Local Indigenous group request use of town’s train station to build cultural centre

December 8, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Orangeville council heard a presentation from the Dufferin County Cultural Resource Circle (DCCRC) during a regular meeting on Nov. 28, where the organization asked to open a centre at the town’s train station.

Council didn’t make any formal decision on the matter and voted to have town staff bring forward a report at a future meeting with information on the implications and feasibility of such a move as well as a business case.

After the DCCRC’s presentation, Coun. Debbie Sherwood said while she is thrilled with the passion and vision the organization has for a cultural centre, she does not think the train station is a good location.

“There’s really nothing around there that draws people,” she said.

Coun. Sherwood suggested somewhere in downtown Orangeville might be better suited for the DCCRC.

She also noted that the train station is one of the only significant pieces of real estate owned by the town.

Sharon Rigby of the DCCRC responded to Coun. Sherwood that an Indigenous cultural centre needs some green space to do ceremonies so being downtown would be difficult. She also raised parking as an issue, especially if the DCCRC hosts large events such as powwows.

DCCRC chair Debbie Egerton also said the train station is ideal as it will have a walking trail running through it that touches places other Indigenous groups reside and there could be a tourism component.

“What it is that we’re asking for is the opportunity to build a true cultural centre here in Orangeville,” said Egerton. “Maybe one day we’ll get all the cultures together and we’ll create an Orangeville Multicultural Festival.”

Suzy Kies, funding consultant for the DCCRC, said what the organization is trying to create is a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Similar to the Native Friendship Centre in Midland, which brings in $4.5 million per year, a centre in Dufferin would bring in new jobs and co-op opportunities for youth.

She said she has identified at least $2 million per year in programming funding that she’s writing grant applications for.

“So we’re looking at creating jobs, we’re looking at becoming a destination,” said Kies.

DCCRC member, Charity Fleming said the organization’s vision for the space is a multipurpose cultural centre that reclaims Indigenous traditions and knowledge. It would be used to hold workshops, events, meetings, and offer services for mental health.

The centre could also feature an art gallery, which Kies said would be a good tourism opportunity.

“I’ve just written two proposals to have art shows, and these would be showing emerging contemporary Indigenous artist,” she noted.

“If we build a gallery, and we start bringing in those shows, we’re bringing in more people into Orangeville. If we’re bringing them in for workshops, three-day workshops, for festivals, we’re talking about people that are going to have to stay here, they’re going to have to eat here, and they’re going to be shopping. So it’s not just about bringing the culture in, but it’s creating a cultural hub, a destination for people to come to from all over. And that would really benefit the economy and all the businesses in Orangeville.”

Deputy Mayor Todd Taylor said while the DCCRC’s presentation resonates with him, similar to Coun. Sherwood, he’s not sure that the train station is the best location.

“You have a very benevolent cause, one that needs to be supported for sure. But you’ve come to us asking for a building that’s worth – who knows what it’s worth at this point – there’s massive competition for those types of things,” he remarked.

“You haven’t given a business case at all, I don’t really understand what money you have, what money you’re asking for.”

Deputy Mayor Taylor added, “It’s great, what you’ve shared with us, and I don’t mean to demean it. And please don’t go away here deflated or think that the deputy mayor was rude. It’s just, you haven’t given us anything to react to, you have to come back with more detail.

“You have to give us more, and you’ve convinced us in terms of where the heart is, but there’s way more than the heart when you’re talking about taxpayers’ money. So you’re going to have to come back with a business case, and I don’t mean that to be rude. It’s just these are the facts.”

Orangeville’s interim CAO Ray Osmond agreed that a business case is needed to move forward, and recommended that council receive the presentation for information and have town staff review the DCCRC’s business case.

He said when looking at the train station property, the town has to look at it in full while gathering feedback from stakeholders about what the best use of the lands would be.

Council took Osmond’s advice and asked that town staff review the DCCRC’s ask in its full context, review the business case, and bring back a report on next steps at a future meeting.

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