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Diocese gives $250,000 for new Indigenous health centre

By Stuart Mann

The Diocese of Toronto is giving a $250,000 grant to the Anishnawbe Health Foundation to help build a new Indigenous health and cultural centre in Toronto. Diocesan Council approved the funding at its meeting on May 24.

The gift will come out of the diocese’s Ministry Allocation Fund, 10 per cent of which is tithed to projects or ministries outside the diocesan budget. Previous grants have included $100,000 to the Diocese of Athabasca to help youth after the fire in Fort McMurray, $500,000 for refugee sponsorship, and $100,000 to replenish the national church’s Anglican Healing Fund.

Archbishop Colin Johnson (centre) attends the Anishnawbe Health Foundation’s reception and auction at St. James Cathedral on June 6. The diocese’s $250,000 grant to the foundation was announced at the event. Joining Archbishop Johnson are, from left: Joe Hester, executive director of Anishnawbe Health Toronto; Diane Gray, president of the Anishnawbe Health Foundation; Pamela Thomson, chair of the Indigenous Solidarity Working Group at Church of the Redeemer, Toronto; Dr. Chandrakant Shah, honorary consulting physician at Anishnawbe Health Toronto and the foundation’s treasurer; and Bishop Riscylla Shaw, area bishop of Trent-Durham. Photo courtesy of Anishnawbe Health Toronto

The new centre, which will be built near Front and Cherry streets in the city’s West Don lands, will include healing gardens and outdoor therapeutic spaces, meeting and counselling space, a Family, Child and Youth unit, expanded services for LGBTQ clients and palliative care services.

The centre will be owned and operated by Anishnawbe Health Toronto (AHT), which provides traditional health and healing programs for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people and their non-Indigenous family members in Toronto. Founded in 1987, AHT is Canada’s first fully accredited Indigenous community health service.

“We’re really excited to have this tremendous support from the Anglican Church,” says Julie Cookson, the executive director of the Anishnawbe Health Foundation, the fundraising arm of AHT. “We’re grateful that this has come forward and we’re hopeful this campaign is the start of a friendship between AHT and the Indigenous community and other groups across the city.”

Toronto has about 70,000 Indigenous people, the largest and most diverse Aboriginal community in Ontario. According to a recent study, 90 per cent of the community lives at or below Canada’s low-income line and one-third are precariously housed or homeless; chronic health issues such as diabetes, asthma and arthritis are much more prevalent than in the general population. Mental health issues affect 80-90 per cent of AHT’s clients.

AHT currently provides services at three locations in Toronto, including its main centre at 225 Queen St. E. The organization plans to move all its services to the new building in the West Don lands. Construction is expected to begin in 2019 with completion by the end of 2020.

The total cost of the project will be $31 million, with $17 million coming from Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s capital program, an estimated $4 million from the sale of AHT’s Queen Street property and other government sources, and $10 million from a public fundraising campaign. The land was a legacy gift of the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, held in Toronto in 2015.

Ms. Cookson says the new building will convey the cultural richness of the Indigenous community and foster reconciliation through the reclamation and restoration of traditional healing practices. One of the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action (#61) calls on churches, in collaboration with Indigenous organizations, to establish funding for healing and reconciliation projects at the local level.

She says the four-storey building will be part of an “Indigenous hub” for the city. “It will be space where the Indigenous community and the city can come together and recognize the strength and beauty of Indigenous culture.”  

Archbishop Colin Johnson said he was pleased that Diocesan Council approved the grant. “It recognizes the ongoing commitment of the Diocese of Toronto to healing and reconciliation – in this case specifically with Indigenous populations that live in the City of Toronto and beyond,” he said. “The urban Indigenous population is one of the most under-served, and this reaches out using money that we have raised through the sale of property to support people for whom connection to the land is so important.”

As part of its commitment to healing and reconciliation, the diocese contributed $5 million to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement and created the Robert L. Falby Memorial Endowment for Aboriginal Ministry. The diocese’s Our Faith-Our Hope campaign gave a $500,000 grant to the Council of the North and the Anglican Council of Indigenous People for healing work with clergy and caregivers in remote communities. The Rev. Chris Harper, the diocese’s Indigenous Native Priest, serves as pastor to the diocese’s Indigenous population.