Winnipeg’s Bruce Oake Recovery Centre celebrates grand opening

Oake family established addictions treatment centre to honour late son who died of overdose in 2011

CBC News · Posted: Aug 22, 2021 4:27 PM CT | Last Updated: August 23

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre held a grand opening on Sunday. Construction on the 50-bed facility began in January 2020. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre opened its doors to the public on Sunday — what would have been the 36th birthday of the treatment centre’s namesake.

On May 26, the 50-bed men’s treatment centre opened its doors to men seeking recovery as a way to honour Bruce Oake, who died of a drug overdose in 2011 at the age of 25. 

The date has been a difficult one to mark for the family, but this year was different.

“We’re happy today that Bruce’s spirit is alive and well in the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, this beautiful place of healing,” Bruce’s father, Scott Oake, said at the facility’s open house event on Sunday.

“Bruce, you are our guiding light in this beautiful project. You got us this far, and I know you’re going to take us the rest of the way.”

Construction on the 43,000 square foot addictions treatment centre in Winnipeg’s Crestview neighbourhood began in January 2020.

Admission to the centre will be free for those who can’t afford it and they can stay as long as they need to recover, Oake said.

Bruce Oake’s father, Scott Oake, and brother, Darcy Oake, stand behind his memorial at the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

‘A miracle’

Among those who spoke at the grand opening was one of the facility’s current residents, a man who identified himself as Marcel R.

Marcel said he was 18 when he started using drugs and alcohol, something he struggled with until a friend brought him to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting six years ago.

That meeting marked a turning point in his life. He became a support worker for people with disabilities and foster kids and even started taking university courses in applied counselling.

But Marcel said he started taking his recovery for granted and stopped going to the meetings that had helped him find a new life. His addiction returned, stronger than ever — and the stigma and shame he felt around it kept him from telling anyone.

“I was terrified that others might find out that I was an addict,” Marcel said.

He eventually lost his home and found himself living on the street. And it wasn’t until he was back at his mom’s house to detox that a friend asked if he’d heard about the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

A room with desks and a whiteboard with the words ‘Recovery is Possible!’ written on it is pictured inside the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

And in that moment, Marcel said he felt relief — there might yet be hope for him.

“A week later I was in here, welcomed by staff who have lived through the hopelessness of addiction and understand the struggles and triumphs of recovery,” he said.

“Today I’m 73 days sober. And that’s a miracle.”

Growing wait-list

Greg Kyllo, the executive director of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, said the work they’re doing at the centre is “deeply personal” to him.

“I’m a person in long-term recovery as well and just celebrated 15 years of recovery,” Kyllo said.

“I’ve really seen first-hand the enormous need in every single community. The gaps in substance use and addictions treatment services continue. The need is staggering and the pandemic we’ve all been in has only exacerbated this need.”

Kyllo said the centre already has a wait list of over 200 men, though he said he hopes to also open a long-term addiction centre for women one day.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said he believes the recovery centre will benefit the community.

A room with a couch, chair and pillows is pictured inside the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“It’s a testament to what tragedy can do to us, but also you take your tragedy and make it a triumph,” he said.

Oake said the opening of the centre marked an important milestone, but most of the work still lies ahead.

“This is not the finish line. This is the start line — the point at which we can begin saving lives,” he said.

“We have a lot of work left to do, but we know we can do it with your continued support.”