An innovative and exciting educational initiative is underway in Winnipeg’s low-income and largely Indigenous North End. The 100 year old Merchants Hotel—in recent decades a magnet for all manner of violence and criminal activity—is being transformed, along with six adjoining city lots, into 30 units of fully subsidized student housing, three classrooms and a seminar room, and a community café.
Three separate educational programs will share the same space. The University of Winnipeg’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies will run university-level courses during the day (students can earn a degree in Urban and Inner-City Studies); CEDA-Pathways to Education, a North End high school support program, will use the same classroom space in the evenings for its after-school tutoring and mentoring program; and the students in the Culinary Arts program at RB Russell, a North End high school, will run the community café—the café will be organized as a social enterprise—gaining hands-on practical experience that will improve the likelihood of their finding employment. All of this will take place in an area of the city where a mere one in four students graduate high school on time.
In the third classroom, community programming will be organized during the day and some evenings and weekends, and a community consultation process is currently underway to determine what kinds of educational/cultural programming residents in the North End community want. The objective is to offer educational/cultural programming that is consistent with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Conciliation Commission Report.
Elder Stan McKay is coordinating Oji-Cree language programming for pre-school children and their parents and grandparents. The Indigenous youth-driven Meet Me at the Bell Tower will use Merchants Corner on Friday evenings. Many other educational/cultural activities will be offered—depending upon the expressed interests of the community—alongside the three more formal educational programs, creating an educational complex that will be unique in Canada, and that will be transformative in this low-income and largely Indigenous part of Winnipeg.
Capital costs for the total project—in the range of $15 million—have already been raised, coming primarily from the former provincial government, but also from generous contributions made by a wide variety of foundations, corporations and individuals.
A final round of fundraising is now underway. It includes a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising the money needed to support the community-based educational and cultural programming now being identified, such as the Oji-Cree language programming.
Many thanks for whatever you are able to contribute to this exciting, unique and transformative project.
Jim Silver is a professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies at the University of Winnipeg. His research interests are in inner-city, poverty-related, and community development issues. His most recent book is Moving Forward, Giving Back: Transformative Aboriginal Adult Education. Jim is a member of the Manitoba Research Alliance and the leader of the Housing and Neighbourhood Revitalization stream of its SSHRC Partnership project, “Partnering for Change: Community-Based Solutions for Aboriginal and Inner-City Poverty.”
Jim has been very active in the redevelopment of the old Merchants Hotel on Selkirk Avenue into Merchants Corner, which will have 30 units of subsidized housing for students with families, and where Urban & Inner-City Studies will be located, sharing space with the North End high school support program, CEDA/Pathways to Education. Jim was also very active, for 6 or 7 years, in the redevelopment of Lord Selkirk Park and has been actively involved in a number of other community initiatives in Winnipeg's inner city.
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