year KKETS space will be ready, and then in May 2024, an expansion to Matawa Health, on the north side of the building, will complete the project.
Hajdu said it’s a wise investment, and an action toward reconciliation, not just words.
“I think that Canada has very good intentions on reconciliation, but our government has been concretely making investments like these across communities, transforming laws and co-developing laws and regulation with Indigenous communities for self-determination and ensuring we support projects like this that are designed by and for Indigenous peoples,” Hajdu said.
“It’s the actions of reconciliation that will improve our relationships.”
Matawa First Nations purchased the former old age home in 2020. After closing, it was initially purchased by a local developer, with plans to turn it into student housing.