Vancouver’s Indigenous Peoples: 15 Places to Explore Local Culture

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, коренные народы

There are about 200,000 indigenous people in the province of British Columbia. They speak more than 30 languages and 60 dialects. Today, their history and traditions are carefully restored by descendants in numerous galleries, centers, and art objects. This topic is of great interest to me. I decided to share with you a few highlights of the local indigenous culture.

Totem Poles at Stanley Park

The city’s most famous indigenous art objects. The government has been collecting totems at Stanley Park since the 1920s. They were ordered and brought in from all over the province. They planned to build an Indian village for tourists on this site, but changed their minds. The totems were left behind. At the end of the 20th century, the original 9 pillars were replaced by replicas and moved to museums for preservation.


READ MORE: What to visit in Vancouver? Top 15: Best of the Best


Totems, Stanley Park, Vancouver

2. Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

A small gallery in downtown Vancouver is devoted entirely to the contemporary art of the Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples. It was founded in honor of Bill Reed, one of the most important local artists. He is known for his jewelry, sculptures, and paintings.

The museum has a gorgeous collection of gold and silver jewelry with traditional Indian patterns and shapes. The earrings are killer whales, the brooch is a raven, the necklace is made of golden frogs. There is a corner with the artist’s working tools. In the middle of the hall stands a life-size wooden totem pole carved by a sculptor from the Haida Gwaii Indian Island. Exhibitions of contemporary Indigenous artists are often held here. I highly recommend visiting.

Every first Friday of the month from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., the Gallery is free to enter.

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art
Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art
Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

3. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

In addition to the hanging bridge, Capilano is also home to the largest collection of private totem poles in North America. Some of the posts were carved back in the early 20th century and brought to these lands. The collection has about 25 pieces.

By the way, the park itself is located on indigenous land. In their language, Kia’palano means “beautiful river”.

capilano park, totems, indigenous peoples
capilano park, totems, indigenous peoples

Airport (Vancouver International Airport)

An unobvious place for cultural studies. The Vancouver airport is powerfully decorated with the totems and designs of local indigenous peoples. In the international arrivals terminal there are three-meter wooden figures, a welcoming tradition of the local tribes. The domestic flight terminal houses the “Hugging the world” cedar sculptures of an eagle and a raven, an orca, a petrel and a human bear.

The most significant piece of art can be found in the International Terminal. Bill Reed’s giant jade canoe, Spirit of Haida Gwaii, is the artist’s most famous sculpture. It was cast in bronze in two copies. A black canoe floats in the courtyard of the Canadian embassy in Washington DC, and a jade green one meets and sees off travelers in Vancouver. This beauty weighs more than 5 tons, is 6 meters long, 4 meters high and 3.5 meters wide. The ship is filled with mythical symbolic creatures from various legends of the Haida Gwaii peoples: shaman, bears, eagle, raven and others.

Before the pandemic there were free art tours at the airport, now you can download a map with information from the website and walk around on your own.

Vancouver Airport, Indigenous Peoples

5. Salmonn’ BannockBistro

The restaurant is owned and operated by Indigenous people. It’s quite small on the outside. The inside is not a palace either, about 5-6 tables. The lights are dimmed, ceremonial Native American songs are pouring out of the speakers, and the walls are covered with paintings and drums, all in black and red. A canoe is suspended by the window, and a dancing manager greets you at the entrance.

They feed traditional dishes made with local seasonal products. Try the Canned salmon – smoked salmon drizzled with maple syrup and spices, first nations bun, bison stew, and other salmon dishes.

A new salmon’n’bannock location at the Vancouver airport is scheduled to open this spring.

6. Mural “Creator” ( Dreamweaver Mural)

In downtown Vancouver, at 1000 Eveleigh St on the Thurlow side, look for the Mural Creator (Dreamweaver). A bright red stain that’s hard to take your eyes off of.

mural

Two beautiful girls of different skin colors stand with their backs to each other, wrapped in a traditional Salish blanket. In ancient times, local tribal women wove a blanket of wool for months or even years. It was used in rituals, ceremonies, households, and as currency exchange.

This mural was created by two artists with multinational roots. One has ancestors from Okinawa, Trinidad, and Germany; the other has local indigenous roots from the Squamish tribe, Scotland, and Germany. The idea behind their painting is community and solidarity. And also a reminder that the past is always present, just as the spiritual world is always intertwined with the physical.

“Creator” is not the city’s only indigenous-themed mural. The Vancouver Mural Festival website has maps, an app, and an entire collection devoted to Native American art.


READ MORE: Mount Pleasant and the Vancouver Mural Festival


What to visit in Vancouver? Murals, Vancouver, art

7. Siwash Rock

Sea Cliff Siwash is Vancouver’s most famous cobblestone. Not only because of its location in Stanley Park, its impressive age (supposedly formed 32 million years ago) and stunning photogenicity, but also because of local legends.

The indigenous people of Squamish believe that Rock Siwash is a converted tribal leader. He lived a thousand years ago, was young, handsome, fearless and faithful to the traditions of his ancestors. When it was time for his wife to have a baby, they went into the bay together and started swimming.

According to the ritual, the child’s parents must be spotlessly clean. Then their baby will live a happy clean spotless life. Soon his wife went into the woods, and the chief continued his water procedures. As he swam happily back and forth, four giants in canoes appeared. They demanded that the chief go ashore and flee from their course. The chief said no to the giants. They were shocked; no one had ever dared to contradict them before. The giants smoked a pipe and sat down in the boat to confer. If even the tip of their paddle touches a person, they lose their magic power. And the chief swam nonstop across.

The giants didn’t want to risk it, but they were also impressed by the young father’s courage. Then the cry of a newborn baby was heard. The giants stood up and said to the chief: “For your courage and love of the little one, we grant you immortality”. And they turned it into a rock – a monument to “Pure Fatherhood”. And so that the chief would “not get bored of living forever,” at the same time, they turned his wife and baby into rocks – they can be found near the bay, in the woods.

Cliff in Stanley Park, Vancouver
siwash rock

8. Museum of Anthropology at UBC

The Vancouver Museum of Anthropology has a stunning collection of indigenous art and artifacts. A whole hall of wooden totems and canoes. Showcases of ceremonial masks, tools and wicker baskets. Jewelry, paintings by artists from different tribes.

It is also home to Bill Reed’s famous sculpture, The Raven and the First People. The Haida Gwaii tribal huts and totem poles have been restored in the museum courtyard.

Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver
Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

9. U’mista Cultural Centre

The island of Alert Bay is a unique place. It has been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples since ancient times and they still live there! More than half of the residents (out of 1,200 to 1,500 people) are from the Namgis tribe. Straight from the pier you can spot totems, traditional symbols, dubbing in an incomprehensible language… The main attraction of the island is the U’mista Cultural Center. It is one of the first museums of the Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia. Here they keep a stunning collection of masks and other attributes of the ancient Potlatch ceremony. Many people come to Alert Bay specifically just for this exhibit.

Potlatch is a Native American ceremony of exchange of gifts, demonstration of power and wealth, and strengthening of cooperation. The tradition has long been banned by the federal government.


READ MORE: The Indian island town of Alert Bay


Alert Bay, U'mista Cultural Center, North Vancouver Island

10. The World’s Tallest Totem Pole

Not far from the Umiste Museum is the world’s tallest totem pole. This title, however, is constantly being challenged. The totem is assembled in two parts: 50 and 3 meters. In 2007, during a storm, the top fell off and fell to the ground. The pole is now only 50 meters high. But anyhow, the scale of the work is impressive!

The totem was carved by six artists of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe and raised in 1973. The average lifespan of totems is 50 years. With restoration and care, they can last even longer. But if you want to see the tallest totem pole, hurry up. In Alert Bay it looks neglected and ready to depart to its ancestors at any moment.

Next to the totem is the Great House – Potlatch performance hall, where in the summer they put on shows in traditional attire. Schedule of performances – here

Alert Bay, North Vancouver Island, The World's Tallest Totem Pole, Indigenous Peoples
Alert Bay, North Vancouver Island, The World's Tallest Totem Pole

11. Namgis Original Burial Grounds

Another mystical place on the island of Alert Bay – the cemetery. Namgis Original Burial Grounds is one of the few where the memorial totem poles are in their original location. They were installed in honor of the departed leaders and important people of the city. When a totem falls from old age or bad weather, it is allowed to remain on the ground.

As a sign of respect, passage to the hill is restricted. All the totems are perfectly visible from the sidewalk.

Namgis Original Burial Grounds, Alert Bay, North Vancouver Island, Indigenous Peoples
Alert Bay, Namgis Original Burial Grounds,North Vancouver Island
Namgis Original Burial Grounds

12. Petroglyphs Park at Gabriola Island

Indigenous peoples have lived on Gabriola for thousands of years. Their petroglyphs are found all over the island. One of the most accessible original clusters can be seen at Christ Church Gabriola.

This place is not marked on Google maps. Look for a narrow path behind the church, along the fence. It will take you to the ritual glade with petroglyphs. The images are slightly erased, fuzzy, but very creative. It’s impossible to know exactly how old they are. According to historians, the age ranges from one thousand to five thousand years.

The drawings are related to local myths, legends, the surrounding world and the main models are snakes, sea lions, crabs and salmon.


READ MORE: Gabriola Island


Petroglyphs, Gabriola

13. Duncan

Duncan is a small town on Vancouver Island. It borders the lands of the Cowichan tribes and actively cooperates and supports all kinds of joint projects. For example, in 1985, the city began collecting Native American totems to attract tourists. This project has generated the enthusiasm and support of many talented people, organizations, and promoted intercultural cooperation. Within a year, Duncan was officially named the “city of totems.

There are currently 41 totems installed in the center of the city. You can download a map from the site and arrange a quest.

Duncan, Indigenous Peoples
Duncan, Indigenous Peoples
Duncan, Indigenous Peoples

14. Royal BC Museum in Victoria

One of Canada’s most interesting museums. Its giant! There is a large exhibit of not only indigenous artifacts, but also local immigrant history/life. Old houses and life-size streets under the roof of the museum, a movie theater.

The museum holds tens of thousands of photographs, films, records and objects from various local tribes – up to 10,000 years of history for the entire province. The world’s largest collection of archaeological artifacts of British Columbia’s indigenous peoples! They have been collecting since 1886. Among the unusual exhibits is a collection of indigenous languages. Thirty-four of them can be heard in documentaries, audio, lullabies and stories projected and played in the audience.

Adjacent to the museum is Thunderbird Park with its totem poles.

Victoria Museum, Indigenous Peoples
Victoria Museum, Indigenous Peoples
Victoria Museum, Indigenous Peoples

15. Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center

The coolest museum about Indigenous people in the Osoyoos Desert of Canada. They give tours, tell legends and rituals. A large collection of photos and things. On the territory are recreated huts, dugouts and even a traditional bathhouse!


READ MORE: Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center


Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Center, Osoyoos, Indigenous Peoples

Want an unusual, memorable tour of Vancouver?

Welcome! My name is Inga – the author of the site and your personal photographer/guide/travel consultant – three in one. I will introduce you to the most interesting places of the city, share their history and funny facts, show delicious cafes and restaurants. We’ll have mini photo shoots along the way! You’ll get pictures in excellent quality the same day.

photo walk vancouver

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