The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) building in downtown Winnipeg has been officially handed over to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), marking a monumental moment for southern First Nations in Canada.
The HBC is the oldest, largest, and longest-surviving company in North America, and its flagship brand is the eponymous Hudson’s Bay. Established on May 2, 1670, the company has been continuously operating for over three centuries. The HBC opened its first department store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which marked the beginning of a new era for the company and cemented its status as a prominent retail brand in Canada and beyond.
The HBC played a significant role in the fur trade industry in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. The company established trading posts throughout the region and formed relationships with Indigenous fur traders, who played a crucial role in supplying furs for export to Europe. The company relied heavily on the Indigenous knowledge of the land and the skills of the fur traders to navigate and hunt in harsh environments. While the company’s relationship with Indigenous fur traders was complex and often exploitative, it was also based on mutual dependence and cooperation and played an important role in shaping the history of Canada and the Indigenous peoples who lived there.
SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels acknowledges with the acquisition of the downtown historical landmark; there is work ahead to transform the building into the Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn project, which will become home to hundreds of families with childcare, a health and healing center, a museum, restaurants, and a place of commemoration to honour Survivors.
The transfer of ownership was announced in the spring of 2022, and SCO has since issued a Request for Qualifications to begin the redevelopment of the 655,000-square-foot building. The project will include more than 300 affordable housing units, culturally safe assisted living units for First Nation Elders, high-quality, licensed childcare, and a rooftop garden. A health and healing center that embraces both western and traditional practices will also be incorporated.
The HBC building, designed by Canadian architect Ernest Isbell Barrott, was the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada at the time of its opening in 1926. The Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn project plans to preserve its important heritage while helping to revive Winnipeg’s downtown.
The historic building will also become the future Governance House for the Chiefs of the southern First Nations, the voice for 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations in the Territory now known as Manitoba. The main floor will be a dedicated public space where all Manitobans, Canadians, and tourists from around the globe can come together to experience a world-class museum that shares the history of the Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples, in part through artifacts reclaimed from Vatican vaults.
The Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn project is the largest redevelopment of a historic building in Manitoba and one of the largest projects of its kind in Canada. SCO is aiming to reopen the building in November 2026, the same month the building turns 100 years old.
This project is essential to reconciliation, and the long-term benefits are immeasurable. The handover of the HBC building to the SCO marks a significant moment in history for the southern First Nations and the people of Manitoba.
Image source Manitoba Historical Society