When you talk about history one would be doing an injustice of the founding members if we did not try to go back to the very beginning. How the actions, beliefs, dreams and activities of much easier times affected and evolved into what is today.
To trace the history of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre one has to go back to the depression period and pre World War II when native peoples mainly from Six Nations but also from other First Nations migrated to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, N.Y. and Rochester. Some were seeking employment; others (large numbers) joined the American Armed Services. Some worked in factories in the war effort. This was our home until 1989 when we bought almost 8 acres of property at 796 Buffalo Road.
Through a comprehensive feasibility study our building project evolved and was divided into five phases. At present time we have completed three of the five phases. We have received capital for a Native Day Care Centre, which was completed in April 1995.
Presently we have staff (runners) working on securing capital funding for phase IV. Presently we have between 25 and 30 full time staff members and programs covering the seven stages of life.
From the Friendship Centre other urban native organizations evolved. They are Ganawageh Urban Homes, Niagara Chapter of Native Women, Elders of Ontario, Wakanoiten Child Care Services and Aboriginal Family Circle. Soon a recognizable Native population base was established. Unfortunately, in those days the common Native place to get together was usually the local neighbourhood tavern or sometimes the hockey and lacrosse arenas. By mid 1950's the Buffalo Native Social Club was founded. It's activities included bowling league, social dances, fundraising for student financial assistance, sponsors of minor lacrosse, euchre clubs and other activities of that nature.
As time passed particularly in the late 60's and throughout the 70's there was a strange phenomenon occurring, which was a Reverse Migration. Native peoples of the large noisy, siren filled cities were moving to the smaller quieter, more country like, slower paced, easy to access town of Fort Erie. The major catalyst was the Off-reserve Housing Program. This allowed Native people to buy their own homes.
During the mid and late 70's some of the Native people who migrated to Fort Erie from Buffalo, who were members of the Buffalo Social Club formed the Fort Erie Native Social Club. Their activities were very much the same as Buffalo. In fact, in most cases they were still members of both clubs. Although many of the activities of the Social Club were similar to those of a Friendship Centre, the concept, mandate and terms of the Friendship Centre movement was not known until the mid 1970's. At this time there began interaction and activities with the St. Catherine?s Friendship Centre. Delegates from Fort Erie went to find more about a Friendship Centre in St. Catherine?s. The results were that shortly thereafter a new concept evolved and in 1978 funding was provided for the first satellite centre in Canada.
In theory it was an extended arm of a fully funded Friendship Centre set up in a neighbouring Native urban community. The first home of the satellite was in a low-income apartment with little or no heat on Jarvis street. After stories of cold feet, cold noses, etc. the Fort Erie satellite moved to a cubbyhole in the basement of the St.Pauls Parrish Hall at 303 Niagara Blvd.
Another new concept was evolving in the urban community society. This was electronic BINGO. The Fort Erie satellite was the first organization to introduce the Electronic Bingo in Fort Erie. The main purpose was to set up a Property/Building Acquisition Fund.
In 1982, the Native community started procedures to become incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization. This was achieved in February 1983 and in April 1983 we received core funding becoming the first satellite Friendship Centre in Canada to become a fully funded Friendship Centre. In 1984 we were able to acquisition the St. Paul?s Parish Hall and to our knowledge became the first Native Friendship Centre to acquire Native community urban property without government or any other capital assistance.