Trailblazers 2019: Patrick Stewart uses architecture to reclaim First Nations culture

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      Architecture isn’t just about building design for Patrick Stewart. It’s also a form of resistance for the Nisga’a man and B.C.’s first licensed Indigenous architect.

      “Our culture was violently taken away. I like to put those back on the street,” Stewart told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      Stewart does projects not only with an eye to reclaiming what was lost during the colonization of First Nations in Canada. He also does them with an in-your-face flourish to show that Indigenous culture has survived.

      “On the West Coast, villages were burned. Totem poles were sawed down and floated away,” Stewart said.

      His works include the Dave Pranteau Aboriginal Children’s Village at Nanaimo Street and South Grandview Highway in Vancouver. With its four totem poles, timber posts, stone sidings, and red and yellow paint, the foster home’s three-storey building is a striking reflection of the culture of kids and families.

      Born in Vancouver, Stewart was raised by different foster families across the province.

      By his count, there are only 16 Indigenous architects in the country, which he considers a legacy of colonialism. Up until 1961, Indigenous people had to give up their identity under the Indian Act if they wanted to enter university and the professions.

      He related that an uncle told him that when Aboriginal communities began sending their youths to schools for the professions, they wanted to have lawyers first because “we’re fighting the government on the land question.”

      Indigenous teachers came next. Social workers followed. Then health professionals were sought.

      “He said, ‘Don’t worry, architecture will come, but it’s just going to come in its own time,’ ” Stewart said.

      Stewart is a former president of the Architectural Institute of B.C., the first Indigenous person to become the head of a Canadian architectural association.