A major milestone has been reached on the journey to a new women’s shelter in Hay River.
On Sept. 15, the Family Support Centre (FSC) invited people to come witness the demolition of the old building which once housed a women’s shelter on Riverview Drive.

However, a contractor knocked the building down a bit earlier than planned, before the witnesses arrived to celebrate the event.

“It just came down this morning,” said Kristine Vannebo-Suwala, executive director of the Family Support Centre. “A little bit earlier than we planned, but we’re really happy to see that all of our work is now complete, the first phase of it.”

Vennebo-Suwala called it a “huge” milestone.

“I think we’ve worked probably the last three years toward this day,” she said.

The demolition also is a step closer to seeing a new women’s shelter constructed on the site.

“Our goal is to start our construction next spring 2019,” said Vennebo-Suwala.

Fundraising is currently underway to raise approximately $3 million for that project.

“We’ve started and we have a really great committee that’s fairly new, but really helpful in terms of what their vision is for the new shelter,” said Vennebo-Suwala, who hopes the fundraising effort will be spurred on by the demolition.

She admitted to mixed emotions among the staff members of the Family Support Centre now that the old building has been demolished.

“They’ve seen a lot of people come and grow through being here in the shelter, and I think a lot of history in terms of changing your life,” she said. “And a lot of women and children’s lives were changed by coming here.”

Vennebo-Suwala said the demolition event – featuring bannock, jam, hot chocolate and balloons for children – was a chance to celebrate all the hard work of the Family Support Centre.

Janet-Marie Fizer, chair of the board of the FSC, called the demolition an end of an era.

Fizer recalled first moving to Hay River in the mid-1990s and how everybody was so excited at that time because they had what was then a relatively-new women’s shelter.

Janet-Marie Fizer, left, chair of the board of the Family Support Centre Kristine Vannebo-Suwala, right, the centre’s executive director, in front of demolished building which once housed a women’s shelter Building demolished on Sept. 15, 2018. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

“And so when I see this, it’s kind of bittersweet,” she said of the demolished building. “I remember that group and how enthusiastic they were. And then I think, but this is really the beginning of a new era for us. Programs change and we need to change with it. We need to have the right facility to be able to accommodate our clients properly.”

Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson attended the celebration.

“It’s a great movement forward,” he said. “This is such a vital service and we have a board that’s really dedicated and we have an executive director that’s really dedicated. I’m glad to see they’re moving forward with something that’s very much needed in the community and the region.”

Simpson had also been looking forward to witnessing the demolition, noting he had never before seen a building knocked down.

“I was excited to come see it and then I showed up and it was already knocked down,” he said.

The building, which first began operation as a women’s shelter in 1992, was in dire need of replacement. It had been empty for a year, since the Family Support Centre moved its women’s shelter to a house owned by the Town of Hay River. In June, town council agreed to extend the current lease with the FSC for the town-owned house for up to three years to July 7, 2021.

The FSC launched a fundraising campaign in May to build a new shelter.

While the FSC is relying on donations from the community, it will also be seeking government support for the project.

Since 1989, the FSC has provided a safe haven and support to women and children fleeing family violence, while working on advocacy and education to help support strong families and healthy relationships.

The goal of the Family Support Centre is to replace the demolished building with a 10-bedroom facility – with a capacity of 20 beds – allowing for office space and room for community programs.

The old building was a five-bedroom facility.

The Family Support Centre – an independent non-governmental organization funded by the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority – will mark its 30th year of service in 2019.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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