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Aboriginal Learning and Cultural Centre launched

January 21, 2012
Times Colonist
Carla Wilson

An unused wooden boat shed is getting a new life as the Aboriginal Learning and Cultural Centre at Royal Roads University in Colwood.

"It will be a combination of teaching and research space," said Paul Corns, university associate vice-president of community relations and advancement. It will also house the aboriginal co-ordinator already at Royal Roads, and be available to First Nations communities for cultural celebrations.

The goal is to start work next month with it finishing in June, he said Friday. The university is asking contractors for bids by the end of this month.

Historically, Coast Salish people used this land, where James Robert Dunsmuir hired Victoria architect Samuel Maclure to design the 1908 Hatley Castle, the historic centrepiece of the university.

About 100 aboriginal students attend Royal Roads, which has a virtual learning page on its website dedicated to First Nations: aboriginal-gathering-place/our-goals.

Advice on where to locate the aboriginal centre was sought from representatives from local First Nations communities who recommended the boathouse be used because of cultural connections to the foreshore, Corns said.

Aboriginal centres providing support and services are increasingly being constructed at educational facilities, including University of Victoria's First Peoples House and Vancouver Island University's Shq'apthut Gathering Place in Nanaimo.

Royal Roads is tendering the renovation and upgrading project for the boat shed, which was previously used for rowing.

The focus of the work will be on interior improvements, Corns said. The two-storey building has a wood panel exterior and post-and-beam construction.

"Given that its use will be designated within that cultural context that we will absolutely want to make sure that First Nations people recognize this space as culturally appropriate, it [will be] a cultural space within which they can learn and host their own events."

B.C.'s Advanced Education Ministry provided core funding for the aboriginal centre. The budget amount is not being released at this time because the work is going out for bids.

This the second boat shed to be renovated on the site. The other is offices used by Corns and other staff.

Also, Royal Roads is continuing to study options resulting from a request for a partner to design, build and finance a mixed-use village including new student residences on its property, Corns said. Several submissions came in late last year.