Boreal Homebuilders program started Oct.1st

The Boreal Homebuilders post-secondary education program has started a new exciting training program to jumpstart  getting to the solution of the housing crisis in remote First Nations.  These communities are building capacity, while building houses in their communities by using local resources and trainers with supports from the Mino Bimaadiziwin partnership of Universities and Colleges led by University of Manitoba.

A group of 22 students from Garden Hill First Nation and another cohort of 20 from Wasagamack First Nation are learning to build homes from local wood in their communities. This  is part of Boreal Homebuilders, a partnership of the University of Manitoba, the two communities, Indigenous Support Services, many universities and the Anokiiwin Training Institute delivering the post-secondary training to the youth.

Over the course of 15 months, local students will learn the skills, knowledge and practice on how to build houses by developing a regional forestry plan in their territory to cut the trees, to make and grade the timber and to build the houses they help design themselves. Ultimately, each community will build two new houses that are culturally appropriate, environmental, energy efficient and durable out of local wood. Communities are interested in doing both a log home and a timber frame or stick frame home.

To help with the designs and architecture a design workshop was held October 2nd in Wasagamack and October 3rd in Garden Hill with students and University of Manitoba professors including Shirley Thompson, Architect professors Lancelot Coar and Shauna Mallory-Hill, Professor Alex Wilson from University of Saskatchewan, OCN’s Carolynn Constant from University of Manitoba, Anokiiwin Training Institutes’ Laurel Gardiner and architecture student, Jason Surkan, as well as videographer student, Kaoru Ryan Suzuki.  last week to start developing the houses and designing them in culturally appropriate ways.

Thompson was impressed by the housing designs students came up with on October 2nd and 3rd, 2018. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki).

Many of the Island Lake students had their own design ideas for a home, many of which incorporated the sun and the environment to make the homes more sustainable, Thompson said. Some drawings showed how different foundations with many wooden stilts down to the bedrock would deal better with the discontinous permafrost.

“It’s so wonderful to see the creativity, the potential in these students to change the situation,” Thompson is reported to say on CBC radio special.

These two First Nations in Island Lake, which are accessible only by plane or winter road, were chosen for the project because due to their remote location and government barriers suffer from some of the worst housing situations in the province.

During their visit to the communities, facilitators saw one home with 14 people living in it, and another with 23 people under one roof. As well, we toured beautiful logs homes made in the past before Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) shifted the designs to modern ones which often lack sustainability.

The team visits a beautiful culturally-appropriate home, one of several they visited in the First Nations. (Submitted by Kaoru Ryan Suzuki)


Housing situation in Island lake is a crisis as there has no mortgages from CMHC or any source for 10 years. The government has excluded these growing communities from home development for so long as being poor they have fallen into debt, which unlike municipal or any other government requires they take third party status and be ineligible for CMHC housing mortgages. The impact of these policies are horrendous due to housing shortages: “It’s not uncommon for people to sleep in shifts, because there aren’t enough beds,” Thompson said.

This program when successful in Garden Hill and Wasagamack, will provide a model for other First Nations, Thompson said. The curriculum is one of a kind in Canada and maybe the world that is being developed by Anokiiwin Training Institute.

“If we can do it in these fly-in remote communities that are very economically poor, we can take it anywhere,” Thompson reported on CBC Radio in October 2018.

See the CBC article at:

See the home design book with Lac Brochet provided by Architect Lancelot Coar and others at: “” download=”all”]



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