Discovering Indigenous Cultural Landmarks During Your Visit to Vancouver
Discovering Indigenous Cultural Landmarks During Your Visit to Vancouver
Want to learn more about Indigenous culture during your visit? These sites and locations in Vancouver (unceded Coast Salish territories) offer a unique opportunity to connect with the rich heritage of the city and gain a deeper understanding of its roots. It allows visitors to engage in meaningful cultural exchanges, appreciate the traditions and contributions of Indigenous peoples, and support ongoing efforts towards reconciliation and cultural revitalization.
X̱wáýx̱way / Stanley Park Totem Poles / Brockton Point
X̱wáýx̱way (Squamish Salish pronunciation: [χʷajχʷaj]) or x̌ʷay̓x̌ʷəy (Halkomelem Salish pronunciation: [χʷajˀχʷəjˀ]) ̓, rendered in English as Xway xway and Whoiwhoi, is within downtown Vancouver’s Stanley Park and has historical significance for the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Located near what is now Lumberman’s Arch, it was estimated to have been inhabited for more than 3,000 years and was one of many villages on the shores of Burrard Inlet around present-day Vancouver. The village was a gathering place for Indigenous peoples where important ceremonies, cultural events, and political discussions took place, contributing to the preservation and resilience of Indigenous cultures and communities. There are now nine totem poles at Brockton Point, three beautifully carved, red cedar portals and a visitor centre commemorating this significant site.
The totem poles in Stanley Park represent the historical and cultural heritage of various Indigenous nations. Each totem pole tells a unique story, showcasing the traditions, ancestral teachings, and historical events of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. They serve as a testament to the enduring presence and contributions of Indigenous peoples in the region.
Stanley Park Siwash Rock
Siwash Rock, a prominent geological formation in Stanley Park, holds historical and cultural significance for local Indigenous peoples. It was once called Slahkayulsh meaning he is standing up. In the oral history, a fisherman was transformed into this rock by three powerful brothers as punishment for his immorality. It is considered a sacred site and represents the enduring presence of Indigenous cultures and their spiritual connections to the land.
Prospect Point, located in Stanley Park, holds historical significance as a gathering place and lookout for Indigenous communities. It served as a vantage point to observe the Burrard Inlet and North Shore Mountains, allowing Indigenous peoples to monitor trading routes and connect with neighbouring communities.
UBC First Nations Longhouse
Image source: The University of British Columbia
The UBC First Nations Longhouse, the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL), serves as a gathering place and cultural centre for Indigenous students, faculty, and the wider community at the University of British Columbia. It is a space that celebrates Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and worldviews, offering cultural events, ceremonies, workshops, and resources that promote Indigenous cultures and perspectives. Throughout the year, FNHL partners with UBC departments, faculty, and units on different types of events for the UBC Indigenous community, the wider university community, and the general public.
Musqueam Cultural Centre
Image source: Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre and Museum
The Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre and Museum, situated on the traditional territory of the Musqueam Nation, serves as a hub for preserving and sharing the history and traditions of the Musqueam people. It provides educational opportunities to learn about the rich historical and cultural connections of the Musqueam Nation, including their traditional governance systems, land stewardship practices, and intergenerational teachings.
Whey-ah-Wichen (Cates Park)
Cates Park, known as Whey-ah-Wichen to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, has historical significance as a traditional gathering place and fishing site. It has been an important location for cultural ceremonies, community gatherings, and intertribal trade, fostering connections between Indigenous groups and facilitating the transmission of cultural knowledge and practices. Additionally, Cates Park is home to Indigenous-managed businesses like Cates Park Paddling Centre and Takaya Tours that offer cultural experiences, such as guided paddling tours led by Indigenous guides who share their knowledge about the land, stories, and traditions of the local Indigenous communities.
Skwachàys Lodge, situated in Gastown, is a unique social enterprise that combines accommodations with Indigenous art and cultural experiences. The lodge features stunning Indigenous artwork throughout its rooms and common areas, offering guests an immersive and educational experience that supports Indigenous artists and contributes to cultural preservation.
UBC Museum of Anthropology
(Currently closed for renovations until late 2023).
Image source: UBC Museum of Anthropology, photo by Goh Iromoto.
The Museum of Anthropology, located at the University of British Columbia, houses an extensive collection of Indigenous art, artifacts, and cultural objects from around the world, with a particular focus on the Indigenous cultures of British Columbia. The museum offers visitors a chance to learn about Indigenous histories, traditional knowledge, artistic expressions, and contemporary issues.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge
The Capilano Suspension Bridge, situated on the traditional territory of the Squamish Nation, has historical importance as a crossing point for Indigenous peoples. It played a vital role in their seasonal movements, facilitating travel across the Capilano River and connecting communities for trade, cultural exchange, and resource sharing.
St. Paul's Residential School Memorial
The St. Paul's Residential School Memorial honours the Indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their families and sent to St. Paul's Residential School. After being vandalized in January, the memorial has been repaired and re-erected in a ceremony that brought together the community, residential school survivors, and local leaders. This memorial, located outside the former Sisters of St. Paul convent, serves as a somber reminder of the more than 2,000 children from the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), shíshálh (Sechelt), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations who were impacted by the residential school system. Its restoration symbolizes a commitment to healing, remembrance, and honouring the resilience of Indigenous communities.
Important sites outside of Vancouver
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (Whistler)
The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, located in Whistler, offers a deep dive into the cultures of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations. The centre showcases traditional artifacts, art, and exhibits, allowing visitors to learn about the distinct histories, languages, art forms, and cultural practices of these two neighbouring Indigenous nations.
Siy’ám’ Smánit – The Stawamus Chief (Squamish)
Siy’ám’ Smánit, known as The Stawamus Chief, is an iconic granite monolith located in Squamish, British Columbia. It holds immense cultural and spiritual significance to the Indigenous Squamish Nation, who refer to it as Siy’ám’ Smánit, meaning "Mother of the Wind." The Stawamus Chief is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hiking trails that provide stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, forests, and Howe Sound. As visitors ascend the trails, they can appreciate the cultural heritage of the Squamish people and the deep connection they have to this majestic natural landmark. Exploring Siy’ám’ Smánit offers an opportunity to admire the natural beauty of the area while recognizing the enduring presence of Indigenous cultures in the region.
Kwi Awt Stelmexw (Capilano River Regional Park)
Kwi Awt Stelmexw, encompassing the Capilano River and surrounding lands, holds historical importance for the Squamish Nation. It was a significant area for resource gathering, including fishing and hunting, providing sustenance and supporting the social and economic well-being of the Squamish people for centuries.
This piece is consolidated by YWCA Hotel Vancouver as an ongoing effort to highlight or showcase Indigenous operators and promote Indigenous history and culture as our efforts toward reconciliation. Whether we are exploring these occupied lands as tourists or operating here as the tourism industry, it's important to know that we are uninvited guests on these traditional ancestral and unceded territories, and that we are inadvertently benefiting from this country's colonial legacy.
YWCA Metro Vancouver operates on the ancestral and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We also acknowledge the unceded territories of Semiahmoo and the Stó:lō peoples, including the Katzie, Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem and Qayqayt Nations, as well as the treaty lands of the Tsawwassen Nation.