Talking Trees: Indigenous tour reveals glorious Stanley Park in a new yet ancient light

A new collaboration of Talaysay Tours and Fairmont Waterfront Hotel gives locals and visitors alike a taste of First Nations' ways of living

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      Located on the unceded and traditional territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh), and Coast Salish peoples, Stanley Park is often experienced from its perimeter. There’s nothing like swooshing by English Bay on a bike or strolling right underneath the Lions Gate Bridge, every curve of the seawall a reminder of why you love this place.

      It’s a love that runs ever deep for local Indigenous people whose ancestors have called the region home for millennia.

      A new collaboration between Talaysay Tours and Fairmont Waterfront Hotel gives people a different glimpse of Stanley Park. The one-night getaway/staycation has First Nations’ cultural and spiritual connection to the Northwest Coast at its heart.

      The Talking Trees package starts with a walking tour to the park’s Beaver Lake with local guides from Talaysay Tours, which storyteller and kayak guide Candace Campo founded with her brother, Jon, and husband, Larry.

      Jon and Candace (who was also trained as an anthropologist and teacher) Campo are members of the Shíshálh tribe’s wolf and grizzly bear clan, while Larry Campo is a member of the Squamish Nation. Their mission is to educate and inspire people through the sharing of Indigenous people’s history, traditions, and beliefs.

      To start the tour, one of the guides welcomes guests to the land of their ancestors, as is customary, with a song set to a steady drumbeat. From there, people get to take in the foliage and forest in a new light.

      Candace Campo talks about bullrush and other plants during Talaysay Tours' Talking Trees tour.
      Gail Johnson.

      While different stories tend to emerge from tour to tour, depending on the group’s interests and questions, people might learn things like why the Western Hemlock hangs its head in shame, according to First Nations lore, and what gives the magnificent cedar the title of “tree of life”.

      During the rain-or-shine stroll, guides might talk about spiritual practices, medicinal uses of plants like skunk cabbage and moss, and traditional applications of the sticky sap from Douglas firs, used for everything from tools and Band-Aids to medicine and tea.

      Salal berries, licorice fern, and plantain, which is also called frog leaf: guides also explore traditional foods like these, the country’s First Nations being the original creators of the 100-mile diet. There are cooking tips and secrets, too; anyone who loves grilling salmon atop a cedar plank will want to hear what Candace Campo recommends instead.

      During a communal pause, people sip on tea made with plants like stinging nettle, giving them a chance to savour a drink so simple, soak in the surrounding beauty and silence (save for the odd floatplane, helicopter, or overzealous runner), and imagine what life on this resplendent land must have been like hundreds or thousands of years ago.

      Before departing the park, a guide might urge people to come right up to an enormous fir to smell and scrape off a small amount of sap. Its scent lingers on the fingers like a soothing aromatic salve. (On this particular media tour, Candice Campo revealed that this nearly white substance was a source of great comfort to some of her relations who went to residential school and would sneak out into the forests to snack on it.)

      The walk is as informative as it is moving, allowing people to go deeper into Stanley Park in every sense.

      Elk tartare with berries and bone-marrow sabayon is one of the dishes on the Talking Trees menu at ARC at Fairmont Waterfront.
      Gail Johnson.

      Once back at the hotel, perhaps after a dip in the pool or a happy-hour cocktail, it’s time for dinner at ARC.

      Executive chef Anthony Marzo was inspired by local Indigenous culture to create the Talking Trees menu. Candice Campo helped source many of the ingredients nearby for the meal's three courses; other items come from the hotel’s own rooftop herb garden and bee hives. (The Waterfront also has a new rooftop Coastal People’s Interpretive Garden.)

      The dinner begins with an amuse-bouche of oyster and herring roe, dressed with delicate kelp and hemlock and a eucalyptus emulsion.

      Elk tartare comes studded with elderberries, blackberries and hazelnuts, accompanied by a smooth bone-marrow sabayon.

      ARC executive chef Anthony Marzo was inspired by local Indigenous culture to create the Talking Trees menu.
      Gail Johnson.

      The main event is West Coast salmon kedgeree served with a 63-degree organic egg, wild rice, and Madras curry velouté.

      To finish are two pieces of fry bread with berries and dark chocolate.

      The Talking Trees package runs until March 31 from $514 based on double occupancy. More information is at Fairmont Waterfront. In addition to its Talking Trees tour, Talaysay Tours also operates excursions of different types throughout the year in other areas, including the North Shore and, via boat, the Salish Sea. Its tour of Stanley Park is $40 per adult.