Vancouver will soon catch its first glimpse of the project that artist Luke Marston has been dedicated to for the last five years.
On April 25, the Shore to Shore sculpture will be unveiled at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, which was once home to both First Nations and Portuguese families.
Marston, a Coast Salish master carver whose traditional name is Ts’uts’umutl, originally conceived of the project as a tribute to his family. Marston’s great-great grandmother is Kwatleematt of the Sechelt First Nation, and his great-great grandfather is the man known as Portuguese Joe Silvey, a whaler and fisherman who arrived in the area in around 1858 from the Azorean island of Pico.
The tribute has since taken on new significance for the descendants of those original inhabitants of what is now called Brockton Point. Throughout the five-year process, Marston has worked closely with both the Portuguese community and the three Coast Salish First Nations on whose traditional territory Stanley Park lies.
“It became more than just about the sculpture itself,” Marston explained at the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver today (April 16), where he displayed a replica of the sculpture.
“There’s a lot of things that we did along the journey, relationships that were built.”
The 16-foot-high bronze sculpture is topped by the Unity Figure, a raptor intended to represent both the Portuguese açor and the Canadian eagle. Its base is a black-and-white mosaic built with stones imported from Portugal and installed by a stone mason from the Azores.
“Having that cultural exchange is what I worked towards the whole project,” said Marston, who is a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation on Vancouver Island.
The sculpture incorporates life-size figures portraying Silvey, Kwatleematt, and Silvey’s first wife, Khaltinaht, a Coast Salish noblewoman who had two children with Silvey before dying at a young age from tuberculosis.
Johnna Sparrow of the Musqueam First Nation noted she has a personal tie to the history behind the sculpture. When she was a young girl, her grandfather would take her to Stanley Park and tell her about their ancestor, Khaltinaht.
“To see this come to life, and to bring the spirit of who she was back and how she ties to our community, is something that resonates in me, and it’s through my bones, it’s in my blood,” Sparrow said.
“And I am so proud of the accomplishment that Luke has done to bring this to the awareness of the public, of who we are as First Nations people in unceded territory.”
Chris Lewis of the Squamish First Nation called the project “a true process of reconciliation”.
“The place where this monument is going to stand—many people lived there: Squamish had villages there, our Coast Salish peoples,” he said. “The three First Nations shared in those resources that we have here today.”
Lewis also thanked Marston for honouring the First Nations women through the sculpture.
“In those days, the women weren’t honoured—they were honoured in our culture, but in terms of the vast Canadian culture, if they married non-Natives, then sometimes they lost their right to call themselves First Nations,” he noted.
Carleen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation added that “huge, huge segments” of families lost their aboriginal status this way.
“When, within our own communities, they are still family,” she said.
The sculpture also signifies the first acknowledgement of the Portuguese history on the West Coast, according to Maria João Boavida, Consul General of Portugal.
“The Portuguese presence in Canada is better known on the Atlantic Coast…so this was a unique project,” she said.
“It has been very interesting, because I think we have been learning about each other’s cultures. We have been learning about the Coast Salish culture, as I think Luke has been learning about Portuguese culture.”
The process of creating the sculpture is documented in the book Shore to Shore: The Art of Ts'uts'umutl Luke Marston, by journalist Suzanne Fournier. She noted the structure recognizes a Coast Salish history in the region that is not so distant.
“This is very much in living memory of people from Musqueam and Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh,” Fournier said.
“That is a relative of [Sparrow’s] that lived in what we regard as a park, but is in fact unceded Coast Salish territory, and even more so than other locations, because it’s under federal title…So the sculpture stands for a lot.”
Funding for the project included contributions from Heritage Canada through its Canadian Legacy Fund, the Portuguese community and government, First Nations, and Marston’s extended Silvey family. Most recently, the City of Vancouver donated $20,000 to the project through its reconciliation initiative, and the Vancouver park board contributed $5,000.
The sculpture will be unveiled at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 25 at Brockton Point.