Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn development in former downtown Winnipeg Bay building gets another $31M from feds

The redevelopment of the former Bay building in downtown Winnipeg is getting a $31-million boost from the federal government — on top of the $65 million Ottawa has already committed.

Dan Vandal, the federal minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada and a former City of Winnipeg councillor, called the money a commitment to advancing economic reconciliation while helping to revitalize downtown.

“Our government is absolutely committed to the downtown. We know that cities are judged by downtowns and we know that downtown housing is absolutely critical to a safer, more vibrant Winnipeg,” the Saint Boniface-Saint Vital member of Parliament said at a Friday news conference inside the shell of the former retail building.

“We also know that Winnipeg is Canada’s most vital city when we talk about reconciliation. I often say Winnipeg is the Indigenous capital of Canada,” said Vandal, who is Métis.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota First Nations in southern Manitoba, acquired the former Hudson’s Bay Co. building in 2022. The SCO is in the midst of remaking the six-storey, 655,000-square-foot landmark at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard into a development called Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn — “it is visible” in Anishinaabemowin.

The plan calls for it to be a housing, cultural and service hub, with 300 affordable housing units, an HBC museum, two restaurants, an art gallery, office space for Indigenous entrepreneurs, a health centre, a child-care facility, a seniors centre, a new seat of government for the SCO and a memorial for residential school victims and survivors.

“People who come here will be able to see reconciliation in action. This is our way forward in downtown Winnipeg,” Vandal said, adding Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn “will stand as an example for the entire country.”

“Projects like this serve as beacons of hope, guiding us towards a future destined by unity and prosperity for everyone.”

According to the 2021 census, there were 102,080 Indigenous people living in Winnipeg in that year. Approximately 45,000 of these are First Nations citizens of SCO member nations, the federal government said in a news release announcing the funding.

A man with wavy white hair and wearing a suit stands and talks at a podium.
Dan Vandal says Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn ‘will stand as an example for the entire country’ on reconciliation. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

The Hudson’s Bay Co. vacated the downtown space on Nov. 30, 2020, and it sat empty until the redevelopment plan was announced in April 2022. Its initial price tag was estimated at $130 million, which was upped in December 2023 to $200 million.

The Manitoba government committed $35 million at the initial announcement in 2022, while the federal government put up $65 million (a $55-million forgivable loan and a $10-million low-cost loan) at that point.

Across the street from Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, the SCO plans to work with True North Real Estate Development, the real estate arm of the company that owns the Winnipeg Jets, to redevelop the Portage Place mall.

The plan is to turn it into a complex that includes a health-care tower, residential housing, community centres, offices for community organizations, retail space and food services.

In December, SCO and True North signed a memorandum of understanding to work collaboratively on the Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn and Portage Place projects, with a single contractor, PCL, handling management and construction of both.  

The combined footprints of the two buildings is nearly two million square feet — 1.2 million for Portage Place and 600,000 at The Bay.

The two organizations have agreed to jointly build a residential tower on the east end of Portage Place, while True North has sold the skywalk linking Portage Place and Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn to SCO for $1.