Long before Europeans arrived, civilization flourished on the shores of what is now modern Vancouver.
It produced a sophisticated society made up of distinct cultures, says Bruce Macdonald. At a time when many in England lived in little huts, the Musqueam built multifamily homes of 90 feet by 200 feet, the Vancouver historian, heritage advocate, and author reminds us.
A piece of this rich past may come back to life. A proposed Salish Sea Village seeks to re-create what European explorers George Vancouver and Dionisio Galiano saw when they sailed on separate expeditions into Burrard Inlet in 1792.
“It would be like going back in time,” Macdonald told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It would be like going back to 1792.”
Macdonald is the author of Vancouver: A Visual History and a long-time advocate of preserving the city’s heritage, and was instrumental in persuading the Vancouver park board to preserve the hollow tree in Stanley Park.
He’s part of a troika that has started discussions about the Salish Sea Village. The two others are Scott Clark and Hendrik Hoekema, executive directors of the Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society and the Vancouver Eastside Educational Enrichment Society, respectively.
“We’re from a civilization that’s been here 10,000 years,” Macdonald said. “Forget about Egypt. Forget about Israel. Forget about ancient China. We have an ancient civilization right here. And we’re the current version of it.”
Vancouver’s valuable waterfront is a key component in re-creating this civilization by the Salish Sea, which is the name adopted in 2010 by the B.C. government for the Strait of Georgia, Juan de Fuca Strait, and Puget Sound.
According to Macdonald, about half a hectare of land with a beach will be a suitable location.
“If you’re talking about an acre or an acre and a half, you need a site like CRAB Park or Northeast False Creek,” he said.
The historian stressed that it’s premature to talk about where to put this tourist attraction. He added that the City of Vancouver, especially the park board, will have to play a role, as well as, probably, developers.
But this early, Don Larson is saying it’s not a good idea to build at CRAB Park, which is officially known as CRAB Park at Portside. He’s the person largely responsible for the creation of the green space east of Canada Place by Burrard Inlet.
Larson underscores that he supports projects that celebrate First Nations culture. And in the past, he has pressed the Vancouver park board to create Wendy Poole Park in the Downtown Eastside to honour an aboriginal person. But he says that an alternative location to CRAB Park may work better for the Salish Sea Village.
“As you see today,” Larson noted as he took the Straight for a walk at the park on a summer afternoon, “people come down here for a little bit of space and relaxation. You don’t want to be right on top of people. So if you put a big building in here, that takes up a lot of space. But also, depending on who runs the building, it changes the sense of what the park is. The park is for everybody.”
The 2.5-hectare CRAB Park is owned by a federal entity, Port Metro Vancouver, and it is leased to the City of Vancouver.
A property southeast of the park may fit the same project but on a smaller scale, Larson suggested. The lot, also owned by the port authority, is used for parking.
A presentation prepared by Macdonald doesn’t mention CRAB Park. But it cites Northeast False Creek as one “example of an ideal site” for the Salish Sea Village. It also notes that the city’s plan to remove the viaducts nearby is compatible with the project.
The paper makes the case that the village is for all, whether one is of European, Asian, or aboriginal descent. Macdonald states that genetic research has revealed that descendants of the first peoples of Europe came to central Asia near China about 25,000 years ago. Moving on later, they became some of the first Natives of North America’s Pacific coast about 15,000 years ago.
“We have come full circle,” Macdonald writes. “The First Nations of the northwest coast are related to the first Europeans and to Asians. In recent time new waves of Europeans and Asians have settled on the Salish Sea. It is time to celebrate this history together.”