The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council cut the ribbon on their new Métis Community Centre during a activity-packed grand opening ceremony on May 28, 2022.
“Today we celebrate the incredibly rich history of this community both historically and today. We know this is such a beautiful beginning and I know we are going to be up here having many more celebrations at this community centre,” said Margaret Froh, President of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).
“It’s creating spaces like this not just for our community but for others as well to come in and be engaged in relationships. That’s what reconciliation is all about.”
Several events were held throughout the day. Starting with a sunrise ceremony honoring the historic moment. Speeches by dignitaries from the local council, the PCMNO and the diocese were held followed by an official ribbon cutting ceremony. Games like archery and hatchet throwing were also held and award-winning Métis fiddler Alicia Blore played traditional Métis for all of those in attendance.
An open house featuring of the programs offered by the MNO and the Registry was on hand to assist anyone still in the process of receiving their citizenship.
“For a community that’s had its land taken since 1880, and now to have a place that’s our own – it’s incredible,” said Mitch Case, Region 4 Councillor on the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario. “The feedback has been extremely positive from the community, council and the citizens. This place is something that the community has wanted for a long time. A place that means so much to us and can be that home.”
The project began in 2017 when the land was first returned to the council by the diocese. Located not far from the historic river lots owned by 54 heads of Métis families in Sault Ste. Marie that were accounted for in 1850, or roughly 400-500 people.
“They called us the forgotten people for a reason,” said Steve Gjos, chair of the Historic Sault Ste Marie Métis council and Captain of the Hunt for Region 4.
“Now we have a land base, we have a cultural centre. Something of our own that we can build on.”
The new Sault Ste. Marie Métis Centre is located on land returned by the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and will serve as a meeting place, cultural centre and information office for all MNO citizens in region 4.
The three buildings located 134, 136 and 138 John Street consist of a former church, a meeting hall and office spaces in the former pastoral residence. The grounds are also the location of several Métis graves whose area have been cordoned off in respect.
“I’m so happy that so many people came out today,” said Art Bennett, MNO Citizen and Elder who attended the grand opening.
“And not just Métis but dignitaries from the community, they are proud of being part of this community and those are the people who will help us move forward.”
The church building will be repurposed to serve as a museum for local Métis artifacts collected by the Council. Its official opening isn’t until 2023. The hall will be used to hold council events and meetings and has its own kitchen and through partner funding and fundraising has been updated with accessibility ramps so that everyone of all mobilities can enjoy the space safely.
The former pastoral residence has been renovated into office space to serve MNO citizens where program officers will be on hand to assist citizens. The offices also have been updated with accessibility ramps.
“I want to acknowledge our Métis ancestors who are buried on this land and recognize our connection to this land,” said Kim Powley, President of the Historic Sault Ste. Marie Métis Council. “I also want to take this moment to thank the Anglican Diocese for making the decision to return this Métis land back to the rightful owners in reconciliation.”
For more than a hundred years, St. John’s Church stood on a plot of land beside the now-submerged Fort Creek. Decades before the land was sold to the Anglican Church of Canada in 1901, it had been a graveyard, first for the local Métis people, and later for the North West Company outpost erected near where the Fort Creek empties into the St. Mary’s River. In July 2017 the land was given back to the Métis when St. John’s decided to merge with St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in 2016 to create a new parish, Emmaus Anglican Church, the diocese decided to return the property to its traditional owners.