There were mixed emotions as people gathered for the grand opening of a residential and office complex at 550 Goldstream Ave. in Langford.
While it was a happy occasion and fell on National Aboriginal Day, it was also a reminder of the struggles Aboriginal Peoples have had to endure just to be there.
Lewis Charlie, one of the speakers at the event, shared some of his past to put some of those struggles into context.
“I am one of the survivors of a residential school … I have regained many things in my life despite what has happened,” he said. “The building here stands for much of what’s to come.”
Thirty-six Aboriginal families will soon call 550 Goldstream Ave. home. While some are already taking shelter within its walls, the remainder of the 30 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units will soon be filled. M’akola Development Services and M’akola Housing Society, which own and operate the complex, have relocated their provincial operations to the ground-level commercial space at the site, with offices filled with culturally-inspired features from artist Connie Watts.
One of her pieces, entitled B.C. Tessellations, adorns the side of the building for everyone traveling down Goldstream Avenue to see. The colourful piece aims to capture the familiarity of the province’s landscape, encompassing its grandeur, strength and abundance. Of course, the M’akola Group of Societies logo, designed by Richard Hunt, also adorns the M’akola Housing Society’s front entrance.
William Jones, an elder helping bless the site, said the day “reminds me of a great sadness.” He once asked his grandfather what had happened to their people. His grandpa told him it was the “Great Dying,” which was a turning point for their ancestors, a loss of the culture and traditions that were based on their lives surrounded by the sea.
When Jones asked his grandfather what will happen to their people, “he said, ‘there’s going to be a new First Nations,’” that will be evident in the spirit of their loved ones.
“We must look to each other in caring,” he said, echoing his grandfather’s sentiment. That is what projects like this new building symbolize, he said.
Al Sam, another guest speaker, compared the project to the big houses some First Nations once lived in. He said traditionally a number of families were housed in one building. This project is like a modern version of those spaces.
The mixed-use development had a different kind of blessing ceremony roughly 11 months ago, as crews began to break ground on the project. Less than a year later, those visions and plans for the space have materialized.
Kevin Albers, M’akola Group of Societies CEO, offered his appreciation to everyone that helped make that happen. “This is a pretty exciting day for us,” he said. “It’s actually the 20th anniversary of National Aboriginal Day.”
As he officially declared the site open on this special day, he said, “it’s really, truly a great thing for me to do and a real honour.” He added that the M’akola groups could not have done it alone and pointed to all of their partners and contractors.
“Langford is our go-to municipality … If we could just build in Langford we’d be pretty happy,” Albers said. “You guys just get it and we really appreciate it.”
Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton, the acting mayor, took a turn at the mike to talk about the City’s role in the project. “It’s something we can try to do to make our members of the community feel welcomed,” he said. “This is a no brainer for us to get involved … We can never have enough affordable housing in our community.”
The City of Langford contributed more than $463,000 in grants and tax reductions for the project. The provincial government provided nearly $6.3 million in construction financing and combined with the federal government has contributed roughly $4.9 million through affordable rental housing initiatives.
Tenant Christine Aday said, “living here in this new building has improved my family’s quality of living.” She noted how well built the units are, with a high standard of finishings and beautiful details. “Thank you for your hard work and seeing this through.”
Albers noted “family rental is really quite an important part of what M’akola does … The impact on these 36 families will have a lasting impression for generations.”
He nodded to Aday’s statements before him. “That is why we do what we do. I’m looking forward to the next project.”