Construction on child care centre progressing well

Ken Kellar

Work is progressing well on the new indigenous-led child care centre in Fort Frances, according to United Native Friendship Centre executive director Sheila McMahon.

Work began on the $3.2-million building in August of last year, which is located on McIrvine Road across from the sports field, and McMahon noted that everything is progressing smoothly.

“It’s progressing very well,” she said.

“We’re at just over 52 percent complete, in terms of what we need to do and build and different things. So yeah, it’s going really well.”

Funding for the project is being flowed through the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board (RRDSSAB) but all funds are being administered by the UNFC.

At the outset of the project last year, it was announced that the project had an estimated operational date of December 2020, and McMahon noted that’s still the final goal.

“I had a meeting and within our scope, we’re probably looking at a completion date of October,” McMahon explained. However, the move-in date will be set after staff completes licensing, fire plans and other regulatory processes. “We’re working on that now, because we want to be ready for everything.”

Once the building is completed and ready to go, the UNFC will move a number of their programs into the space.

“Our Aboriginal Head Start program is going in there and that’s a preschool program,” McMahon said.

“It’s all culturally based: language and culture, and we have 24 kids in that program. It’s run with all of our workers, our early childhood educators, and we have a resource teacher as well. Our cook will be transferring into the new facility as well. And then we’re going to have a toddler program and an infant program for that. And that’s strictly daycare.”

The facility will also be home to an aboriginal prenatal program, a Family Support Program, a Healthy Babies worker and a cultural worker, all able to provide support to the community.

McMahon noted that a major goal of the facility is to be as connected to the language and culture as possible.

“My vision for that, along with the staff, we’re looking at a lot of on-the-land-based activities for the children,” she said.

“We’re looking at having our own little Community Gardens there on site and the parents are going to be able to come there and get involved in the cultural activities. And we’ve got partnerships in the community where we can bring in people for language and nutrition and educational activities.”

The inspiration for the building, and the way programs will be administered, began as a series of interviews conducted with community members, to gauge what services they felt were lacking in the area.

“We talked to the parents, to the people involved in our programs and we asked them what they felt was needed in the community, what would help them?” McMahon explained.

“And this is what they talked about. They spoke about a facility that covered right from the prenatal to moving into the school. And it all came from the community. It was their vision. We spoke to some Elders, we’ll have Elder involvement and that’s all part of it. That whole childcare family centre is all based on our culture and language and I think that’s what’s going to make it so unique.”

As the building gets closer to completion, McMahon and the staff at the UNFC are hard at work getting ready to open up a new space that McMahon feels will benefit not just the UNFC, but the entire community.

“There’s a lot of work involved, other than just the building itself,” she said.

“Although the capital build is a big project, we’re making sure that the staff are preparing for the new centre and what types of programs and services we can provide. We’ll be looking to the community to help us in terms of even maybe donating a tree, and what kind of trees do we need. We need guidance like that from our elders,” she said “We’re not bringing in the regular daycare outside activities. They want it to be all-natural, so it will be very unique. It’s going to serve the community very well.”