If you live by False Creek, then you’re no stranger to the regular sight of paddlers in their early morning practices.
Canoeing is a spectator sport that is a pillar of the Squamish and Musqueam Nations and a living piece of history that tells the story of their incredible culture.
Years ago, cultural bans were put in place by early settlers, but since canoe racing was considered a sport, the Squamish people were able to use these events as gatherings to share and pass down their traditions.
However, over the last 30 years, the knowledge and popularity for the sport has decreased, resulting in a lack of funding, race participants, and gathering audiences.
Reimagining this cultural beacon has become an important community initiative for Concord Pacific and their Canoe Cultures Program as they continually work to preserve West Coast heritage. Over the last seven months, they’ve been restoring a 1960s-era dugout canoe, along with building two brand new cedar-strip racing canoes that will be used by the Squamish Nation paddlers.
Additional funding for the project was made possible by a Job Creation Partnership and grants from the City of Vancouver Cultural Services, The British Columbia Arts Council, while the Western Canada Community Projects Society (WCCPS) acted as the project holder and presenter.
Building and crafting the canoes was a collaborative effort led by seventh-generation Squamish Nation canoe carver Mike Billy and Musqueam canoe carver Dickie Louis alongside master shipwright Eric Fisher. They also enlisted a team of youth, providing them an opportunity to learn new skills and add valuable work experience to their resumes while learning about this important piece of historical heritage.
“The restoration of our 1960s-era dugout canoe is very important to our community,” says Louis. “Generations have used this cedar dugout canoe, but it had fallen into despair after more than 50 years of use. The Musqueam Canoe Club looks forward to taking part in the next Canoe Cultures Program building new strip canoes for our paddlers.”
Though the pandemic has posed some complications, the canoes were successfully launched on False Creek on July 9, 2020. Racers were divided into teams of three (regularly 11) and did a brief voyage around the waters after the ceremonial speeches and presentations by community partners.
The event was held at Concord Community Park, a beautiful urban space on the banks of False Creek that is privately funded by Concord Pacific for the community and public to enjoy. The park extends throughout the Concord Pacific Place neighbourhood along False Creek and boasts expansive open lawns, a sandy man-made beach and volleyball area, paved pathways with outlined children’s games, seating logs, picnic tables, ping pong tables, a basketball court, and so much more.
Providing these large-scale community spaces that can host cultural events, sports, and the arts is an essential ingredient to Concord communities. They sponsor and host a number of year-round events that encourage communities to come together and raise money to be put back into the funding of these critical public spaces.
Some of these notable events include The Concord Pacific Dragonboat Festival, Concord’s NYE, City of Burnaby’s Heritage Christmas, and City of Surrey’s Fusion Festival and Tree Lighting Ceremony, to name a few.
With the help of these incredible, community-fuelled events, Concord is able to continue to fund and maintain these public community parks that allow projects such as the Canoe Cultures Program to come to life.
“Concord Pacific provided critical support as our community partner to make this project a reality,” says Ann Phelps, WCCPS. “We look forward to working with the Musqueam Canoe Club on our next canoe project which will also be hosted at the Concord Community Park.”