The quest to preserve Squamish’s heritage continues

‘Heritage, the management of change’ is new local tag line that came out of recent Heritage BC workshop, says the president of Squamish Historical Society

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,” said Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Though it is not yet written in stone — so to speak— Squamish is another step closer to having a concrete plan for preserving its heritage.

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Heritage BC led a Squamish Historical Society workshop on Nov. 2 at the Executive Suites Hotel and Resort.

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Coun. Eric Andersen, former Squamish mayor Corinne Lonsdale and Carl Ingraham at the workshop. - Bianca Peters

Those in attendance included, among others, representatives from Britannia Mine Museum, Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival, forestry representatives, the Brackendale Art Gallery Theatre Teahouse Society, West Coast Railway Heritage Park, Squamish Public Library, the Squamish Arts Council and the District of Squamish, according to Bianca Peters, president of the Squamish Historical Society.

The tag line that came out of the workshop is “Heritage, the management of change,” she said.

“People don’t seem to have the right impression of heritage. They think that we just want to freeze history and not change. But actually, heritage is the management of change.”

Heritage is what the community wants to preserve and values, not necessarily whatever is old in terms of years, Peters added.

“When you look around the province where heritage is being conserved, it doesn’t mean it is 100 years old. It can be 10 years old. It doesn’t need to be a building. It can be a landscape, it can be a trail, it can be a cemetery. It can be all these things. We are moving now toward a more modern approach to heritage.”

Laura Saretsky, heritage program manager with Heritage BC told The Chief she leads four or five workshops a year like the one put on in Squamish in various places around the province.

She said interested citizens should get in touch with the Squamish Historical Society, and share with local government, which has the power to enact heritage legislation, to let them know it is something they value.

“What is local heritage is up to the local community to determine,” she said.

During the Squamish workshop, the different representatives did a mapping exercise where they identified what they see as a heritage value. This was passed on to Heritage BC and that will be turned into a report, Peters said.

That report will be presented to the stakeholders.

Peters said Squamish likely needs a heritage commission, which can be found in many other B.C. communities such as in Richmond, Burnaby and on Bowen Island.

The representatives at the workshop will be meeting again later this month or in early December to keep the momentum going, Peters said.

“We’ve got a roadmap and I think we are ready to take it to that next level — and it is high time,” she said. “We look forward to meeting with the District and presenting our manifesto of heritage.”

Preservation of Squamish’s built environment should fit right in with the current council’s focus on climate change, Peters said.

“[Preserving heritage] has economic value, it has environmental value and obviously it has conservation value,” she said.

According to Heritage BC, avoiding new construction and instead keeping and reusing heritage buildings is an “ecologically conscious decision.”

Demolition projects produce 20 to 30 times more waste material per square meter than renovation or construction projects, according to a 2011 Dalhousie University’s Office of Sustainability report.

In terms of First Nation’s history, Peters said that is being preserved by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

“We obviously recognize and thank the creator for being on the traditional lands of the Squamish Nation, but they have their own people dealing with this sort of thing.... It is not really our place to be discussing their culture and heritage.... We are looking at it from a settler’s point
of view.”

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Laura Saretsky, Heritage BC with Squamish Historical Society displays. - Bianca Peters

District of Squamish’s perspective

The District is developing an Arts, Culture, and Heritage Strategy to strengthen the cultural richness of Squamish’s community, according to Natasha Golbeck, the District’s senior director of community services.

“This multi-phased strategy will aim to identify opportunities to improve and expand access to arts and culture experiences throughout our community, including those in the realm of social heritage — representing the significance and history of the people and communities in Squamish,” she said in an emailed statement to The Chief. 

This differs from “physical heritage” such as artifacts or buildings.

“Key to expanding access to social heritage experiences is working with Squamish Nation, to enhance community appreciation of the culture and history of Indigenous peoples in the region,” she said.

The recently adopted Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan identifies a need for physical storage of historical/cultural artifacts. This will be looked at amongst all other competing priorities as the Master Plan is put into action, according to Golbeck.

“An Arts, Culture and Heritage survey was launched in July to gather community feedback and initial engagement results are showing strong support for a diverse range of arts, culture and heritage experiences in our community,” Golbeck said.

Survey results were presented to council at the Oct. 22 committee of the whole meeting.

Direct stakeholder engagement is underway with workshops set to begin,
she said.

Approximately 30 stakeholder groups have been identified from the spheres of arts, culture, and heritage, according to Golbeck.

Outcomes of the Arts, Culture and Heritage strategy will be reported back to council and the community in the coming months, and any additional resource requests from the strategy will be considered for 2021.

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City of Nanaimo. - Shutterstock

Advice from other communities

The Resort Municipality of  Whistler is currently in Phase 2 of a three-phase process to develop a heritage policy.

Phase 1 was research. Phase 2 is the scoping phase where the rationale, process, timelines and costs for developing a heritage strategy and plan are being worked out. Phase 3, the project delivery phase, will begin early next year.

“Heritage and history are crucial to the fabric of any community. For Whistler, we see the history of the Squamish and Lil’wat people on the land, logging, fishing... Heritage is crucial to understanding ourselves,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton.

Several historical structures on municipal property are undergoing repairs in Whistler, including the Rainbow Lodge Cabin at Rainbow Park, the lodge at Cypress Point and the original Alta Lake School.

One thing Crompton said he would like to see preserved in Whistler is the Dave Murray Downhill.

“Whether it will be included in the official heritage plan or not... there are very few historical places that carry more significance than the Dave Murray Downhill,” he said. “Buildings and artifacts are important to recognize and protect, but the natural environment is very much a part of our history and heritage.”

Crompton’s advice for Squamish is to dig into the work that has been done in the past.

“Our history and our heritage has been collected long before developing a heritage plan,” he said.

Chris Sholberg is a heritage planner in Nanaimo, a role he has held for 20 years.

Nanaimo has had heritage on its radar since the late 1960s.

In the 1980s, Nanaimo received provincial funding to help with its downtown revitalization, which included conservation work on its heritage buildings.

When the province pulled away from that funding in the late 1990s, Nanaimo developed its own heritage plan.

“It was like a blueprint of what the city could do to promote conservation and awareness of its history, in particular of its heritage buildings,” Sholberg said.

“That was taking advantage of powers that were granted to cities in B.C. by an amendment to the Local Government Act in 1994. Basically, there was a whole slew of powers that were given over to cities that would enable them to take action.”

In 2002, Nanaimo created a heritage registry, which is a foundational listing of historical buildings, sites, and structures that were considered to have historical value from a community perspective, Sholberg said.

Nanaimo has 160 buildings listed on the register, about eight sites, which include things like cemetaries, and even the ballfield Robins Park, which is named after Samuel Robins, a beloved superintendent of the Vancouver Coal Company from 1884 to 1903.

Sholberg’s advice for Squamish is to develop a heritage conservation program that includes a heritage register and financial heritage conservation incentives.

“It is good to have policy in place in your official community plan that promotes the conservation of historic buildings and awareness and promotion of heritage,” he said.

“And frankly, the local government act very much has the tools in place to use, just like Nanaimo has to create a program to conserve heritage.”

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