Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre space set to expand

Construction on 144 Barrie Street projected to begin January

Students and staff in front of 144 and 146 Barrie Street.
Credit: 
Supplied by Vanessa McCourt

On Oct. 11, Director of Indigenous Initiatives Janice Hill (Kanonhsyonni), revealed that Queen’s would be expanding the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre. 

During the Gender Matters Speaker Series, Hill announced that the expansion of Four Directions would follow the recommendation set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in April.

“I’m feeling very upbeat and positive right now,” Hill said. “When we found out that Four Directions was going to be expanded, we were all ecstatic.” 

The Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre has served as a resource for Indigenous students on campus since 1996. Moving to 146 Barrie St. in 2000, it has since been used as a hub for learning about Indigenous culture through cultural programming and provides students with a safe and inclusive place to study.

To effectively double their current space, the redevelopment of the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre will also include the renovation of the neighbouring heritage house, 144 Barrie St. The Division of Student Affairs at the University will provide the majority of funding for the project. 

The expansion of Four Directions was recommendation 13 on the TRC’s final report. To continue to serve the community’s needs, the Commission indicated the expansion of the space and number of staff was necessary. 

“We were bursting at the seams there,” Hill remarked. “To know that we’ve outgrown this space to the point where we’re doubling our size is amazing.” 

During the summer, Hill’s team consulted with students at Queen’s and members of the Indigenous community to understand how Four Directions could be improved. “A vast majority would like to see the centre more focused on students only,” she said. 

In the past, the space had been utilized for meetings and, as Hill indicated, a “safe space” for students of colour on campus following the controversial “racist party” held last year. Due to limited space in the centre following this event, Hill said students studied on the floor of her office because Four Directions was completely full. 

Two Row Architect firm, based in the Six Nations Ontario reserve, was chosen by the administrative team to begin conceptual drawings for the space. The firm is entirely native-owned and operated, previously working on notable projects such as the Seneca Nation of Indians administration building in Allegany, New York, and the Nishnawbe Homes Inc., multi-unit residential building located on Dundas Street in Toronto. 

Hill added that because the houses on Barrie are heritage homes protected by the University against exterior reconstruction, the centre will be looking to utilize designs for the interior instead. 

When the construction is completed, Hill hopes the houses operate in two capacities. Currently, the idea is to use one house for operational functions — with a kitchen for feasts and multi-purpose rooms for programming — while the other will incorporate dedicated study space for students as well as an accessible, first-floor library.  

“The deadlines are still fluid because we’re waiting on the estimates from the architects,” Hill said. “The plan right now is that we will be shovelling ground in January.” She added this would be following communication with construction companies and would remain dependent on the structural condition of the older house.  

The current Four Directions location — 146 Barrie Street — will remain accessible to students and the community while construction begins on the neighbouring house. Their operations will then be moved next door to allow for renovations to be completed on the original location.  

“There’s been so much uptake on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Hill concluded. “It’s like everybody is doing something and I’m learning about so many things. It’s hard to stay on top of it — which is fantastic.”

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