Imagine standing beside an ancient Indigenous artifact, looking up at a totem pole or listening to a fantastic story by an elder that has been passed down several generations.
Unforgettable activities abound on Canada’s West Coast, but what makes visiting these ancestral lands truly special are the stories.
The customs and land that supported and defined the great peoples of the ’Ksan, Secwepemc, Squamish and Haida nations exist today thanks in no small part to their dedicated and diligent ancestors.
Contemporary knowledge keepers working in historical museums have kept the story of Canada’s Indigenous people alive and allow tourists to make education a part of their vacation experience.
Here, we spotlight five museums operated by knowledge keepers who you should aim to meet during your fall getaway. All of these museums are operated by members of British Columbia’s Aboriginal communities.
’Ksan Historical Village and Museum
Since 1960, visitors have been moved by the collection of artifacts at ’Ksan Historical Village and Museum.
Located near the ancient village of Gitanmaax, a three-hour drive northeast of Prince Rupert, ’Ksan Historical Village and Museum was an important fishing site and transportation hub for the Gitxsan people. This replicated ancient village contains several original features including houses that form a single line with each building facing the river.
Looking for a family adventure? A stay at ’Ksan Campground allows you and your kids to walk in the footsteps of history. An ideal spot for fishermen and nature lovers, ’Ksan’s campground amenities include a play area, hot showers and well-marked trails.
Knowledge nugget: The ’Ksan Historical Village and Museum collection consists of approximately 600 ceremonial and utilitarian materials, including masks, button blankets, shaman’s regalia and fishing gear.
Address: 1500 High Level, Hazelton
Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park
Head for the banks of the South Thompson River in Kamloops and follow the trails through the archaeological remains of Secwepemc Village, an attraction teeming with photographs, illustrations and artifacts.
Step back in time and lay your hands on a dugout canoe or be inspired by displays on hunting, fishing and food gathering including a hunting lean-to, fish drying rack, fish trap and smoke house.
Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park Archivist Carryl Armstrong says there are many things to be enjoyed at the museum, with the pithouse replicas being among the most popular exhibits.
Guests can go inside of structures traditionally built under the direction of Secwepemc elder Mary Thomas, and experience the feeling of going back in time,” Armstrong says. “Tour guides bring the experience to life through their vivid description of the lifestyle of the Secwepemc thousands of years ago.”
Knowledge nugget: Stroll along the 12-acre Native Heritage Park. Running next to the river, the park is on the site of an ancient winter village used by Secwepemc ancestors. It features full-scale pithouse replicas representing the Plateau Pithouse Tradition and an ethnobotanical garden.
Address: 200-330 Chief Alex Thomas Way, Kamloops
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler embodies the spirit of partnership between the two First Nations communities that lived in the Whistler area. Both the Squamish (Sk̲wx̲wú7mesh) and Lil’wat (L̓il̓wat7úl) are caretakers of the land and the cultural centre reflects that relationship.
Ready to be inspired? Tours are offered every hour and are delivered by Aboriginal ambassadors who share their own stories and first-hand cultural experiences, including the importance of the cedar tree and the significance of the mountains, rivers and sea. After a fulfilling day, sit back and enjoy a delicious First Nations-inspired meal at the Thunderbird Cafe.
Knowledge nugget: You’ll have the chance to get next to a hand-carved journey canoe and marvel at the craftsmanship. Also, be sure to visit the short interpretive trail that passes through a stand of old-growth forest in the Upper Village of Whistler.
Address: 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler
Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre
Since 1975, the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre has been welcoming tourists from around the world.
The centre works to promote cultural and artistic activities and collect records relating to the language and history of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The facility’s goals also include the return and preservation of artifacts (kikasuw) that are important to the history of the Kwakwaka’wakw.
Reclaiming lost artifacts is a crucial element of the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre. Each year, a community celebration is held to honour the return of artifacts. Other celebrations include the heralding of the salmon run and the arrival of Tribal Journey canoes.
Knowledge nugget: If you love petroglyphs, Nuyumbalees is a stop you will truly enjoy. The centre has seven on site. They were brought to the centre in 1972 to protect them from erosion and vandals. Students can learn to make rubbings of a petroglyph cast and enjoy a guided tour through the centre.
Address: 34 Weway Rd, Quathiaski Cove
Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay
The stunning 50,000-square-foot Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay opened its doors in 2007.
Located in Skidegate on Graham Island, the centre celebrates the living culture, language and art of the Haida people, and tells the story of their relationship with the land and sea. This award-winning tourism attraction houses the Haida Gwaii Museum, Performance House, Carving Shed, Canoe House, Bill Reid Teaching Centre and Kay Bistro.
Two stops you must make are the Gyaa K’id Naay Carving House, designed to contain monumental poles and canoes, and the Skaajang Naay / Tluu Naay Canoe House, where visitors can learn plenty about the Haida culture.
Knowledge nugget: Check out the totem poles that were raised in front of Haida Heritage Centre. They represent six of the southernmost villages in Haida Gwaii Skidegate — Ts’aahl, Cumshewa, Skedans, SGang, Gwaay and Tanu.
Address: #2 Second Beach Road, Skidegate
By Rod Charles