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NANAIMO, BC, Feb. 16 /CNW/ - A traditional First Nations feast at Vancouver Island University (VIU) honoured TD Bank Financial Group on Monday for its contribution of $50,000 toward The Gathering Place, a new Aboriginal centre on the Nanaimo campus.

VIU President and Vice-Chancellor Ralph Nilson praised TD and other community partners for playing a key role in the creation of Shq'apthut - The Gathering Place. Phase one of the $3.6-million, 5,000-square-foot structure will be completed this summer.

"The Gathering Place offers a cultural home away from home for students with diverse academic, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds," Nilson said. "The centre will foster understanding, appreciation and respect for First Nations heritage not only among Aboriginal students but throughout the university community and beyond."

The Gathering Place is designed and is being built to meet the rigorous gold standard for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

"Protecting our environment is critical to our success," Nilson said. "As leaders in teaching, learning and research, all of us at VIU have a responsibility to lead by example."

Nilson also expressed pride that students in VIU's first Aboriginal Construction Program gained important hands-on experience as they helped lay the foundation and install the support beams for the distinctive building.

"We're delighted to be a part of VIU's new Aboriginal centre, working to ensure that the best educational opportunities exist to help develop tomorrow's leaders from the Aboriginal community," said Tara-Lynn Hughes, District Vice President South Vancouver Island, TD Canada Trust. "The Aboriginal community represents one of the youngest and fastest growing segments of our population, and will increasingly make up a larger portion of the total workforce in the years ahead. As such, TD is committed to supporting Aboriginal communities in Canada through programs geared to promote economic development, self-sufficiency and job opportunities."

In recognition of TD's support of the Aboriginal centre, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) will receive recognition via the centre's new rainwater retention pond.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary year, the local TD FEF Nanaimo/Parksville Chapter has provided more than $500,000 to over 500 local, grassroots environmental and wildlife projects since 1990. Across the country, TD FEF has distributed more than $50 million to support over 18,400 grassroots environmental and wildlife projects in its 20 year history.

The first phase of The Gathering Place, at a cost of $2.2-million, includes a student lounge, an elders lounge, and office space for VIU's Aboriginal Student Services department.

The building was designed by Aboriginal architect Alfred Waugh to resemble a traditional Coast Salish longhouse in the era before European contact.

Waugh describes The Gathering Place as a holistic integration of sustainable strategies. The green roof reduces storm water runoff and reduces energy demands for cooling and heating. Rainwater collected from the roof in a retention pond is part of a filtration system that permits reuse of grey water to flush toilets and irrigate landscaping.

Julie Keenan, development manager for VIU, said generous donors have contributed $400,000 toward The Gathering Place, and more than $26,000 has been raised by internal fundraising efforts at VIU, such as soup and bannock sales by the First Nations Student Services department and a gala reception dinner and auction held last May.

A donation of $25,000 from the VIU Student Union is helping to ensure construction of a green roof on the new centre.

Meanwhile, fundraising for phase two is continuing. "There is still an outstanding need of $1.6-million to complete additional office space, landscaping and a ceremonial hall," said Keenan. "We're confident that other organizations and individuals will see the value of investing in this innovative project."

For more information on The Gathering Place project, to see the plans or to make a donation, please visit or contact Vancouver Island University Foundation, 250-740-6212,

/NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo accompanying this release is available at Images are free to accredited members of the media/

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