NCFST Mt Dennis EarlyON Community Hub

Mount Dennis, Toronto

A defunct bowling alley, pool hall, and parking lot provide the foundation for an Indigenous community hub and garden designed for multi-generational health and wellness where none had existed before.

The Mount Dennis Aboriginal Child and Family Centre establishes a culturally specific, community centre for urban Indigenous Peoples. Designed with input from Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community members, the facility was purposely designed to enrich all stages of Indigenous life. For example, during the day, the centre offers a childcare centre and access to on-site Knowledge Keepers and Elders, and on evenings and weekends programs include pre-and post-natal classes, youth and parenting programs, language and cultural teachings, and seasonal feasts and drum socials, with the overall aim to strengthen personal and collective cultural bonds.

The site consisted of a parking lot and a derelict two-storey building that had once served as a bowling alley and pool hall. NCFS wanted the building to boldly express its presence within the neighbourhood, so we got an exemption for an oversized sign. It announces the entry point, which is also unconventional. Our design team transformed a parking lot into a garden and situated the entrance at the midway point of the building. This way, the design prompts users to slow down and encounter nature instead of entering off the busy street.

The building includes a designated childcare room for children aged 0 to 6, offices, and a large multi-purpose room that doubles as an indoor play space and a culturally sensitive program area. This room opens to the garden that includes medicinal plants, a fire pit and a sweat lodge. Various design elements help the agency host varied programs. For example, the kitchen exceeds what was needed for childcare or staff use, but it can also service large community gatherings. It also has multi-height counters so that people of all ages and abilities can participate in food preparation.

The interiors privilege wood and other materials and colours that recall nature. A round skylight at the heart of the main space pervades the interior with natural light and metaphorically embodies the centre’s innate strengths. A film of a turtle on the glass casts the image moving across the room so that it is alive and full of movement.

During construction we uncovered the original bowling alley floor and reused the material to make benches and room dividers – thereby embedding the recent history of the place within the project.