The N’Amerind (London) Friendship Centre has undergone extensive renovations over the past several months. The “new” centre reopened to the public with a community gathering and tours on July 11th, 2013.
Executive Director Al Day was as proud as a brand new daddy as he officially helped cut the ribbon at a ceremony that was well attended by local dignitaries, contributors and dozens of Native beneficiaries to the many programs and services the centre offers to urban Natives in the London region.
The Friendship Centre is a non-profit organization committed to the promotion of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual well-being of Native people and in particular, Urban Native People which was established and incorporated in 1967.
It is located at 360 Colborne Street in London and is situated not far from the communities Oneida of the Thames, Chippawas of the Thames, and the Munsee-Delaware Nation. An estimated 20,000 Onkwehon:we people live either in London or in the nearby reserves who keep the centre alive and busy.
“It’s been a pretty huge undertaking,” said Day while dozens of people milled about and enjoyed a light meal together in the gym following the grand opening.
According to Day, the initial budget was set at around $700,000, but unforeseen problems were discovered during renos that pushed that figure up and delayed the completion for a few more weeks. Most of the renovation costs came through various provincial funding sources.
The original structure was built in 1925 with additions put on in 1955 and 1960, “There are no ‘as-built’ drawings that exist,” explains Day. “So once they started taking the walls apart, we found some very serious deficiencies — mechanical, electrical and structural — so there had to be a lot of design changes which brought about unforeseen costs.”
The final cost is still being tallied, but it is open and the many programs they offer are ready to care for the needs of a huge Onkwehon:we client list.
During the several weeks of renovations they were operating some of their programs out of a rented location not far away.
Day and his staff are ecstatic to be home again in what is, for all intents and purposes, a brand new building.
“We had to make a decision back in October of 2012 if we were going to go ahead with the renovations or not,” said Day. “The main reason we needed the renovations was to make the building more wheelchair accessible, inside and out.”
Even getting into the centre used to be a problem for some. The front entrance sits about 4 feet lower than the sidewalk making it totally inaccessible to clients in wheelchair or walkers.
A few years ago, a long ramp was built along the side of the building to make it more accessible to get down to the entrance level. But even then, they could only access the main level and could not get to the second or third floors.
All that has changed now with an easier ramp outside now up to code and an elevator that runs between all three floors. There are also brand new wheelchair accessible washrooms on all three levels.
Fresh paint and a few cosmetic changes in the older parts of the building have made the entire facility look brand new.
“It turned out really well,” beamed Day as he looked around his new digs.
Staff offered tours to guests and clients all day long as the new facility buzzed with excitement.
Among them were Richard Brayden and Chris Dobson, two London criminal lawyers who responded to an invitation posted at the London courthouse.
“This is wonderful to see the new building and all the programing that is happening here.” said Dobson. “I am very pleased for them.”
One of the great features of the new centre is an incredibly detailed set of wall paintings salvaged from the renovations. A number of years ago an artist from the Chippawas of the Thames painted a three wall, floor to ceiling mural depicting outdoor scenes and many animals representing the various Clans. Day could not recall his name, but he has since passed away.
“He did this entire thing in three weeks,” said Day. “Incredible!”
They asked the construction workers if they could save the mural. At first they said no, but later suggested they could save some of it by carefully cutting out several scenes from the original mural which are now framed and hung in the front foyer and lead up the three new flights of stairs.
There is also a beautiful three foot tall Oneida-woven basket in Day’s newly renovated office which he is very proud of.
“A non-Native supporter who has since passed away bought it for us,” he says. “We don’t know what the value of it is, but we want to have a plexiglas display case built for it. It has been appraised in the five figures mark.”
The centre houses 21 very well utilized programs for urban Natives and carries a staff of 32, mostly in London, but with three staffers working in their Windsor satellite office.
“Our healing service program was designed to service 15-20 people per month, but some months it is up to 60-70,” Day says.
The Centre offers everything from pre-natal programs, to birthing, post birthing, all the way through to lifelong care.
The Center also houses a very good and active justice program with 3 court workers, a Gladue writer, community liaison programs for families and children dealing with CAS, with somewhere around 21-22 active files at any given time.
They have recently begun an alternative secondary school program with 8-10 usually, but can accommodate up to 20 students who are having difficulty in the mainstream system.
“The idea is to get them back in a good place and back into mainstream secondary school system,” says Alternative Secondary School Program Coordinator Joel Kennedy.
The program is called Wiingashk and is sanctioned through the Thames Valley District School Board.
This fall they hope to add language lessons in Lenni Lenape – Delaware, funded by the University of Western Ontario and hosted through the Centre with Ojibwe and Oneida language classes soon to begin as well.
London’s N’Amerind Friendship Centre reopened last month with fanfare and a full house of very excited urban Native families and friends of the Centre. Executive Director Al Day takes guests on a tour through the newly renovated centre. (Photo by Jim Windle)
An antique Oneida storage hamper was donated to the Centre a few years ago by a non-Native gentleman who has since passed away. It has been appraised and although Executive Director Al Day could not recall the exact number he says it is into five digits. (Photo by Jim Windle)
Alternative Secondary School Program Coordinator Joel Kennedy shows off his classroom at the Centre where he teaches the Wiingashk program for students having trouble in mainstream classes. The program is sanctioned through the Thames Valley District School Board. (Photo by Jim Windle)
One of several salvaged pieces of a three wall, floor to ceiling mural that once adorned the old friendship centre front lobby. Construction workers carefully cut out segments of the mural which are now framed and hang in the foyer and up the stair cases. (Photo by Jim Windle)