In the early 1960’s the native people of the Swan River Valley began to see a need for a place of their own, where they could fell comfortable meeting to share concerns or just get together recreation-ally. By 1961 the service providers of the community were becoming aware of the need to provide native people with some assistance in taking their rightful place in the rapidly changing society. By 1963, with the support and encouragement of the larger community, the first site of the Swan River Indian & Metis Friendship Centre Association was purchased. The building was located at 711 North Street South. The Friendship Centre Association provided employment services and a place for socializing. A decrease in alcohol abuse and street gatherings were a direct out come of the Friendship Centre Association. Socials were held on weekends with signing and square-dancing for both youth and elders. Fundraising was done on a small scale and most of the work was done by volunteers. The building, operating on a drop in basis was considered a valuable asset, in the struggle to overcome the many problems that had plagued the native people of the Valley for years. At that time there were approximately 3,000 Indian and Metis people living in the surrounding area, many of whom received services through the Friendship Association.
In 1962, the Friendship Association operated under a Board comprised of 8 native and 4 non-native directors.
- Mr Charles Howdle was the President
- Mrs. Rita McLeod was the Vice-President
- Mr. Joe Cote Sr. was the Treasurer
An advisory council was also formed, made up of five representation leaders of the community. The role of the Advisory Council was solely to offer suggestion and guidance of the Board. The first building purchased in 1963 was a self-contained one story structure valued at $8000.00. It contained one small office, one small bedroom, one kitchen with cooking facilities and two large multi-purpose rooms. Several programs were orginized by the association including.
- A Sewing Club
- A Handi-Craft Club
- Garden Club
- Canning Club
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Kindergarten Class for 3-6 year old’s
Classes were held for two qualified school teachers: Mrs. Alex Russell and Mrs. Hattie Tatimer. The main objective of kindergarten was the help prepare the students for school by teaching hygiene and manners, also stressing activities. A non-denominational Sunday School class was held weekly and was well attended. The Association pledged to encourage and counsel members to be self supporting, and to assist by keeping up to date information on employment opportunities, required skills for specific jobs, and by referring people to training opportunities. The Association also pledged that they would in every way possible work with the health officer and their members to assist in improving health and sanitation conditions for the native population. Thirdly, the Association pledged to do all in its power to en course faithful attendance at school and cooperate with educators and families to overcome any problems that might make educators and families overcome any problems that might make it difficult for native children to achieve success in school. the Association further pledged to encourage and promote recreational programs and any other activities that would help Indian and Metis people take their place as full citizens of the community. Lastly, the Association pledged to co-operate with the RCMP and other law enforcement people to ensure that the laws were fully understood by all members. A letter for the Regional Liaison Officer, Winnipeg, to the Chief Liaison Supervisor in Ottawa on March 25, 1964, says: “in Swan River and surrounding are, offences have dropped 85% since the Friendship Centre Association began in operation.”
The Friendship Centre Association was funded by the Federal and Provincial governments, as well as the Town of Swan River, cash donations, bank loans, and volunteer fundraising. History shows that the Association did its best to live up to the pledges it made. The determination of the Valley’s native population to do for themselves was evidenced by the theme of 1964-65 Annual Report titled “Self Help, our Theme to Honor Prestige and Prosperity.” Much of the success and development of the Friendship Centre Association must be attributed to the untiring efforts of Mr.Charles Howdle, who was a major motivator right up until his sudden death in July of 1964. On July 26th and 27th of 1964 a meeting was held to discuss the future of the centre.
Mr. W. Moore, Executive Director of the Brandon Friendship Centre, was sent to Swan River to assess the situation. The conclusion drawn at the time was that:
- The community as a whole was ill informed as to the aims and purpose of the centre
- Participation was kept at a very low level
- The non-native community felt that they would be “interfering”
- Too much political pressure was the cause of the power structure’s withdrawal.
- The community as a whole was anxious to become involved but lacked leadership
Scarcity of written records for the years between 1966 to 1968, make it difficult to follow what actions were taken after this report was released, however, we can assume that difficulties continued, since in 1968 a task force was again set up to examine the situation, in depth. The following is excerpt from this task force’s findings: “Native people in Swan River feel they are not offered equal opportunities, neither economically or socially. The non-native community see the Centre as a place for Indians, and do not see the Centre as offering anything in the way of service for them.” The task force also discovered that Swan River had an acute housing shortage and that people suffering the most from the shortage were the Indian and Metis people. The task force also stated that: “There is a need amongst the non-native citizens to gain knowledge about Indian people so that stereotyped images can be broken down.” The task force and Board of Directors reached a general consensus that, “the Board should be revitalized, the Centre should continue operation, and that a real attempt should be made to find local support for developing programs at the Centre to meet the needs of the people in the area.” In 1969, the Centre became incorporated and moved to 503 Main Street where the Toronto Dominion Bank now stands. This building burnt shortly after and for the next while the Centre operated out of rented space at 116 5th Ave. North.
In 1972, on January 13th, a ribbon cutting ceremony opened the new Friendship Centre Building on Main Street. Joe Cote Sr. cut the ribbon assisted Melba Bouvier and Mayor Mathews. The Centre’s focus was to provide a place where native people could meet to deal with their problems, and to promote friendships, to assist with the needs of transients, and finally to “bridge the gaps” between native and non-native people. On November 15, 1972, a grief was presented to the Secretary of State requesting money for capital. With this funding, a building was purchased at 723 Main Street. this building was located in the very old Co-op Store. This facility included a hall for Bingo’s, a stage, kitchen, facilities, and office rooms. Eventually renovations took place to include more needed office space. In May 1990, the Friendship Centre purchased an existing building and completely renovated it. On September 10, 1990, a Grand Opening Ceremony took place opening our present building, which is located at 1413 Main Street East. On June 24, 1993, the Swan River Indian and Metis Friendship Centre name was changed to Swan River Friendship Centre Inc.
The first annual Winter Carnival was held in March 1979. This event did much to promote better understanding between native and non-native citizens as both groups co-operated to plan activities. The Friendship Centre has come a long way since its beginning in the 1960’s and the native people of the area can take much pride in their triumphs, and accomplishments.
Elbert Chartrand Friendship Centre Time Line
- 1961 Feeling the need to provide Native people in the community with assistance in taking their rightful place in the rapidly changing society
- 1962 Election of first Board of Directors
- 1963 First site of the Swan River Indian & Metis Friendship Centre Association was purchased at 711 North St. South (a self contained one story structure)
- 1963 Programs being offered: Sewing club, Handi-Craft guild, Garden Club, Canning Club, Alcoholics Anonymous, Kindergarten Classes, Sunday School, Employment/Training Opportunities, Partnership with Health Officers, co-operation with RCMP.
- 1968 Secretary of State -Funding of Friendship centre operations become effective
- 1968 1st Friendship Centre Executive Director Raymond “Boxer” Guiboche
- 1969 Swan River Indian & Metis Friendship Centre becomes incorporated (503 Main Street Swan River)
- 1970 2nd Executive Director Melba Bouvier
- 1972 Friendship Centre purchases building 503 Main Street Swan River, MB.
- 1972 Grand-Opening ceremony
- 1972 Joe Cote Sr. and Melba Bouvier
- 1974 January 29th, 1974 the Friendship Centre moved to 723 Main Street
- 1977 3rd Executive Director Grace Menard
- 1979 1st Annual Winter Carnival (March)
- 1980 4th Executive Director Shelly Wray
- 1983 Parkland Pathfinders and the need for outreach begins
- 1984 5th Friendship Centre Executive Director David N. Gray
- 1984 Start of Outreach Worker/ Service provided out of Friendship Centre through employment services
- 1984 Murry Wenstob and Paul Frank honoured as Life-Time members (June 28/84)
- 1984 Fine Option Program partners with Friendship Centre
- 1984 President’s report – We are the first and perhaps the only Friendship Centre across Canada to have a Law Practice
- 1984 Major renovations to Centre to create 9 offices and a stage
- 1985 Premier visits Friendship Centre
- 1985 SRFC Housing started (1st 4 houses bought)
- 1985 Fur buying issue being discussed to be out of the Friendship Centre
- 1985 Abel Spence honoured as a Life-Time Member
- 1985 SRFC Logo adopted and drawn by Keiran Guiboche
- 1985 1st SRFC Newsletter
- 1986 SRFC Adult Education initiates (being discussed)
- 1986 Lloyd Spence honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 26th/86)
- 1986 Ricky Spence Memorial Scholarship Award (1st year) for post-secondary
- 1986 SRFC Native Fashion Show
- 1987 6th Friendship Centre Executive Director Elbert Chartrand
- 1987 Marceline Hickman honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 25/87)
- 1987 Pre-nursery program begins
- 1988 First Celebration of Native Life and Learning takes place at the Friendship Centre
- 1988 Formation of a new Youth Club
- 1988 Native Career Symposium
- 1990 Friendship Centre purchases present building at 1413 Main Street Swan River and celebrates it Grand-Opening
- 1990 Mary Ducharme honoured as Life-time Member (June 28/90)
- 1990 Mary Church honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 28/90)
- 1991 SRFC Adult Education is in operation
- 1991 Elizabeth Howdle honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 27/91)
- 1992 Last year houses being built for SRFC Housing (Total Houses to date = 61 Units)
- 1993 Friendship Centre changes name from Swan River Indian & Metis Friendship Centre to the Swan River Friendship Centre Inc. (June 24/93)
- 1993 Mary Richard honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 24/93)
- 1995 David N. Gray honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 26/95)
- 1997 Melvin Church honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 26th)
- 2001 Officially opened Youth Drop-In Centre at 605 Main Street Swan River
- 2001 Parent/Child Program begins
- 2004 Purchase new building at 310 Valley Road (New drop in Centre Location)
- 2004 Louise Church Honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 24th)
- 2004 Rita Spence honoured as a Life-Time Member (June 24th)
- 2004 Mary Brass honoured as a Life-time Member (June 24th)
- 2006 Winston Menard (SRFC Board Member) is honoured a NAFC and MAC Lifetime Membership
- 2006 Doreen L. Genaille Memorial Scholarship Award for Education (first year)
- 2006 1st Annual Doreen L. Genialle Memorial Breast Cancer Awareness Walk-A-Thon
- 2008 Friendship Centre Celebrates 40 years of Service
- 2008 54 to date total number of students who graduated from SRFC Adult Education Program