Response on Texada Island to a public information session on the Shelter Point longhouse pavilion was positive, with a great turnout of people interested in the project, according to qathet Regional District Electoral (qRD) Area D director Sandy McCormick.
McCormick said the event, held on May 8, was co-hosted by the regional district and Tla’amin Nation, and at least 50 people were there, which is a “huge attendance” for Texada Island.
The evening started out with a Tla’amin song and prayer. McCormick then spoke and said the dig at the park following the concession stand fire at Shelter Point Park in 2012 was the inspiration for the longhouse. There had been a gathering structure proposed for the park, but what was being proposed was four metal poles with tin roofing on the top, according to McCormick.
“This is such an amazing park that it deserves something way better than that,” she said. “The archaeological dig occurred before I was elected to the regional board and in 2015, when I was elected to the board, I said the park is so significant that we need to celebrate that. Instead of the gathering structure that was proposed, let’s do something indigenous.”
Tla’amin Nation legislator and land manager Denise Smith said she was asked to speak about “Sliammon and Sliammon’s history, and Texada Island.”
“Basically, what I talked about was it’s an opportunity for the regional district to have a replica longhouse on Shelter Point,” said Smith. “Shelter Point is a village site. The archaeological work that was done by Colleen Parsley confirmed what we knew, that it was a village site at one time. There were large dwellings there and there’s a lot of evidence. There are still middens and even human remains were excavated from the site.
“It makes a lot of sense that a replica longhouse be put there to commemorate the use and occupancy of our people there at one time.”
Smith said if this longhouse does get built at Shelter Point it will be the first to be built in the territory since “time immemorial.”
“There hasn’t been this kind of structure built anywhere in the region, so it will be the first, and it will be a good opportunity to be the first and demonstrate reconciliation,” said Smith.
She said the planned location for the longhouse pavilion is excellent.
“You can see it from the water; it’s in the middle of the park,” said Smith. “It will get a lot of use and provide a lot of information for the public.”
Smith said Tla’amin owns the longhouse design and it is hoped it can be replicated in other locations in the territory as time goes on. The idea of the longhouse was that it would replicate as closely as possible to what a longhouse would have looked like in the past.
“We’re going from memory, we’re going from stories and whatever documents we can find that tell us what these would have looked like,” said Smith.
She said she is hoping to develop some partnerships with other people. A lot of people log in the territory and this would be a great time for them to come forward and donate logs and have their name as part of the structure itself, she added. Western Forest Products, Interfor and BC Timber Sales all operate in the territory.
“It would be a good opportunity to give back,” said Smith.
She said she would like to see construction initiated by 2020 because the nation has a significant canoe event happening next year.
“Tla’amin Nation is hosting a canoe journey and we’re expecting thousands of people to be coming here,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be awesome for them to be able to land at Shelter Point and see this new structure? It would be such a tribute.”
McCormick said Parsley showed a rock that had been found by a property owner very close to the park on Gillies Bay Road and it was a carving of a head. She said it was an incredibly significant find and was very excited about it. It’s 2,400 years old, having been carbon dated.
After speeches, those in attendance looked at various storyboards and then Parsley led a walkabout. McCormick said Parsley took the group to the far end of the park, closest to Gillies Bay and told them this was the ancient village.
“She described it as four rows of big houses, with avenues in-between and the pathway we were walking on was like an avenue and the ground was kind of terraced where the big houses were,” said McCormick. “The contours of the land indicate that’s where the Tla’amin people were.”
Parsley took the group over to the location being proposed for the longhouse and said she would like to see it located there because fewer items were found there archaeologically.
“She likes the proposed location and I like the proposed location because it will be open-sided so the views will be spectacular,” said McCormick. “I can see it becoming a destination for weddings, family reunions and events that will bring, hopefully, people to spend money from outside this region. It will be unique. I’m just so excited about it.”
She added that she is pleased Tla’amin has undertaken that design work.
“It’s more authentic and sensitive,” said McCormick. “I’m not a first nations person so I don’t know what a longhouse should look like. They have a far better feeling and it’s part of their culture. It’s really cool that culture is being shared with the rest of the community so we can create something everyone can enjoy.”
In terms of funding the project, 85 per cent will be funded by grants. If grant funding does not come through, the project does not happen. McCormick said several sources of funding are being examined. One is the Community Works fund, for which this project meets the criteria, and also Powell River Community Forest. Some first nations grant funding streams might be accessed and qRD staff are on the lookout for anything that might fit for this project.
“Hopefully, that will all come through and 85 per cent will be covered by grant funding,” said McCormick. “I’m hoping the overall cost can come down by donation of goods and services toward the project such as grading of the land and concrete for site preparation. There’s lots of things that need to happen as part of the project.”
The remaining 15 per cent will be paid for by taxpayers throughout the region. It will be a facility that the public is welcome to use, not just for Texada Island.
According to a staff report, the total cost of the project, including allowances for operations and maintenance over a 40-year life cycle, is $186,200.
The qRD board, at its April 26 meeting, carried a motion to commit to construction of the longhouse at Shelter Point in 2020 or beyond depending on one or more funding streams providing at least 85 per cent of the design and construction costs, leaving the remaining 15 per cent to be raised through taxation.