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MMF to Take Over Former Wawanesa HQ

The Manitoba Métis Federation has announced the purchase of 200 Main Street and adjacent 165 Fort Street, formerly owned by Wawanesa Insurance. The MMF announced on Thursday, September 28. 

Built in 1990, Wawanesa took ownership of the building in 2003, at which point they made extensive renovations to the interior. The seven-storey structure has 111,778 square feet of working space with an additional 320 underground parking stalls. Above-ground parking has 35 spots with access to electricity.  

David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Métis Federation, shared his enthusiasm when the announcement was made last week. 

“It’s a proud day for all Red River Métis citizens as we increase our footprint in the heart of our Homeland, in what is now called Winnipeg,” Chartrand said. “This beautiful, well-cared-for building will become a cornerstone of our government operations, housing MMF affiliates and departments while inspiring pride in our citizens.” 

Current plans for the former Wawanesa building are aimed at helping the Métis community. Over half the building will be used for MMF departments to enhance service for Métis citizens. A “culturally-focused Red River Métis” child care program will also be in-house. Further build plan details are yet to be released. 

Wawanesa will be moving into its new headquarters in True North Square. Wawanesa SVP and Chief Financial Officer Gord Dowhan congratulated the MMF, referring to the commitment Wawanesa Insurance will make in downtown Winnipeg. 

“As Wawanesa looks forward to our new headquarters at True North Square a major investment in the future of Downtown Winnipeg and the Manitoba economy- it has always been important to us that we find a purchaser who is going to be a positive force downtown. There is no doubt that the Manitoba Métis Federation is the right occupant to move into this building and develop it for the future.” 

Other Investments by the Manitoba Métis Federation 

According to the MMF website, this substantial acquisition is the most recent of over $30 million of investments made by the Federation in Winnipeg since 2019. The MMF has made tentative notice of future investments, stating they will be investing another $91 million into the city in the next three years.  

Citing their specific focus on major expenses in the future, the MMF website states funds are primarily being allocated to downtown Winnipeg. According to the site, the MMF has made $122.5 million in capital investments in recent years. Of this, $86.5 million has been invested in downtown Winnipeg.  

“There is no doubt that we are investing in downtown Winnipeg because we believe in it and want to play a key role in its revitalization,” Chartrand said in the announcement of the purchase of the former Wawanesa headquarters. “This is the birthplace of our Nation, which speaks to our hearts. It is also the site where Canada once took away our land through the scrip- acquiring this land back is one of the ways we can honour our Ancestors, returning this land to our people, acre by acre and building by building.” 

In recent years, the MMF has invested significantly in downtown, purchasing a former yoga studio at 280 Fort Street in 2021. The three-storey building is being revamped and converted into a luxury boutique hotel. The hotel is planned to have 36 rooms, including a coffee shop, bakery, and juice bar. The cost of this project is projected to be $14 million. Current projections show they’ll be opening their doors for business by 2025. 

“We want to make sure that when we have our visitors coming into this city of ours that if they stayed in our boutique hotel, they’re going to remember that hotel,” Chartrand has explained. “They want to come back just to be at that hotel.” 

 In 2020, the MMF made a substantial purchase in downtown Winnipeg, acquiring the prestigious Bank of Montreal building at 335 Main Street. Constructed in 1912, the century-old building is a staple site of Main Street and downtown Winnipeg. Purchased on the 150th anniversary of Manitoba becoming a province of Canada, the MMF was excited to announce the purchase. In a statement posted to the MMF website, there was no mistaking what this purchase meant to David Chartrand and members of the Federation. Released on Manitoba Day, the post made by Chartrand declaring the purchase of the BMO building was sure to recognize what it took to make Manitoba a province. 

“Every Manitoba Day, we need to make sure we take a moment to remember the vision and sacrifices of our Ancestors. Without their commitment to stay firm and resist Canada’s entry into the Northwest, who knows what Indigenous and Language rights would look like today.” 

The plan for the former bank is to create a Métis Nation Heritage Centre. Located at the corner of Portage and Main, the Heritage Centre will be stocked with 1,000 books about Métis history. Métis history in Manitoba and Canada has had plenty of misinformation written and circulated, primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. This Heritage Centre will allow those interested to learn the true history of the Métis Nation. 

“When they come here, firstly, I hope they’ll really reflect upon the history and contribution the Métis made in bringing Western Canada into Confederation,” Chartrand said. 

The Heritage Centre will include exhibits for visitors in addition to digital displays and several installations to view and participate in. The expectation is the site will attract more than 25,000 visitors per year. The project is expected to be completed by 2026. 

Renovations are still underway at the building. Goals of construction include making the building more accessible to all people while also creating significant energy savings taking strides to make the building more environmentally friendly. The Province of Manitoba contributed $10 million to the project, while the federal government has committed $23.1 million. 

Federal and Provincial funding has been a substantial element of many projects undertaken by the MMF in recent years. This has not been lost on Chartrand, who has praised both levels of government for their willingness to assist in these major investments. 

“Canada’s ongoing partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation is an important step along the shared path of reconciliation,” Chartrand said. “The creation of the new Red River Métis National Heritage Centre and the Métis Economic Community Development Initiative will help the Métis people to tell their story, deliver on economic development opportunities, and help strengthen the MMF’s cultural and economic network.”  

Regarding the Heritage Centre, Chartrand was honest in his comments about the purchase, sharing his excitement with the people of the Métis Nation. 

“There were once nights when I tossed and turned, worried about not being able to pay our staff. Now, after lots of hard work, we own perhaps one of the most famous historic pieces of architecture in all of the Homeland.” 

The vaults from what was once a Bank of Montreal branch will remain in the basement for guests to view. The massive building has been a centrepiece of downtown and will continue to serve as such once the interior has been remodelled. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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