Squamish's past melded with its future at the first-ever Squamish Culture and Heritage festival on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 23 and 24).
The event was the brainchild of the Squamish Historical Society (SHS) and saw elaborate displays, detailed exhibits and hands-on activities — all focused on Squamish's past — take over the Quest University library building. In addition to the displays and activities, several notable guest speakers put on presentations on a variety of topics pertinent to the history of Squamish.
“I'm super proud and I think the event went on without a hitch,” said Bianca Peters of the SHS. “From sponsors to students we've heard nothing but positive feedback and I think nobody expected it to be as amazing as it was.”
Peters said she and her SHS colleague Helmut Manzl worked hard on putting the event together for months and were ecstatic with how two days of festivities turned out.
“I got a real sense of harmony from the event,” Manzl said. “It was overall a really successful event and I just had a real feeling of inclusiveness at the event. We had the involvement of the younger kids, the presence of the First Nations peoples and all the great volunteers really made this a day to remember.”
Manzl said he thinks the SHS managed to really bring Squamish's rich history to light.
“I'm very proud of what transpired,” he said. “Everyone got involved and it really showcased our history and heritage in a way that has never been done before.”
Peters and Manzl both said one of the highlights of the event was seeing the hard work of Grade 5, 6 and 7 students from Squamish Elementary on display. Students were asked to put together projects based on Squamish's history and the two SHS members were blown away by the effort of the children.
“I think the kids really learned a lot,” Peters said. “It's amazing to see what some of these kids came up with.”
Grade 5 students Michaela Hoskin, Yinimi Clarke and Lily Cohn won first prize in their grade for their project looking at the history of forestry in Squamish. Grade 6 student Aiden Dziekan grabbed first place for his look at the sports scene locally. For the Grade 7s, Christian Smith and Graeme Bowers won with their interactive look at events in Squamish. The duo produced a video at various local sites and even set up a website so Squamloeans could vote on their favourite local event.
“Towns really rely on celebrations and we have so many great ones in Squamish,” Smith said.
Kelly Heilig, who teaches the Grade 6 and 7 split class at Squamish Elementary that took part in the event, said she was impressed by her students' passion for the assignment.
“We talked about what culture and community are in class and the students had to draw their own conclusions from their research,” she said, noting students were given six weeks to complete the project. “They [Smith and Bowers] went in a direction I never would have taught. They asked their own questions, did their own research and came up with a great project.”
Heilig said she hopes looking back at Squamish's history can become an annual project for students.
“It's been fantastic for the kids,” she said. “It helps them make a connection to the community and our past. I think it helped them get an idea of the bigger picture in our town and really make connections.”
It's unclear if the festival will become an annual event, but Peters said she wants to keep the spirit of looking at local history alive.
“What really struck me on Friday was that the Grade 2 and 3s had no idea where or what Woodfibre was when they were listening to storyteller Mary McGregor, who lived there in the 1940s,” she said. “We realized the kids were born the year it shut down (2006). Here's a place that has a long history and meant so much to so many — forgotten. That's why collecting, documenting and showcasing our history is so important.”
Manzl added that the SHS is working on something to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the District of Squamish in 2014, but that the group cannot promise an annual event yet.
Peters said a final decision on whether the festival will become an annual event will made in the coming weeks. For more information on the SHS, visit www.squamishhistory.ca.