Stories of Change: Brian Ironstand

Brian Ironstand is all about keeping it positive.

The resident of Red Road Lodge does his best to help those around him and be a positive influence.

“I’m not looking for trouble,” he says. “I want to live my life and try to be an example for others.”

At 48 years old, Brian’s life has been a varied and interesting one. Born on the Waywayseecappo First Nations Reserve near Russell Manitoba, Brian was adopted at the age of 12 and taken to live in Philadelphia. It was a radical change but one that Brian embraced and enjoyed.

“I was given a lot of good schooling,” he recalls. “My friends were pretty fascinated with me. They had never met a real Canadian before, let alone someone who is First Nations like me. All they wanted to talk about was hockey.”

Brian went on to attend Penn State University and enroll in the Marines, along with his brother. It was while he was in the Marines that he was diagnosed with epilepsy. “The Marines gave me a needle and told me what the problem was,” he says. “They were sorry but they had to give me a discharge.”

Brian returned to Winnipeg feeling unsure about what he was going to do next but, in his usual fashion, he stayed positive. “I just kept my head up,” he says. “If someone asked if I wanted a drink, I asked for coffee.” He found work in a few restaurants and quickly shared his positivity with customers and co-workers. “I started making bannock, just like the kind I used to make at home. The customers loved it. We started serving it with soup or with jam, or with a bit of butter.”

Now Brian is a resident of Red Road Lodge, a transitional housing facility located on Main Street. Formerly the site of the New Occidental Hotel, Red Road Lodge provides safe and affordable housing for the homeless and at-risk individuals. Brian has been living there for the past six months and he is enjoying his time there. “The people here are nice,” he says. “They really have my back.”

In addition to providing housing and help, Red Road Lodge is also home to Studio 631, an urban art centre that provides resources, space for work and meetings, and education at little or no cost to the inner-city residents and Main Street homeless population. It is here that Brian has been able to hone his passion for woodworking. “I learned about carpentry when I was young, and it’s always something that I’ve enjoyed,” he says. “The folks at Red Road made sure that I got some really good tools. I’m making sure that I use them.”

Through woodworking, Brian has been able to make a strong connection with his fellow residents and lend a helping hand. “Some of the people here haven’t had it easy, so I try to help out wherever I can. When someone gets frustrated I just tell them ‘If I can do it, you can do it too!’”

When he is not in the wood shop, Brian enjoys strolling throughout the downtown and stopping into Tim Hortons for a bite to eat. He enjoys meeting and connecting with others in the downtown area and prefers to keep things simple and positive. “My Grandparents taught me to respect my elders,” he says. “But I try to be that way with everyone, young and old.”

Red Road Lodge is one of five organizations that received support from Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s CEO Sleepout. Eight participants from Red Road will receive 2,710 hours of employment in 2014, helping the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s Metro Enviro-Team in litter removal, snow shoveling, and beautification efforts throughout Winnipeg’s downtown. Brian is impressed with the support and grateful to everyone who will be taking part in the event. “Most of these people just need a bit of help,” he tells us. “When you give them a helping hand, they help back. Then you really get to see what they can do.”

From Waywayseecappo, to Philadelphia, and now back to Winnipeg, Brian has managed to fit a lot into his 48 years. Now he is happy to have a roof over his head and tools he can use to shape wood. By sharing his skills with others, Brian has managed to bring people together in that positive way that is so important to him.

“So many people have helped me in my life,” he says. “It feels good to be able to give something back.”