Thursday, 22 June 2017

All People's Mission and The Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre

Canada's social security programs are a pillar of the collective Canadian identity, ensuring that all people, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, have access to basic human resources like healthcare, social security, and a Pension Plan. But the services Canadians have come to rely on did not exist at the turn of the 20th century, anyone who had the misfortune of falling onto hard times were sometimes left without a safety net sometimes left to fend for themselves and had to look to other sources for basic necessities like food and clothing. Stepping in to help was the city's religious groups, most notably the All People's Mission in Winnipeg. Spearheaded by James Shaver Woodsworth, his mission worked to address the multifaceted needs of the city's North End communities. In the process a building was erected at 119 Sutherland Avenue that still stands today.
The All People's Mission in 1909 (Source: Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)
In the 1890s, Miss Dollie McGuire led a Methodist Sunday school for German speaking children. The children in attendance often came from families who faced shortages of basic resources, such as food and clothing. McGuire recognized the plight of the families and strove to offer more than religious teachings, providing the families with basic resources that were desperately needed. After using several locations to temporarily house the Sunday school, McGuire arrived at the McDougall Church, north of the Canadian Pacific Railway Station at 939 Main Street. Here the fledgling Winnipeg Mission officially became the All People's Mission.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Station (Source: The Manitoba Archives)
Run by the Methodist church, the All People's Mission was primarily focused on addressing the needs of recently arrived immigrants. Given that most of Winnipeg's immigrant community arrived in the city via the CPR Station at 181 Higgins Avenue, the church became concerned that their location could not properly serve the needs of the newcomers. The pending arrival of nearly 12 000 immigrants of Austrian descent was the final factor to move the mission to a larger facility closer to the the railway station. In 1902, the All People's mission made its final move, setting down roots at 119 Sutherland Street.

The exterior of the All People's Mission in 1909 (Source: Archives of Manitoba)
Two years after the relocation of the mission, the missions new Minister James Shaver Woodsworth arrived. Born in Toronto, Woodsworth moved to Winnipeg with his family in 1885 where he attended Wesley College. He received a "well rounded education" and later studied theology in Toronto and England. While in Europe, Woodsworth came face to face with the despicable conditions of the city's urban slums, an experience so profound it influenced his beliefs for the rest of his life.

James Shaver Woodsworth (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia) 
In 1908 Woodsworth contracted architect J.H.G Russel to design a new structure on the mission's land to better serve the people of the North End. Intended to be "utilitarian and efficient," the new structure was completed at a cost of $10 000. A place of service first and religion second, the plain brass plaque on the structures exterior read the "All People's Mission," and was the only outward reference to the mission's Christian origins.

Woodsworth believed that everyone in the community should have access to proper recreation facilities, so the missions basement was set aside for a large recreation room and swimming tank. The main floor and was left open for community gatherings and an assemblage of four folding doors that could be moved around to create a large classroom, sewing room or a reading room.

Children pose with flags from their home countries outside of the All People's Mission, circa 1909 (Source: Manitoba Historical Society)
The second floor was divided into small classrooms which were used for the mission's boys and girls clubs. The boys and girls clubs afforded families peace of mind and allowed neighbourhood children to interact with other kids their own age.A small kitchen was used by volunteers with the mission to teach cooking and nutrition classes.

Although the mission continued to serve the community for another 60 years, Woodsworth left in 1918 after a crisis of faith caused him to rescind his religious beliefs and to turn to a career in politics. The career change, however, did little to affect Woodsworth and his need to serve Winnipeg's North End community. He was elected to Manitoba's House of Commons in 1921 and served the Winnipeg North Centre constituency until his death in 1942. As a result of his time in office, Woodsworth is credited with helping to enact Manitoba's first Old Age Pension Plan, which is considered to be the cornerstone of Canada's Social Security System.

The Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre pre-renovation (Source: MICEC)
In 1975, the All People's Mission was purchased by the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood in conjunction with the Winnipeg Indian Council. Together they established the Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre (MICEC) within the walls of the former mission. Under this new ownership the building underwent many changes, including the construction of a television studio in the basement and a library on the second floor.
The Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre under construction in 2011 (Source MICEC)
In 2011, MICEC worked with  Bridgman Collaborative Architecture to rehabilitate the 110 year old heritage building. Seven large poles representing the languages spoken by Manitoba's Indigenous people were installed to welcome visitors as they walk up to the centre. A people's garden was planted in front of the building, where traditional plants and medicines are grown. The building was lowered by six feet so visitors would no longer have to climb a set of stairs to gain access to the entrance. The main facade was reworked to include a large glass terrarium, which helped to break up the monotony of the original facade.

The Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Centre post-renovation
(Source: Bridgman Collaborative Architecture)
Inside, the walls were painted a crisp almond colour to match the centre's dark oak floors. A gathering space, teaching kitchen and circulation desk are located on the first floor while the second floor was converted into a mezzanine level, storing the organization's huge collection of books and periodicals.




In 2011, The MICEC hosted the 26th Annual Heritage Winnipeg Preservation Awards in their new rehabilitated space. They were presented with the Institutional Conservation Award for the historic rehabilitation of 119 Sutherland Avenue.

Today, the MICEC provides Winnipeg's Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities with the resources required to keep the provinces First Nations languages, traditions, and teachings alive and flourishing. Heritage Winnipeg was proud to have the MICEC take part in the 2017 Doors Open Winnipeg event!

To view a complete list of the programs and services currently offered by the centre, please visit the MICEC's website.

Sources:

119 Sutherland Historical Report

The Manitoba Indigenous Cultural Education Centre

James Shaver Woodsworth - The Canadian Encyclopedia

Manitoba Historical Society - James Shaver Woodsworth

Manitoba Historical Society - All People's Mission

The Methodist Church and the "European Foreigners" of Winnipeg: The All People's Mission, 1889 - 1914

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