UNFC celebrates 50 years of serving the community

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Last week the Fort Frances United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC) marked 50 years of working in the Fort Frances area and serving indigenous and non-indigenous people alike.

Executive Director of UNFC Sheila McMahon says she is happy to see how things have grown over the years.

“It started out as a gathering place for people to visit and talk,” McMahon said. “Now there’s programs and services and we’ve grown a lot through 50 years.”

The ceremony that took place on Thursday also marked the grand opening of their location at 427 Mowat Ave. Which is the first time to have all of their programs under one roof. They moved into the property over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and have waited until now to do an official opening ceremony.

They’ve spent the last few years renovating the former mill offices into a central location for their community work.

“We had three different buildings, so we were scattered,” she said. “So this just brings the community together a lot more with us under one roof.”

The UNFC runs over 20 programs including healing programs and a foodbank.

McMahon said the foodbank recently provided over 100 food bags in a week.

Friendship centres sprung out of a change in the Indian Act in the 1950s McMahon says.

UNFC executive director Sheila McMahon addressed the group gathered under the tent for the ceremonial opening of the new UNFC facility at 427 Mowat Ave. in Fort Frances. The centre has moved into and renovated the space over the last few years. UNFC offers many programs that support the community.

“They all started in the 1950s and it was to provide support because in the late 50s we no longer needed permission to come on or off our First Nation. Before that , we had to get permission to leave the First Nation from the Indian agent,” McMahon said. “They started because people started moving to urban centres and they needed a place to gather and support each other. We’ve always welcomed non-indigenous people to come into our programs and to learn and help. We have many partnerships within communities and people from all areas and backgrounds that come into our programs.”

McMahon hopes that the UNFC can remain true to its identity over the next 50 years and hopefully celebrate 100.

“My hope is that we always stay true to ourselves,” She said. “Everything we do is based on our culture, that’s what guides us. We follow the Seven Grandfather Teachings. All of the programs are based on the seven teachings and that’s one thing I don’t think Friendship Centres will ever lose, the culture, language and teaching.”