The new Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) consolidates social and culture-based services for aboriginal children and families within a 30,000 square foot office building in the heart of downtown Toronto. The challenge for this project was to create a place that would reconnect urban aboriginals with nature in the heart of the city and project a bold visual presence for the First Nations community – which was difficult to conceive for a community that is comprised of distinctive bands with their own identities and customs.
Opened in June 2010, the former 1980s office building now houses a drop-in childcare centre, an aboriginal artist studio, family, mental health, social services and administration offices as well as a contemporary iteration of a longhouse and a rooftop healing lodge and fire circle surrounded by a lush roof garden. These special spaces are used both formally and informally for public assemblies and ceremonies, drumming and circle sessions and for counseling, meetings and playtime.
Like an organic cocoon within this urban office building, the “longhouse” is subtle and unexpected. Conceived as a multipurpose room for a Toronto aboriginal centre, it is used both formally and informally for public assemblies and spiritual ceremonies, drumming and circle sessions, for counseling, meetings and children’s playtime. Inspired by the traditional birch sapling structures of southern Ontario, it is neither a replica of a historic structure, nor a pastiche reinterpretation. Instead, it is a contemporary iteration of a longhouse, providing urban aboriginals with an authentic Native experience within a non-Native environment.