WINNIPEG, MB – Guided by Elders Stan McKay and Ann Callahan, involving countless hours of community conversations and consultations, it is a dream seven years in the making: Today Merchants Corner, an innovative education, community and housing hub that is transforming the iconic intersection of Selkirk Avenue and Andrews Street in Winnipeg’s North End, officially swung open its doors with an open house and community celebration.
Once a flashpoint for community frustration and a symbol of decline, the 100 year-old Merchants Hotel, along with six adjoining city lots, is now a beacon of hope for the community. It features 30 units of affordable housing, and hosts The University of Winnipeg’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies and the Community Education Development Association (CEDA) and Pathways to Education. Future plans include a social enterprise café and space for community-based educational, cultural and language programs and events. The Meet Me at the Bell Tower group, organized by community activist Michael Champagne and others, will be at Merchants Corner with community programming on Friday and Saturday evenings.
In addition to new offices and classrooms equipped with smart boards, the facility includes community use space in which it is hoped literacy programming for preschoolers will be offered, among many other activities. The new facility features 30 affordable one, two and three-bedroom units, with priority for students with children. Makoonsag Intergenerational Childcare Centre is located nearby on Selkirk Avenue, a crucial support for student success.
The development of this community-led project has been and will continue to be guided by the following principles: Co-operative Connection, Mixed Use, Sustainability, Community Economic Development Principles, Inter-generational and Universally Accessible.
Following many hours of community consultations, the words most often used to describe the desired space were “Home” “Peace” and “Opportunity for All.” To honour the strong Indigenous character of the neighbourhood, several design elements were incorporated into the building: the front façade on Selkirk Avenue features four feathers, signifying the protection of the Eagle for all who enter; the main floor is recessed incorporating the shell and feet of the Sacred Turtle; the Atrium is circular and filled with light, representing the Circle of Life; and along the feature wall, flying Peace Doves bring nature into the space.
The Canada and Manitoba governments committed more than $15 million to the project through the federal-provincial Investment in Affordable Housing 2014-2019 extension. The community worked tirelessly to raise an additional $2.7 million from generous donors to go towards capital costs, technology infrastructure and training spaces within the complex.
To better serve UWinnipeg students located on the North End campus, The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association proudly contributed to the project and established its first satellite office in the Merchants Corner complex.
By sharing a space with The University of Winnipeg, high school students in the Pathways to Education Program—which is delivered in Winnipeg by CEDA—will be working alongside university students on a regular basis, many of whom are Pathways alumni themselves. This physical proximity immerses students in an educational environment that reinforces Pathways to Education’s and CEDA’s goal of helping youth to graduate from high school and successfully transition to post-secondary education and training.
Hijab Mitra was the project architect (Mistecture Architecture). Redevelopment of the southern component of the project, including educational, community and residential spaces, was managed by the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation. The North End Community Renewal Corporation managed the coordination and administration of the project. Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation managed the construction of Merchants Corner Housing. Ongoing management of the complex is by Merchants Corner Inc.
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Diane Poulin, Senior Communications Specialist, The University of Winnipeg
P: 204.988.7135, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Colleen Ryan, Director, Marketing and Communications, Pathways to Education Canada
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The Merchants Hotel, known as “the Merch,” was a three-storey building at 541 Selkirk Avenue originally constructed in 1913 as a hardware store. It was converted in 1933 into the Merchants Hotel with a beer vendor that became a problem area in the neighbourhood.
Two separate educational programs now share the redeveloped space: UWinnipeg’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies runs university-level courses during the day; and Pathways to Education, a national organization that supports high school students living in low-income communities to overcome barriers to education and build the foundation for a successful future, runs programming during the evening. The Pathways to Education Program, a holistic combination of academic, financial, social, and one-on-one supports, is delivered to youth in Winnipeg’s North End by the Community Education Development Association (CEDA). In Merchants Corner, Pathways to Education students use the same classroom space in the evenings for after-school tutoring and mentoring programming. Through CEDA, Pathways to Education supports 300 students annually in Winnipeg to graduate from high school and transition to post-secondary education, training, or employment. UWinnipeg’s Urban and Inner-City Studies department expects its enrolment to double within five years to 450 students. In development is a community café to operate as a social enterprise, allowing area students hands-on practical experience.
In addition, community programming will be organized during the day and some evenings and weekends. A community consultation process has been completed to determine what kinds of educational and cultural programming residents in the North End community need and want. The facility will also serve as a safe indoor meeting place for local community groups, such as Meet Me at the Bell Tower – Stop the Violence.
Approximately 40% of area families are led by single parents, many of them young and Indigenous. North End high school graduation rates are well below average at 55%, and in some neighbourhoods are as low as 25%. The objective is to create an educational and cultural complex that is consistent with the Calls to Action of the seminal Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Included in the programming plans are Oji-Cree language classes for pre-school children and their parents and grandparents. A seamless, intergenerational approach to education creates a culture of life-long learning at Merchants Corner.
Youth will find role models and families will learn together. As people in the community see their friends and family succeed, they will also be drawn to education. School readiness and high-school graduation rates will rise, and growing numbers of community members will attend and graduate from university.
April 2012 – A community coalition of approximately 20 North End organizations including the North End Community Renewal Corporation, Urban Circle Training Centre Inc., The Selkirk Avenue BIZ, Andrews Street Family Centre, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc., Community Education Development Association (CEDA), the University of Winnipeg Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies and SEED Winnipeg join forces to redevelop the Merchants Hotel.
April 29, 2012 —Merchants Hotel closes.
2014–2015— The Canada and Manitoba governments commit more than $15 million to the project through the federal-provincial Investment in Affordable Housing.
Fall 2014 —Community begins active fundraising to reach a $1.7 million goal set by the provincial government (this goal was reached and ultimately exceeded by $1 million).
September 16, 2015—Community celebration to swing the sledgehammer: The original three-storey Merchants building is gutted and converted. The exterior restoration adheres to heritage principles. The adjoining one storey restaurant/beverage room, constructed in the 1950s, is demolished to make way for the new structure.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
All financial gifts, however big or small, are appreciated and go to support community programming. The University of Winnipeg Foundation has an active crowd-funding campaign at:
MERCHANTS CORNER CONTACT
Merchants Corner Inc.
QUOTES – THE IMPACT OF MERCHANTS CORNER
“Manitoba Housing is proud to be a partner in the Merchants Corner project that has brought a community vision to life. This redevelopment in the heart of the North End is designed to meet the renewed needs of the neighbourhood. By providing affordable, accessible housing and an educational hub, students will be supported as they complete their schooling.” Families Minister Scott Fielding
“Innovative projects like Merchants Corner are only possible through strong community partnerships and all levels of government working together. Our Government is committed to providing communities the support they need to tackle housing affordability in areas like Winnipeg’s North End. Access to adequate, affordable housing combined with better education is the foundation for socio-economic success, and I’m confident we’re going to keep seeing the positive outcomes of this unique project for many years to come.” Kevin Lamoureux Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North
“The new Merchants Corner is a beacon of light for Selkirk Avenue which symbolizes the strength of the community collaboration and partnerships in our City. This project is a game changer and will play a significant role in the positive transformation and development of Winnipeggers for many years to come.” Point Douglas City Councillor Mike Pagtakhan
“For more than a generation, community visionaries dreamt about repurposing this building. They imagined a safe space for the families that have made this area home. The provision of quality housing, educational facilities and an intergenerational gathering space is a wonderful addition to the North End. Merchants Corner is an investment that will unleash the potential of this area and the youth of the community will positively impact the future of Winnipeg.” Elder Stan McKay
“One of the best ways to ensure student success is to surround youth with familiar mentors and role models, so they can see and experience the possibilities. What makes Merchants Corner so special is the way it is creating a community of learners, from children to adults, under one roof.” Dr. Annette Trimbee, President and Vice-Chancellor, UWinnipeg
“Selkirk Avenue is central to the life of North End residents and this project helps renew the welcoming spirit of community. Many people have worked diligently and collaboratively and this is truly a celebration of that energy and vision.” Rob Neufeld, Board Chair, Merchants Corner Inc., early champion of Merchants Corner
“The redevelopment of Merchants Corner is another important milestone in the North End’s renewal efforts. This project is a prime example of what can be accomplished when communities are empowered to design initiatives and work with partners to bring their vision to life.” Dawn Sands, Executive Director, North End Community Renewal Corporation
“This innovative community space in the North End will enable Pathways students to experience programming and develop new networks in a collaborative and empowering environment. At Pathways to Education, we know that this type of community-led investment in youth results in improved educational outcomes and the foundation for a successful future.” Sue Gillespie, President and CEO, Pathways to Education Canada
“The shining light of hope is Merchants Corner where our young people can feel pride, hope, and be part of the legacy of a strong North End community.” Kathy Mallett, inner-city activist, past Co-Director of CEDA
“This building represents the stories of this community. It was my privilege and honour to be a part of this process and people. There was only one vision, to create a beacon of hope for the future. The highlight of the process was knocking on thousands of doors, meeting new friends and families, sharing memories and stories that led to the vision and design of Merchants Corner.” Hijab Mitra, project architect (Mistecture Architecture)
“Merchants Corner is unique in all of Canada: the building’s space is shared by a university department, a high school support program and the North End community. The educational work being done takes place in a community-owned and community-controlled building. This is a dynamic partnership, and it will be transformative in the North End and in Winnipeg for decades to come.” Dr. Jim Silver, Professor, Urban and Inner-City Studies, UWinnipeg
“The renovation of the Merchants Hotel has been transformative for the community. As the developer, we embraced the challenge of maintaining certain historical elements of the building and its connection to various communities on the Avenue, while repurposing the new and expanded space, recognizing the Indigenous spirit of the neighbourhood. UWCRC is honoured to serve as a founding member of Merchants Corner Inc. and its board of directors. Working with the community to make this project happen has been a wonderful personal experience.” Sherman Kreiner, Managing Director, University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation
“The Winnipeg Foundation aims to create a Winnipeg where community life flourishes for all, and Merchants Corner will certainly help make this vision a reality for many. We’re proud to support this, and many of the programs and projects that together are transforming Selkirk Avenue. Our support is only possible thanks to our generous donors.” Rick Frost, CEO, The Winnipeg Foundation
“This building and street corner used to be a place of misery and despair. Now, it is a place for learning and hope.” Tom Simms, Executive Director, CEDA
“The UWSA is very proud to be a part of Merchants Corner. We would like to thank the many students and previous UWSA Executive for their work and vision invested in making the student presence at Merchants Corner a priority. We look forward to continuing to work with everyone involved to make this promising new facility the best it can be for our students and the community.” Laura Garinger, President, University of Winnipeg Students’ Association
“The new Merchants Corner is more than a building. It’s a vision come to life. It’s the vision of lifelong and honorary North Enders who believe we deserve a space that is as beautiful as our hopes, dreams and children.” Michael Champagne, Founder, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities