*This article was written by a non-Indigenous writer
For settlers and visitors on the land that we now call Victoria, taking in Indigenous landmarks and culture is an important key to understanding the history of the land – but it must be tied to learning about the traditional and unceded territory on which Greater Victoria now sits.
The southern tip of Vancouver Island – including Victoria and Langford, the San Juan and Gulf Islands – are the traditional territories of the Lekwungen peoples – the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ Nations.
Linda Calla, corporate services and special project coordinator for Indigenous Tourism BC, says there are ways to explore Indigenous culture with respect and care, such as looking for events or attractions that have partnerships and consultations with local First Nations.
Education is also vital for non-Indigenous tourists.
“Since reconciliation has become big in B.C. and across Canada, people still don’t understand a lot of the history of Indigenous people here,” Calla said, herself a member of the Squamish Nation, located in the Lower Mainland.
“They don’t realize that whole communities were displaced – they were literally told they had to pick up and move from one location to another, even though they had probably lived in that location for 10,000 years.
It’s extremely important for non-Indigenous people to understand the history of Indigenous communities.”
Calla also encourages visitors to ask questions, but respect the fact that some may not be answered.
“It might be something we don’t share outside our community members because it’s sacred or spiritual part of the culture,” she explained.
2019 Victoria Indigenous Cultural Festival
Every year comes a unique and special opportunity to connect with and learn about the deep cultural histories of B.C.’s First Nations people.
Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day weekend at the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nation. Music, dance, food and art abound at this free event – with artisans and First Nations performers from across B.C. and Canada sharing their cultures with the public.
Visitors to the Royal BC Museum Plaza between June 21-23 will witness smudge ceremonies, storytelling, drum-making and cedar-weaving demonstrations, traditional dancers, singers and more.
“How you keep a culture alive is by passing knowledge and skills down to younger people,” said Calla. “We want to help preserve culture. And tourism is an amazing way to assist communities in preserving their culture.”
For more information visit indigenousbc.com.
Exhibits at the Royal BC Museum
The past is deeply woven into the present. Exhibits at the Royal BC Museum give visitors insight into traditions that span thousands of years and the impact of colonialism on B.C.’s First Nations people.
Dive deep into the history of the region’s First Nations people and learn about the 34 languages linked to distinct B.C. territories for thousands of years in the Royal BC Museum’s Our Living Languages exhibit. The interactive, auditory and visual exhibit takes visitors on a ‘tour’ through the traditional territories of B.C. and the history of their mother tongues – of which entire communities are working tirelessly to document and revive.
The museum also includes a First Peoples Gallery with an awe-inspiring Totem Hall featuring carvings from Kwakwaka’wakw, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Gitxsan, Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Crest poles, house posts, masks, regalia and modern works by other B.C. First Nations create an all-encompassing, breathtaking cultural experience .
Thunderbird Park, although an artificial re-creation, is a stunning representation of Indigenous art along one of the most scenic routes through downtown Victoria.
In 1941, a display of totem poles from the Royal BC Museum was set up on a grassy patch near the B.C. Legislature building at the corner of Belleville and Douglas Streets. Eventually, to preserve their integrity, the original poles were moved inside the museum and replaced by replicas, carved mainly by Kwakwaka’wakw master carver, Mungo Martin and others under his direction, including Henry Hunt and his son’s Tony and Richard.
Recently, two of the replica poles were removed for safety reasons, but dozens still proudly stand, including Haida poles, Gitxsan poles and a Kwakwaka’wakw Honouring pole and Heralding pole. Visitors can also see the 1981 studio where the replica poles were produced, as well as Wawadit’la The Mungo Martin House – a Northwest Coast-style house constructed back in 1941.
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park is a renowned Victoria landmark, with otherworldly Douglas firs, deciduous groves and Garry oak meadows dusted with periwinkle Camus flowers and butter-hued golden paintbrushes – not to mention duck ponds and a free petting zoo, complete with bouncing baby goats.
But Beacon Hill Park has far more significance than most know. It was once the site of a prehistoric village – remains of village refuse were found at defensive locations along the waterfront and burial grounds have painted a story with origins that are mostly, completely unknown. It is known however, that in the mid-19th century, members of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nation inhabited and gathered edible Camus bulbs in the area that many tourists and settlers enjoy today.
Much of the history and original landscape of Beacon Hill Park was permanently altered or destroyed by early settlers.
Beacon Hill Park is a popular go-to for all who spend time in Victoria, but not all learn the park’s real history. Learn more at beaconhillparkhistory.org.
University of Victoria Walking Tour
The beautiful University of Victoria campus is a sight of it its own – but it also includes magnificent pieces of Indigenous artwork, and is best explored via the school’s self-guided walking tour.
Stroll through the First People’s House – a cultural, social and academic centre for Indigenous students – and find rotating art collections. UVic asks that all who enter the centre do so with respect for the ancestors, original caretakers of the land, and one another.
View the ‘Eagle on the Decayed Pole and the Raven Soaring’ replica poles near the McClaurin Building, head to the engineering building for a view of the cedar and latex paint Welcome Figure and check out the mixed-media Ceremonial Furniture in the mezzanine.
The art is endless and takes you from one end of campus to another.
Contact Legacy Art Galleries at (250) 721-6562 for more information about the walking tour.