Eskasoni First Nation held a sod-turning ceremony Thursday to mark the ongoing construction on an extension to the Eskasoni strip mall.
“Business development is very important to us, in order to create jobs, we have to create business opportunities,” said Chief Leroy Denny.
The $1.5-million extension will add three businesses to the mall which already includes Subway, Foodland, Red Tribe boxing and a gaming centre.
The endeavour is funded through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Indigenous Services Canada and Eskasoni First Nation.
Denny believes with the right partners the new businesses can create 60 jobs. He was hesitant to discuss what businesses would occupy the space because negotiations haven’t been finalized.
“This is very big for Eskasoni; over the past few years our unemployment rate is getting lower and lower,” said Denny, although he wasn’t sure the exact unemployment numbers.
The community has roughly around 4,500 people but Denny says that number is growing rapidly and soon Eskasoni may have 5,000 residents. So, he is hopeful the economic development can help provide jobs for people in the community.
Construction on a long-term care facility has begun, work on the Eskasoni telecommunications company is also underway and this latest mall expansion are ways Eskasoni is trying to provide work, said Denny, adding a good number of community members are working at the construction sites.
He said many of the community members are smart and well-educated and they just need opportunities.
“People want to work and we want to give them that opportunity," said Denny.
The sod-turning ceremony began with opening remarks and prayers from community elders and a hand drum song from two members of East Boys, an Eskasoni drum group. The wet and windy weather didn’t detour a modest crowd of about 20 people from attending, many were members of Eskasoni chief and council.
Construction work began a few weeks ago and chief and council previously announced the endeavour along with receiving $500,000 from the federal government. Now, a more structured timeline is in place and leadership hopes to finalize the businesses in the coming months. Construction on the building is scheduled to wrap up January 2021. And for Denny, it's all about keeping people in his community working.
“A good percentage of our people are working,” said Denny.
And he hopes as his community expands and opens more businesses, they can become a centre for surrounding residents to shop without having to travel to Sydney.
Denny also added despite the delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic the telecommunications project is on schedule.