Native Child and Family Life Centre

Scarborough, Ontario

Native Child and Family Life Centre provides the Indigenous People of Scarborough with childcare and community services in an environment that fosters cultural pride and wellbeing.


A rugged eastern suburb of Toronto, Scarborough can be a difficult place to raise a family. In this setting, the Family Life Centre grew from our close collaboration with Native Child staff, Elders and the local Indigenous community. Indigenous culture is expressed through abstract and evocative forms and through local and natural materials. The childcare centre was inspired by the traditional Haudenosaunee Longhouse and evocative of an upturned canoe. It augments a now restored heritage farmhouse with flexible spaces for a broad range of community programs, classes, gatherings, ceremonies, events, and other activities.

From the street, the curvilinear building presents a shell of rusted Corten steel, folding from the roof to become punctuated by playful bay windows and accent skylights. Its ‘underside’, facing a playground and woodlot, has a softer appearance, clad in local eastern white cedar with a timber roof and canopy that visually merges with the warm wood of the building’s interior.

Inside, the two-storey daycare is welcoming and deliberately non-institutional. We prominently featured wood for its sustainable qualities and its contribution to a comfortable ambiance that is equally contemporary and traditional. Its organic nature provides a soothing respite from the very urban setting.

In the naturalized playground, children play on logs, berms and rocks and learn in an outdoor classroom platform, lined with giant chalkboards, and in teaching gardens planted with native crops and medicinal plants.

Reflecting Indigenous cultural philosophies about environmental stewardship and benefiting future generations, the building is designed with high environmental standards. A geothermal system produces 100% of the heating and cooling, and rainwater, collected from the roof, is directed to a bioswale that runs the length of the playground and infiltrates water back into the water table. The building’s form takes advantage of shade from the surrounding trees and many operable windows provide natural daylight and cross ventilation.

The Native Child and Family Life Centre presents a bold Indigenous identity and a strong statement about self-determination and native presence.


Canadian Architect – (February 2012) Extended Family
Interior Design – (June 2012)  Teach Your Children Well: Toronto’s Native Child and Family Life Centre
Objekt – (October 2012) Longhouse
Globe and Mail – (March 2013) Childcare centre a masterful mix of steel, glass and aromatic wood