Breaking ground on the road to reconciliation

Rendering of outdoor pavillion surrounded by plants
Rendering of outdoor pavillion surrounded by plants
Construction begins on Indigenous outdoor gathering space at University of Waterloo  

This fall, students, faculty and staff at the main campus of the University of Waterloo will have a new outdoor space for teaching, celebrating and bringing awareness about Indigenous peoples and cultural practices. 

The University recently broke ground on the gathering space, which will be used for First Nations-, Métisand Inuit-led events, celebrations and gatherings. The space will also be available as an outdoor classroom to anyone educating on First Nations, Métis and Inuit content. 

"This space is meant to make a statement," said Jean Becker, associate vice-president, Indigenous Relations at Waterloo. "It’s meant to be a physical presence to say to our campus colleagues that there is Indigenous presence on campus, including histories tied to the area as well as contemporary Indigenous diversity and uses of the land. We’re proud of that." 

The structure will stand about six metres tall and 15 metres in diameter. It will be circular and contain 33 posts, representing a forest. The roof will have four wing-like sections that overlap. This design will serve as a teaching tool on Indigenous cultures, pedagogies and ideologies. 

The Office of Indigenous Relations is working with the Indigenous Design Studio at Brook McIlroy. The work at Brook McIlroy is led by Ryan Gorrie, principal, who is Anishinaabeg and a member of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (Sand Point First Nation on Lake Nipigon). Gorrie and team led a large number of Indigenous campus community members through a lengthy and involved consultative process that led to final design of the structure. 

"The design is unique to this space," said Becker. "The colours of the roof model those of a trout species native to the Grand River, and the building materials will reflect the natural environment locally. We did a lot of consultation with our communities to ensure that this space is what we need here and that it reflects our teaching and learning community." 

Members of the Office of Indigenous Relations visited the space before the construction team broke ground to smudge, lay tobacco and offer a song and prayers to the space, the earth, the animals, and the trees as a way to acknowledge the change and disturbance, and to give thanks for the positive effect that the space will have in terms of sharing, teaching and building community and relationships.   is available on the website of the Office of Indigenous Relations.