Indigenous-focused projects in Canada raising the bar in commercial real estate

Updated on July 7th, 2022

Indigenous-focused projects in Canada raising the bar in commercial real estate

Canada’s indigenous communities are a growing presence in the country’s commercial and residential real estate development industries. They are often designing spaces that set a higher standard for urban buildings that harmonize with their natural landscapes while reducing their impact on the environment of the local community. 

They account for projects that comprise of millions of square feet of development on thousands of acres of land, so the opportunities are widely available for non-Indigenous businesses to partner with these Indigenous-owned businesses in creating spaces that reflect Indigenous values like care for the environment and a stress for renewable, sustainable building practices. 

Here are two significant recent Indigenous developments across Canada. 

Toronto Public Library, Dawes Road Branch, Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Public Library, Dawes Road Branch, designed by Anishinaabeg owned and operated Smoke Architecture, along with Perkins & Will, will be redeveloped in a city-operated community hub rooted in the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Huron-Wendat cultures. Public spaces are inspired by the movement of water; the roof garden includes space for a sacred fire; the interiors hint to the traditional Haudenosaunee longhouse, and the exterior is wrapped in a star blanket to symbolize the unity between the Social Development Finance & Administration collaboration with the community hub it will operate. In a recent article from REMI Network, principal architect and owner of Smoke Architecture, Eladia Smoke, explained the significance of the design.

“That star symbolizes the presence and attention and support of the community, which comes together as a patchwork of multiple, unique individuals, but also represents their ancestors which are recorded in the stars,” she said. “We heard from our participants that it was critical to have a safe place of Indigenous knowledge sharing in an urban location.” 

Taza Reservoir, Calgary

The Taza Water Reservoir will become a key feature of Taza Park, part of Taza- North America’s largest First Nation development project. As partners on this project, developer Zeidler Architecture, and vice-president of Taza Development Group, Bryce Starlight spoke to REMI Network in a recent article, and highlighted the features of the project, as well as its significance to the Indigenous community. 

“The reservoir represents the physical return of water from the Glenmore reservoir back to Tsuut’ina land to be redistributed, as well as a symbolic demonstration of Tsuut’ina cultural values and water conservation practices,” says Zeidler Architecture.  Upon completion, the facility will provide an ongoing and healthy supply of drinking water, replace ageing the aged infrastructure, facilitate the Tsuut’ina Nation’s current utilities within their infrastructure program, and aims to be net-zero while educating site visitors about water conservation in Taza. 

Some of these elements are the buffalo, represented throughout the canopies as a symbol of “stability and taking care of your people.” The underside of another canopy was revised to reference with a block-gradient aesthetic of a real eagle wing, the eagle being “aspirational and visionary.”

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