• March 27, 2024

March 25, 2024 marks an important milestone for the USAY Youth Centre: It will not only be the day we remember as the day ground is broken on the project, but one that brought together organizers, Elders, and members of broader Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together.

Hindsight’s 20/20, so we caught up with USAY’s Executive Director LeeAnne Ireland (LI) and our Regional Director of Western Canada, Grace Coulter Sherlock (GCS) to reflect on what it was like to co-create this project, and what the groundbreaking means to them.

How does the groundbreaking feel for you both? What does it represent to you?

LI: “This building is a legacy project that has been 15 years in the making, and the fact that it’s happening still feels surreal.

“The groundbreaking is symbolic. Camps are where you gather family, tradition, culture and identity, and you establish the ways we connect with our various relations, and this is the first tradition in setting up camp. That’s what I hope the Youth Centre will be, somewhere that embodies these things.

“Having a grass dancer come to traditionally stamp down grass and prepare for encampment which is a big part of Indigenous teachings, staking a teepee, having an Elder do a prayer and bless the ground, even a traditional groundbreaking but with a beaded shovel—it’s a powerful way to bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous traditions, and that’s a space our youth exist, in these worlds that overlap by living in a Canadian context.

“For me, overlapping these traditions and worldviews is going to be impactful, and I’m excited for what this will be.”

GCS: “This space will finally be real and provide a permanent home for USAY.  The center will be built in a way that’s reflective of USAY as an organization, with care and thought and intent. Even after the initial building is finished, we know the work won’t be done—it’ll start to be augmented, lived in, and used by people.

“The design here pushes the envelope to evolve and continue to be lived in for years to come—it’s akin to a home, and it’s a space that  generations to come will make their own. It’s so purposefully built to meet the needs of the community now and patina/evolve as a lived-in space.”

Let’s go behind the scenes; describe the process and level of involvement you had with us, LeeAnne.

LI: “What started with a feasibility study around what was possible and what the Centre could look like, it was a very collaborative co-design process. USAY came in with strong ideas of what we wanted to achieve, and Lemay elevated those ideas.

“As we explained why we needed certain things to be the way they were and why certain spaces had to behave as they would from an Indigenous perspective, Lemay went above and beyond to support us. With them, I felt like I had a partner that could lead us through the process; I have a newfound respect for the work and effort it takes to realize projects like this.”

And what has we learned by co-creating this space with USAY, Grace?

GCS: “This project has been a rare opportunity for an organization focused on a social good to gain momentum and become something truly embedded and representative of who they are. There’s been so many dialogues around this centered in trust, compassion, and openness around what this space could be.

“It’s been an immense learning opportunity for everyone at Lemay, at USAY’s invited us into so many events and learning opportunities in the Indigenous community to help us better understand their needs and how we can contribute.

“It’s truly in an amazing place in Calgary for the USAY community, revitalizing and giving roots to them for decades to come. I’ve loved working with USAY; they’re such fierce advocates and generous of spirit.”

How has USAY’s perspective influenced this project, LeeAnne?

LI: “At the USAY Youth Centre, there will be so many features that’ll support Indigenous youth, from an engaged maker’s space to the feasting area for Elders’ teachings and food sovereignty, the rooftop garden—even the parking lot. Everything has this multipurpose design to build opportunity or identity.

The whole building will be activated, and it will transform how we use physical space. There are lots of diverse Indigenous peoples that live in Calgary, and this space is designed to welcome everyone. It’s accessible, safe secure, open, friendly—with Lemay, we’ve been able to make it feel like home with its welcoming qualities and a sense of ownership.

It’s not just a Blackfoot, Cree, Anishinaabe or Métis space, but place for everyone because it’s reflective of youth, of indigeneity, and who we are as a community.”


Explore the co-designed and co-authored space of the USAY Youth Centre.