HALIFAX - The Halifax restaurant where an Aboriginal leader came up with the idea of "Legacy Rooms" — a place for people to learn and talk about reconciliation — will itself open a designated room on Monday.
Sam Murphy, co-owner of the Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar, said his restaurant's "Legacy Room" is about creating an awareness around Aboriginal issues.
"Last November is when the idea first came up with Chief Morley Googoo and his team while they were having dinner here," said Murphy. "That's when he approached me to see if we'd be interested in doing something."
The idea has begun to take hold in the months since Googoo, the regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, first thought of it. It gained national prominence after the late singer Gord Downie also called on corporate Canada to do more to promote dialogue and reconciliation.
The Legacy Room initiative is now part of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. The fund honours 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
Murphy said while there are no rules around what can be talked about in the 12- to 14-person private dining room, located in the restaurant's upstairs level, there will be reminders inside that he hopes will spark conversation.
The room will have two plaques featuring the fund's logo and Wenjack's story.
"There are reading materials about the fund and what it's trying to do and there's a showpiece smudging bowl and feather. It's a safe place where people can really talk about anything that they are wondering about — it doesn't necessarily have to be about one specific thing."
Googoo said he's excited to see his idea become a reality in the very place he thought of it, and believes the room will spark the kind of conversations he envisions.
"There is really no way not to talk about it," said Googoo. "People will be like, what's that with Gord and Chanie?"
In July, five Halifax locations including the restaurant committed to hosting Legacy Rooms and an annual donation of $5,000 over five years, which will go towards grassroots reconciliation programs to support healing and recovery. At that point there were nine across the country, including three in Ontario.
Googoo has been on record as saying he wanted to expand the program to bring hundreds more public spaces and corporations on board.
He said to help do that, a program director was recently hired and it's hoped about 100 more rooms can be designated within the next five months.
"I think the more spaces we create for this dialogue of reconciliation to happen, it's going to have better momentum and move forward because it will empower broad-based action," said Googoo.
Murphy said his restaurant will be closed on Monday for a launch party.
Entertainment will be provided by Heather Rankin and Adam Baldwin, with ticket proceeds going to the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, he said.
Murphy said he sees providing a room as part of a wider need for community outreach, noting that as a young person in school, he heard almost nothing about issues that are now starting to gain attention.
"If I don't know then I'm sure there are tonnes of Canadians that are unaware of the black mark on Canadian history with the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians," he said.