Downtown Bay project earns prestigious award for Manitoba's Southern Chiefs’ Organization

·3 min read

A project that will see an iconic Winnipeg building transformed into a space for “economic and social reconciliation” has received high praise and a prestigious honour from an American-based business magazine.

Fast Company, a monthly magazine, announced that Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn has been named the Best World-Changing Idea for North America for 2023, as part of their annual award campaign that recognizes projects from around the world in a number of categories.

Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn is the name given to a project that will transform the 655,000-square-foot former Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) building in downtown Winnipeg into an Indigenous-led space expected to include housing units, child care spots, a health centre, a museum, office space, retail stores and restaurants, and a space for reflection.

In November of 2020, HBC permanently closed their once flagship Winnipeg store which first opened in 1926 at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, because of what they said at the time was “shifting consumer behaviour, and changes to how and where customers are shopping.”

In April of 2022, plans were announced to transfer ownership of the building to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) to begin work on a project that is expected to cost $130 million and open its doors to the public in the fall of 2026. All three levels of government have pledged more than $100 million in combined funding and tax breaks.

According to Fast Company, projects considered for the award must include “sustainable designs, innovative products, bold social initiatives, and other creative projects that are changing the way we work, live, and interact with the world,” and winners in a number of categories were selected from a pool of more than 2,200 entries from around the world.

SCO said they believe the project will be a step towards reconciliation both socially and economically, and will be an important meeting place for First Nations people in Manitoba.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said they were excited to hear about the recognition from Fast Company.

“This project is going to empower and positively impact the lives of countless numbers of citizens in Manitoba and in Canada. It will be a gathering and healing space for First Nations citizens, as it sheds light on the need for concrete, bold steps towards reconciliation,” Daniels said in a media release.

“Our relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company has enabled the Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn project to come to life.”

Officials with HBC hope this news will show other businesses and corporations the importance of taking steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada.

“When we began this journey with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, we hoped it would signal to corporate Canada the opportunity and responsibility we all have to advance reconciliation,” HBC executive chairman and CEO Richard Baker said in the release. “We are honoured, and hope this spotlight helps to build relationships and create change.”

Fast Company is a monthly print magazine that focuses on topics of business, technology, and design and has a circulation of more than 700,000.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun