A long-standing gathering place and cultural hub for Winnipeg’s Indigenous community has been ransacked by vandals.
Extensive damage to the inside of the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, located on Robinson Street in the North End, was discovered by patrolling Bear Clan members Friday night.
“It’s really, really bad,” said Bear Clan leader James Favel, who has toured the building and seen the damage firsthand.
“The centre at this point is a total loss. There’s nothing that we can do with it. There’s no way we can get it back up and running.”
The back door of the centre was discovered wide open on Friday night. Favel said his members went inside to investigate after noticing the problem.
He said they were shocked by what they found.
Aside from water damage and frost caused by burst pipes — the building has been without heat or electricity for months — thieves have ripped all of the copper plumbing and wiring out of the walls and stolen nearly everything of value, including stereo equipment, televisions and computers.
Photos of the damage show toilets ripped from the walls, ceiling tiles torn from the roof and garbage, as well as food and office paper thrown around the floors. Favel says there are also holes in the walls throughout the centre and both the kitchen and main floor have been completely damaged.
“I don’t know how a small group of people like that could do so much damage to something that benefited so many for so little,” he said.
“It’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the damage that they’ve done.”
Norman Lagimodiere, current president of the Winnipeg Indian Metis Centre’s board, says disputes between board members and financial issues forced the centre’s closure. He doesn’t know how the cash-strapped facility will be able to reopen in light of the damage.
“It’s heartbreaking that some people that are probably addicted came into this building and destroyed it,” he said.
“Now, even if we could get it back to where we could reopen it, where is the money coming from to do all these repairs?
“It’s so sad that it came to this.”
Favel said there had been talk of reopening the centre, possibly with a new board, this spring.
“Now there’s no chance,” he said Saturday, adding the centre was a staple in the community, holding regular bingo nights, socials and fundraisers. “It was a huge resource for our community.”
Favel said he has filed a police report and patrol members went back Saturday to remove all of the culturally important things that were left, including portraits from the centre’s wall of honour.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said. “Everything’s just been destroyed.”