Stanley Park Art, another look

StanleyParksSecret.jpgDuring a fascinating standing-room-only lecture by Jean Barman on the history of Stanley Park at the Vancouver Museum last night, I realized that my original post on the new Coast Salish work commissioned for the totem pole area at the park is really only the most recent in over a century of rather bizarre interactions between the Vancouver Parks Board and First Nations (and other) people over park development.

Here are some interesting highlights of the discussion.

When construction on the park first commenced, the land was not empty forest. Within the current park boundaries was the large Squamish settlement Whoi Whoi (or Khwaykhway), along with a couple of other smaller settlements of First Nations and other groups. Whoi Whoi was torn down, its residents evicted, a secondhand logging arch was brought in and erected at the site, and it was renamed “Lumberman’s Arch”, with the newly erected arch being designated a site of historical interest.

Also on the park land were several First Nations burial areas, a Chinese cemetery, and Vancouver’s original “white” cemetery, all of which seem to have been simply landscaped over, and none of which bear any kind of marking today to recognize the people still buried there or even simply the sites themselves. In a 2004 memo, the Parks Board indicated that identification of the areas would detract interest in the “genuine historical attractions” of the park, defined as the rose garden, the cricket grounds, and so on.

Within a matter of only a few years after having evicted the First Nations people from the park, the Parks Board decided it needed an “authentic Indian village”, including residents, as a tourist attraction (it’s not clear what was unauthentic about the settlement recently removed). After debate over what kind of decor would best suit the purpose (even including consideration of teepees, oddly enough), the board settled on totem poles from the north coast of BC and began collecting them. The Indian village itself (thankfully) never really panned out, but the totem pole collection became the basis for the current totem poles in the park.

To quiet an initial round of concern about the lack of representation of lower mainland culture in the park, the Park Board commissioned a “Squamish Totem Pole”. Despite the fact that Squamish had never created totem poles, the local Squamish leader resigned himself to the probability that this might be the only way his people would be represented at all, and agreed to carve a totem pole for the park, which remains there today as a bizarre souvenir of this arrangement.

Other examples of the inexplicable artificiality of Park Board policy continue through to today, with a consistent pattern of attempting to engineer the selection of plants and animals of the park so that it seems “more natural”, and choosing to create public interest in the park only through creation of new sculptures and attractions rather than by capitalizing on the historical value already there.

You can understand why the new Coast Salish commission is far more interesting when viewed in this larger context, especially when it’s not clear based on other recent actions whether the commission is finally a sincere gesture of inclusion for the people to whom the land belonged, or if the ways of exploiting First Nations culture to create tourist attractions for white people have simply become more refined.

If you find these stories as fascinating as I do, be sure to pick up a copy of Jean Barman’s book, Stanley Park’s Secret, or stay on the lookout for her next public appearance.

2 Comments so far

  1. or (unregistered) on March 24th, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

    Another good book is the Stanley Park Companion:

  2. skil (unregistered) on March 29th, 2006 @ 11:22 pm

    Some of those gravestones were recycled and used to build the seawall. Or so I’ve heard.

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