June 7, 2018

Vancouver’s Cultural Dilemma: Heritage and Reconciliation

It was interesting timing; the May 14th announcement by Ian Campbell, Hereditary Chief of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), that he would seek the Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate nomination, and the following announcement.

Via GlobeNewsWire:

On May 15, 2018, City of Vancouver Council unanimously approved the Policy Statement for the Heather Street Lands. The Policy Statement sets direction for how the land will be used, providing 2,000 homes in the growing Cambie Corridor, including 400 units of affordable housing.

Here’s where the cultural dilemma enters the picture.

This approval represents a major milestone for the Joint Venture of Canada Lands Company and the MST Partnership (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh), which owns the Heather Street Lands.

When developed, this 21-acre parcel will include: 20% of housing set aside as workforce housing, such as for first responders and teachers; four acres of new park space; a new 15,000-20,000 square foot cultural centre; a one-acre elementary school site; and enhanced connections for walking and cycling in the neighborhood.

What it won’t include is this:

This is the Fairmont Building, previously used as RCMP headquarters. It also happens to sit in the top spot of Heritage Vancouver’s 2018 Top10 Watch List of endangered heritage resources, acknowledged in the site history within the draft policy statement:

The 1914 ‘Fairmont building’ at 4949 Heather Street is listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register in the ‘A’ evaluation category for its architectural value as an outstanding example of the Tudor Revival style, and its association with architect Samuel McClure.

Previous visions for the area assumed or specified that the building should be retained. But, as The Daily Hive reports, the current plan recommends that it be removed:

Vancouver’s massive 1920s-built Fairmont Building could be moved to another site. The City told Daily Hive that the consortium has requested the removal of the 1920s-built, Tudor-revival style building from the site as it goes against reconciliation given that ‘it (the building) represents a difficult era for the First Nations people in Vancouver, when customs and culture was oppressed and the Nations peoples were shifted off their traditional lands.’

A demolition of the 30,000-sq-ft building was previously suggested by the First Nations, but the municipal government is looking into a relocation instead given the value of the building’s heritage and unique architecture.

The question, one which candidate Campbell could reasonably be asked to comment on — and which would certainly challenge any newcomer to Vancouver’s political scene, let alone one with his unique perspective — is whether removal or demolition are the only options on the road to reconciliation?

Could the building itself be used as a way to meet the intention of reconciliation as articulated in the draft?

Storytelling – Heather Lands redevelopment will reflect a diversity of perspectives and all the layers of history including 20th century uses, and the time before. Incorporating stories in the design of the lands will enable continued learning and shared understanding which are essential to reconciliation.

Healing – Together, we can begin to heal by acknowledging our shared history, by strengthening our relationships, and by charting a new path forward.  ….

Welcoming – By design, the Heather Lands will welcome people from all cultures. Public spaces and community buildings will be inviting for local residents as well as the surrounding community and Nations members living beyond the site. Spaces for community use, display, and gathering will be provided.

Legacy – Our shared vision is to create a legacy that both respects the past and celebrates the future.

(emphasis ours)

If handled with mutual respect, as called for in the report, it may be possible to begin to address the pain and grievances of First Nations, and acknowledge the now-backwards beliefs, attitudes, policies and actions that were the cause of such a dark period in our collective past…even if only to ensure we do not repeat it.

Additionally, a further outcome could be the preservation of a heritage building of some significance, one that can serve a positive and productive purpose for future generations; perhaps, even, a cultural centre that could honour both the legacy, and the continued presence, of our First Nations brothers and sisters.

If Campbell the candidate wants to cut his teeth on addressing issues in ways that simultaneously acknowledge his people’s past, and look towards a common future for all people collectively (think Mandela, or Obama — the scale may be different, but it’s not that far out there), he could do no worse than wading into discussion of the future of the Heather Lands, and this landmark building.

Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. Am I the only one who finds it strange to dictate the terms of reconciliation to the wronged party?

    Try that with an ex-roommate you’ve stolen from. ‘Sorry for cleaning out your bank account and ruining your credit. Here’s a hundred bucks to spend how you like. But you have to keep paying my cable bill with it. Not paying will jeopardise the magninimity of this peace offering.’ See how that goes.

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,279 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles