Neechi Commons held its Grand Opening in March 2013 and is now on its way to becoming a major focal point for commerce and development in Winnipeg’s North-end.
With the opening of Neechi Commons at 865 Main Street, Neechi has greatly expanded its North End tradition as an indigenous grocery and specialty store. It is truly a community store, based around the principles of an Aboriginal owned and operated worker co-operative. Neechi Commons includes a neighbourhood supermarket, restaurant and arts store. We are well-known for our oven-fresh bannock, fresh and frozen wild blueberries, wild rice, local fruits and vegetables, local fish, very competitively priced quality meats, specialty jams, hand-crafted moccasins, Aboriginal artwork and children’s books. Neechi means friend/sister/brother in Cree and Ojibwa.
What’s so special about Neechi Commons?
Neechi Commons is a community business complex that includes a full-range neighbourhood supermarket, meat department, produce courtyard, bakery, restaurant, catering services, Aboriginal books, arts, crafts, music and clothing, and a seasonal farmers market.
It is located in Winnipeg on a 50,000 sq. ft. lot that straddles north Point Douglas on the east and Lord Selkirk Park on the west. These and other surrounding neighbourhoods in the ‘north-end’ and south of the CPR tracks face tough social and economic challenges. Neechi Commons was deliberately developed in this part of the city to foster neighbourhood revitalization and to provide economic opportunities for Aboriginal youth and other area residents. At the same time the site is very well situated from a commercial standpoint.
Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is Winnipeg’s largest commercial employer of First Nations and Métis people. So far some 45 new jobs have been created at Neechi Commons in the neighbourhood supermarket, restaurant, bakery, produce courtyard, and Aboriginal arts store. Hiring priority is given to residents of adjoining neighbourhoods.
In addition, the arts store, ‘Neechi Niche’ is supporting the livelihoods of over 200 artisans and authors, most of whom live within walking distance of Neechi Commons. The Commons also hosts a seasonal farmers market. Some of the urban gardeners are neighbourhood youth, organized and trained through ‘Food for Folks’.
Neechi is committed to hiring and supporting neighbourhood youth. In part this means that Neechi Commons is providing a direct alternative to street gangs. And, for neighbourhood residents in general, employment at the Commons offers an alternative to dependency on income assistance.
Employment and training opportunities complement local high school programs and vocational training institutes.
The operation of a neighbourhood supermarket at Neechi Commons fills an inner-city neighbourhood void by restoring and expanding wide-ranging and economical food services.
Neechi promotes healthy foods and lifestyles. Before opening the Commons, Neechi Foods Co-Op was already known for promoting healthy eating and healthy living. Its Dufferin Ave. store was the first grocery store in Winnipeg to not sell cigarettes – well ahead of the pharmacies – and also subsidized fresh fruit for neighbourhood children. (Neechi provides special tobacco for ceremonial purposes.) The cooperative has been honoured nationally, at a meeting of the Canadian Diabetes Association, and locally, by the Reh-Fit Centre, for its diabetes prevention work.
The produce courtyard, meat department, farmers’ market, restaurant, and other components of the Commons, have a strong focus on locally harvested and processed foods in order to promote healthy foods and environmental sustainability and to support farmers, pickers, fishers, ranchers and food processors in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
Neechi Commons includes an Aboriginal arts centre that serves as both a retail outlet and as a gallery for First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists, artisans, authors, illustrators, singers and musicians. Periodically neighbourhood schools and community centres showcase their students’ artwork and participate in workshops, performances and presentations at the Commons. On-going artistic and literary events at the Commons are very popular and are a clear demonstration of how Neechi Commons is filling a pronounced community need, beyond the core commercial services. Along with the restaurant, these programs are making a special contribution to the Commons’ rising, overall reputation as a community hub for family, friends and work associates.
The Commons is making a vital contribution to community pride in adjoining neighbourhoods. It also contributes to positive self-esteem within the wider Aboriginal community and in Winnipeg as a whole.
Neechi Foods Co-Op is an owner-operated business incorporated as a worker cooperative. This means that employees have the opportunity to become business owners and entrepreneurs; an opportunity that most of them otherwise would never get.
The cooperative membership structure ensures community based ownership whereby neighbourhood families are effectively represented in the control of the enterprise.
Neechi Commons is becoming a cornerstone for the revitalization of commerce along Main Street north of the CPR tracks. Accordingly, Neechi Commons is of vital interest to the North-end and to the city of Winnipeg as a whole.
The physical development of Neechi Commons included restoration of the heritage character of two attached buildings at Main and Euclid. They were built in 1903 and 1904, respectively, and designed by the prominent local architect, J. H. G. Russell. Historically this site has been a prominent north Main landmark housing a wide variety of commercial businesses.
The complex showcases geo-thermal heating and cooling and has received Green Globes certification.
The governments of Canada and Manitoba recognized the unique social and economic potential of Neechi Commons by investing in the project with infrastructure stimulus grants that helped to offset construction costs.
Some 50 residents of Winnipeg helped with business planning and development on a volunteer basis through participation in Neechi Commons work groups. In all, before operations commenced, over 9,500 volunteer hours, equivalent to five years of full-time work, was invested in the project because of its unique commercial and social value.
* On Louis Riel Day, February 16, 2015, Neechi was honoured by Heritage Winnipeg with their Special President’s Award for the heritage restoration work that went into the creation of Neechi Commons. The ceremony took place in the rotunda of the old CN Station.
* On July 16, 2014, Winnipeg City Council voted to provide Neechi with a “Strategic Economic Incentive Grant” in recognition of the valuable employment, cultural and community building role of Neechi Commons. Here is a link to Neechi’s presentation to the Executive Policy Committee prior to the Council meeting: Winnipeg – EPC 2014 07 16
* Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is the winner of the 2013 Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba! Here is a link to photos of the Award event at the Winnipeg Convention Centre: http://www.flickr.com/photos/39774696@N07/sets/72157637022998345/ (click the return arrow to return to the Neechi website)
* Neechi is a signatory to the Manitoba Food Charter www.foodmattersmanitoba.ca/content/manitoba-food-charter).
Neechi Foods Co-Op Ltd. is a member of the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation http://www.canadianworker.coop
Neechi is a purchase partner of Local Investment Toward Employment (LITE) www.lite.mb.ca
Neechi is a purchasing and a supplier partner with Winnipeg’s Social Purchasing Portal. http://sppwinnipeg.org/contact-us/
Board of Directors:
Louise (Desmarais) Champagne, President; Candace Irvine, Vice-President; Jade McIvor, Secretary; Russ Rothney, Treasurer; Lorissa Flett; Lisa Spence; Gabrielle Dyck
Louise (Desmarais) Champagne, Volunteer, staffing and management coordination; President of Neechi Foods Co-Op since its inception 27 years ago; recipient of the Cooperative Achievement Award from the Canadian Cooperative Association and the Worker Co-op Merit Award from the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation; initiator of Payuk Inter-tribal (housing) Co-op; and co-chair of the Winnipeg Native Child Welfare Coalition that created the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Canada’s first urban Aboriginal child and family support agency.
Kelley Hyatt, Food Services Manager & Head Chef; former restaurant manager at Oak Hammond Marsh conservation site; extensive background in cost accounting.
Jade McIvor, Operations Manager of Neechi Niche arts store; gallery curator and events planner.
Milandro Gregario, Meats Manager; experienced butcher with business training background.
David Kerr, Volunteer accountant; former senior cooperative business officer with the Province of Manitoba and chartered accountant; specialist regarding cooperative financial and business structures.
Amelia Laidlaw, Business Coordination, staff development and food services support; previous restaurant owner and manager.
Russ Rothney, Volunteer, financial management; previously Community Economic Development Manager, Assiniboine Credit Union; Treasurer since Neechi’s inception.
Other Volunteer Technical support:
Beatrice (Culleton) Mosoinier, spear-headed the creation of the “Neechi Niche” arts store and cultural centre; celebrated Aboriginal author.
Dennis Lewycky, labour, communications and community development specialist; former Executive Director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
Susan White, bookkeeping and administration support; administrative clerk, Winnipeg Women’s Health Network; professor, Anthropology Department, University of Winnipeg.
Kim Sankar, bookkeeper; enrolled in Manitoba Certified Accounting program.
Donated art work:
- When you visit Neechi Commons you will see a lovely wall painting that symbolizes the spirit of our Three Sisters Fruit & Vegetables Courtyard. “Three Sisters” refers to the classic indigenous vegetables, corn, beans and squash, that grew only in the Americas before European contact. The painting was done as a gift to the Commons by renowned artist, Jackie Traverse.
- Inside the Commons you will also see what was originally a sidewalk art piece commissioned by Take Pride Winnipeg and located on Portage Avenue. It includes a sketch of Elijah Harper. The art piece was donated to Neechi by the artist, Tom Andrich, a few weeks before Elijah’s passing. Elijah was one of the ribbon cutters at the Grand Opening of our corner store on Dufferin Ave. in January 1990.