The federal government will invest $23.1 million to help transform downtown Winnipeg’s historic Bank of Montreal building into the new Métis Nation Heritage Centre, Minister of Northern Affairs and St. Boniface MP Dan Vandal announced at the Manitoba Métis Federation’s annual general assembly on Saturday.
The MMF struck a deal to buy the historic building in 2020. The Bank of Montreal occupied 355 Main St. for more than a century as part of the city’s original banker’s row, before announcing plans in 2019 to move into the office tower at 201 Portage Ave.
Vandal says the new heritage centre will showcase and celebrate Métis history through workshops, the protection and display of artifacts, photography, as well as traditional and contemporary arts.
“This is a one-of-a-kind heritage centre for education here in Manitoba, here in Winnipeg, and at Portage and Main, our province’s most important corner,” he said.
The federal government will commit $23.1 million to the centre, Vandal said. They have already contributed close to $5.1 million to the project, according to a Saturday news release.
Manitoba will chip in $10 million for the centre, Premier Heather Stefanson announced in a prerecorded video played at Saturday’s assembly.
“There would have been zero [dollars] from the province if Pallister was still there,” MMF president David Chartrand told CBC News, referring to Stefanson’s predecessor as premier, Brian Pallister.
Chartrand said Stefanson has been more open to work with the MMF on the project.
“People are very touched because they believe in this heritage centre,” he said.
The $23.1-million investment from the federal government is being drawn from the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program, according to the news release. The program is a part of Canada’s climate plan, providing $1.5 billion over five years toward initiatives that include green retrofits, repairs or upgrades of existing public community buildings.
The new centre will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide energy savings, according to the release.
Vandal says two pandemic years have shown the importance of public spaces as part of a strong community.
“By investing in these sorts of facilities, we are strengthening the connection between the people and the places that we all share,” he said.
The centre will feature about 1,000 books on Métis history purchased for $250,000, holograms and a bank museum in the basement where the building’s safes and vaults are located.
It will “forever be a strong Métis presence” in Winnipeg to describe the nation’s past, present and future, Vandal said.
“This will be the new home for the Red River Métis community.”