Toronto’s Indigenous community has brand new healing lodge
Concerns that the traditional prison system did not meet the needs of Indigenous women led to the application of section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act of 1992, authorizing the creation of healing lodges. adapted to the cultural and support needs of this very marginalized population.
Almost three decades have passed and few of these healing lodges have actually materialized, although a modern prototype model for a new type of healing lodge will soon be a reality.
Toronto’s Indigenous community will soon get a brand new facility housed in a very unique looking building, which will soon be available on Kingston Road between Birchmount and Midland.
Known as the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge, the new six-story building will be just the third Indigenous-owned and operated healing lodge in the country, and the first of its kind in Ontario.
The building will be operated by the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society (TWHLS), serving Indigenous women coming out of federal or provincial corrections or appearing in bail courts, but who need additional support to be successful in their rehabilitation. .
Residents of the facility will participate in a healing program and each will receive in-depth, personalized care to support their recovery and reintegration into society.
This will be done in accordance with what TWHLS describes as “the best practices of the Aboriginal tradition of healing lodges, a community residential healing space and a transitional rental housing program under one roof.”
A dozen lounges will support residents through the healing component and 12 other rental units with support services that can help residents return to everyday life.
The lodge will also fulfill the role of family reunification. A transitional housing program and partner relationship agencies will provide single parents who leave correctional systems – often without adequate family or community support available to them – with assistance in reuniting their child (ren).
The design of the new pavilion, by architect Susan Speigel, features an interpretation of the TWHLS logo, a stylized Thunderbird representing Anishinaabe culture.
This look will be achieved with a mixture of composite panels in red and beige terracotta, giving the building a distinct identity linked to its cultural uses.
According to the project’s website, these motifs will not be limited to the exteriors, claiming that “the lodge’s architectural design team has strived to integrate indigenous cultural values throughout the physical space.”
While there have been a few opposing voices, the City is supporting the project, approving it in 2019 and providing funding under the Toronto Open Door Affordable Housing Program.
This program was approved in 2016 with the goal of dramatically increasing access to affordable housing, as well as supportive housing projects such as the Healing Lodge, through accelerated funding, incentives, tax breaks and surplus land.
Construction is fast approaching, with a land blessing ceremony held earlier in September marking the first on-site steps to making the new lodge a reality.
The shovels are about to go into the ground, but it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing to bring the new lodge to this point.
The plans encountered obstacles along the way, namely community resistance to the project. The issues ranged from typical NIMBY complaints like the impact on parking and traffic in the area to more serious concerns about the nature of the facility in regards to its proximity to an elementary school.
Some locals have raised issues with those who oppose the project. A resident of the community wrote a letter of support for the project, denouncing the “explicit and thinly veiled racism and classism” seen as the heart of the opposition.
There are clear reasons why this site was selected. Having a local near the lake plays a role in restoring the lodge’s identity and healing programs. The project’s website explains that “indigenous women are traditionally the stewards of water”.
Land in Toronto near the waterfront doesn’t come cheap, and Scarborough offered the best opportunity to build the lodge near Lake Ontario without breaking the bank.
Susan Speigel Architect via submission to the City of Toroto