Vision and hard work have been and still are the foundation of the Brandon Friendship Centre.
In 1958 Audrey Silvius, a public health nurse working with the Sioux people of what was then Oak River Reserve was moved to act on her concern about the needs of Aboriginal people moving into Brandon. The hardships facing these people were many, but opportunities for work on the reserve were limited and the people wanted to find jobs.
The Council of Women in Brandon were approached to do a survey to find out how many Indian and Metis people were in Brandon and document the difficulties they faced. Isolation was obviously a problem, so social gatherings for the women were started at the Y.W.C.A. The gatherings proved popular and were later moved to the Y.W.C.A. so that the men could also attend. Dances and film nights provided opportunities for Native people to meet, visit and have fun.
An open meeting was called and some twenty concerned persons came together at the First United Church where the Brandon Friendship Council was formed with Audrey Silvius as its first president. The Council journeyed an uphill road with many meetings, debates, conferences and speaking engagements to stir interests and gain financial support for a meeting place, a Friendship Centre, where Aboriginal people new to the city could help and meet with those who had been here for a while.
Many of Brandon’s Aboriginal residents were from Oak River Reserve. Gradually donations began to come in from the Reserves churches and pow wows. In Brandon, church groups, service clubs, private individuals and business added to the donations. This support and the donations by the Salvation Army of the use of a large vacant house located on 13th Street, enabled the Council to open Brandon’s first Friendship Centre on November 15, 1964.
A board of twenty-one directors, one third of them of who were Aboriginal, was headed by its first president, Harry Morse. The board set about securing operating and maintenance funding and providing the community support in order to apply for a government grant available to Friendship Centres. A founder’s Day Fair and Tea brought in dollars. The Rotary Club of Brandon donated $1000.00 and the Oak River Reserve (now Sioux Valley) Band Council donated $200.00. Monies raised by the Brandon Local Council combined to provide the needed proof. By August 1965, the Centre was incorporated and has since been in receipt of regular funding.
The opening of the Friendship Centre coincided with the establishment of government funded upgrading and trade training for Aboriginal youth at the budding technical/trade school. The Centre became a meeting place for these young people who came into what must have seemed like an alien and often unfriendly city.
It soon became evident that more adequate quarters were needed. The Elk’s Hall came up for sale but government money was not available for capital expenditures. Where there’s will, there is a way. Two board members, M.E. Holden and Dr. J.E. Robbins enlisted several Brandon residents to form a foundation to guarantee a loan at the Royal Bank and the rent money was used to repay the loan. The Friendship Centre is indebted to the 13 members of the Brandon Friendship Foundation-Former Mayor Elwood Gorrie, Arvid Lindenburg, Flora Cowan, J. Lasy Lowes, M.C. Holden, J.D. Dick, G. Gooden, A.C. Hamilton, H. Knowlton, Dr.J.E. Robbins, Dr. V. Sharpe, G. Sutherland and L.D. Whitehead.
Government funding never met the needs of the Friendship Centre. Dinners, auctions, bingos, coffee houses, Harold’s jukebox, catering and even a walk to Rapid City were among the activities which brought revenues.
In the late ‘60’s, the centre, now housed in an old army H hut 836 Lorne Avenue, ran secretarial courses funded by the Department of Indian Affairs. Basic literacy classes which taught how to fill in forms, write cheques and read letters were started. By the ‘90’s the Centre moved to continuous funding for a basic literacy and upgrading program.
By 1979, the H hut had been replaced by a brand new facility. Offices were located on the main floor and the second floor had offices and a hall to hold activities.
In 1986, a housing referral worker was hired. His job was to help people find accommodations and access services within Brandon. The housing referral worker, along with board members, saw the need for subsidized housing units so they applied for funding for 12 units. The Brandon Friendship Housing Authority was informed in 1989, that they would be eligible for 4 units and now has 42 units purchased with funding from Manitoba Housing and Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation.
In October 1989 the Brandon Friendship Centre purchased and additional building at 303-9th Street. Renovated, it housed the administration offices, the Brandon Friendship Housing Authority, the six core, plus term staff, (a part time cultural worker, a part time youth worker, as well as providing a large, comfortable gathering area for Aboriginal people and their friends. The Lorne Avenue building housed our weekly bingo, pre-employment and parenting program and other social activities.
The need for a home for the new Aboriginal Head Start program was explored. The building at 205 College Avenue was purchased in 1994 and renovated as a pre-school and a hall for large gatherings. In 2003 we took over as the sponsor for the Portage Aboriginal Head Start so the start of the building hunting happened in Portage. We purchased the old CFRY building and renovated it for the pre-school. Many of our programs outgrew their space so again we began looking for more space to house the Adult Upgrading, Community Wellness program and the youth centre. We purchased the old Yaegar’s Fur building at 602 Rosser Avenue to house these programs.
Executive Directors who have served the Centre include Audrey Silvius, Grace Godmaire, Billy Moore, Harold Weitman, Wally Noel, Don McKay, Rick Marshall, Paul Mentuck, Maureen McMillan, Wally Swain, Jenny Dominik, Calvin Pompana, Barbara Hobson, Vern Kalmakoff, Stan Taniwa, Norman Fleury, Bryan Finnigan, Louise Phaneuf, Ken Norquay, Lionel Allard, Tim Grouette and Gail Cullen.
During the 50th Anniversary year we held a few events to celebrate. Our founding members Audrey Silvius & Grace Godmaire were made honorary members at our 50th Annual General Meeting in June. We again honored them at the NAFC AGM held in July at the Victoria Inn here in Brandon. We had a 50th Anniversary dinner with dignitaries in attendance. At this time the ladies were presented with a gift for founding the centre 50 years ago.
In October we were awarded a certificate from the Brandon Chamber of Commerce for 50 years of service.
Each of our programs held an open house during the week of November 16-19.