Celebrating 50 Years
Dedicated to improving the quality of life for Aboriginal people in the Greater Victoria area, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) began as a meeting place in the city—providing limited referral services to community members.
The Friendship Centre opened its doors in April, 1970. It was a one-room facility located on the corner of Yates and Broad Streets in the heart of downtown Victoria. The Centre was run by an Executive Director on a small grant from the provincial First Citizen’s Fund. The Centre quickly became a much-valued meeting place for Aboriginal peoples new to Victoria.
Unfortunately, financial concerns forced the Centre to close its doors in November of that year. The Board of Directors; however, remained active and in September of 1972, a new facility was opened on the corner of Fernwood and Gladstone Streets. With the help of the Victoria United Way, core funding from the Secretary of State, and continued support from the First Citizens Fund, the new Victoria Native Friendship Centre flourished.
Four moves and 40 years later, the VNFC now occupies more than 38,000 square feet of a former elementary school under a 99 year lease with the School District of British Columbia. The Centre has become a vital resource for urban Aboriginal individuals and families, and is strategically positioned to play a major role in the development and implementation of urban Aboriginal governance on southern Vancouver Island.
August 4, 1969
In Victoria, by 1969 many Indigenous people were moving from the surrounding reserve communities into Victoria to attend post-secondary, as well as looking for new economic opportunities. Many were in need of support to make the transition from their home communities to the urban Aboriginal people. In 1971 the Federal government, through the Department of the Secretary of State, introduced the Migrating Native People’s Program which provided core funding to Friendship Centres. Over the next ten years, this initiative led to fourteen new Centres being established in B.C., attesting to both the need and community support existing across the Province.
In April 1970, with funding from Camosun College, the provincial First Citizens Fund and the Migrating Native People’s Program VNFC opened as a one-room facility on the corner of Yeats and Broad Streets in downtown Victoria.
April 13, 1970
First location was at Yates and Broad Street. VNFC started with one volunteer and a small Board of Directors. The first Board of Directors were Philip Paul, Harry Dick, Dorothy Paul, Larry Thompson, Violet Thomas, Henry Hunt, Elizabeth Beguin, Donald Garland, Gertrude Patmore, Doctor Irish, Mary Jane Dick and Flora Seeds. This board was integral in creation of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.
Camosun College and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre have a long history together as partners in helping provide education to the urban Indigenous community which began in the early 1980’s. Camosun College offers upgrading classes at the Friendship Centre. Indigenous students are invited to join the program to obtain or improve high school skills and get ready for post-secondary education or employment.
The soup kitchen was started and began serving meals for families. Eventually, community meals were being served every Friday at lunch, something that continues to this day. These lunches are open to anyone in the community. The space allows for an open and friendly environment where people can meet, talk and eat together in understanding and friendship.
During this time the Resource Library is created. The significance and potential for this resource is recognized and supported. The development of the library continues today and the VNFC Library is recognized as the only and largest Indigenous library in Canada.
Leslie McGarry and Bruce Parisian were instrumental in the inception and continuation of the First Peoples Festival at the Royal British Columbia Museum. It is a celebration to raise awareness of Indigenous culture.
The VNFC participates in the Many Generous Hands committee which is the inception of what is now known as Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services. Surrounded by Cedar aims to provide child and family services strongly rooted in Indigenous cultural values and world views while ensuring urban Indigenous children and youth grow up connected to family, community and culture. Surrounded by Cedar also runs the Back to School Picnics, in which school supplies are given out to students from kindergarten to grade 12 amidst a fun day of activities.
Indigenous Youth began participating in Tribal Canoe Journeys, a significant cultural event where youth along with many canoe families journey from one tribal territory to another.
In 2006, the youth at the VNFC acquired a canoe and restored it in partnership with the Huliton Services Society. Named “Raven Dancer” the canoe brings the youth on their journey annually.
The VNFC Youth Department provides a variety of programming and events to stimulate a positive, supportive and creative environment for Indigenous youth.
The annual Aboriginal Back to School Picnic initiative began in Victoria in 2003. Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services in support with the VNFC, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, Hulitan, M’akola Housing Society and the First Nations Education at School District 61 (Victoria) developed and implemented the first BTSP. This initiative resulted in 100 attendees and 45 backpacks of school supplies offered to Urban Indigenous children. Currently, the BTSP supports over 2700 students from preschool to post secondary in 10 communities and has become well known for its success.
The logo has been designed to appropriately reflect the diversity of the Urban Aboriginal Community. The different elements are inclusive of the many different cultures either seeking or offering services at the Centre. A portion of the design has also dedicated to be respectful of the host history whose land our Centre is situated.
2011, 2012, 2016
VNFC had its first totem pole raining attended by hundreds. The pole is Coast Salish and carved by Master Carver Carey Newman. The totem embodies the interconnected nature of the world symbolized by the weaving of the roots that join together both animal and human figures.
Kwakwaka’wakw totem pole is the second pole to be raised at the VNFC, carved by Master Carver Carey Newman.
Nuu-chah-nulth totem pole raising. Master Carver May Sutherland was commissioned by the VNFC to carve this totem pole, whose theme is: “Transformation: Everything transforms into something.”
Siem Lelum (Respected House) opens offering 40-45 units of safe and affordable housing for Aboriginal single young adults (19-25) who are working and/or in school, young families and grandparents raising grandchildren. They are at risk of becoming homeless and who benefit from living in a supportive environment where they learn parenting skills and other life skills necessary for self-sufficiency.
The new VNFC daycare has 70 spaces for infants/toddlers and 3 to 5 year olds. The daycare was designed to help remove barriers for Indigenous families by providing affordable childcare with a cultural lens on the initiative.
The VNFC employs over 100 people and offers more than 50 diverse programs and services covering pre-natal to Elder community members, and over 30 ancillary services including the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogue. The Centre occupies a 38,000 square foot former elementary school under a 99-year lease with the School District of British Columbia. The building was chosen due to its location in a family friendly neighbourhood and encompasses over 60 office spaces, a gym, amphitheatre, industrial kitchen, garden, outdoor portable, and new Daycare Centre. VNFC is also home to the Bruce Parisian Library, the only public lending library in a Friendship Centre, with a collection of over 70,000 Indigenous specific resources.
The VNFC provides open access services to approximately 17,000 urban Aboriginal people, as well as 5,000 residents of First Nations communities, living in southern Vancouver Island, with a service area stretching from Port Renfrew to Sidney and as far north as Mill Bay.