A visit to Vancouver wouldn’t be complete without an introduction to the Native cultures that have called the region home for thousands of years. If you’re interested in visiting the city’s most important First Nations sites, start with these cultural locales.
UBC Museum of Anthropology
As the museum lays out in its mission statement, “MOA is committed to promoting awareness and understanding of culturally diverse ways of knowing the world through challenging and innovative programs and partnerships with Indigenous, local and global communities.” Opened in 1947, this location is known internationally for its extensive collection of ethnographic objects and archaeological artifacts, as well as being both a research and teaching facility, providing classes in art, archaeology, and conservation. MOA also features art from Vancouver’s First Nations tribes, including the Haida, Coast Salish, Kwakwaka’wakw, Gitxsan, Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Salish, Athapaskan, and the Ktunaxa.
Visitors will see carvings, contemporary art, and traditional weaving, in addition to famous cedar pieces by Haida artist Bill Reid (see below). The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though it stays open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors, and a special discounted rate of $10 is offered between 5 and 9 p.m on Thursdays.
Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art
Vancouver has a gem in the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, which commemorates the works and legacy of the artist behind its name. Reid mastered a number of crafts, including goldsmithing, carving, sculpting, writing, broadcasting, and serving as a community activist. Born in British Columbia to an American father and a Haida mother, Reid didn’t get in touch with his First Nations roots until he was in his mid-20s, although this exploration would prove a pivotal moment in his life and his art.
Filled with a number of carvings, photographs, and archives from the course of Bill’s nearly 60-year career, the museum serves as a source of inspiration to other First Nations artists and demonstrates the power that art served in the maker’s efforts to connect British Columbia’s Indigenous people and other populations. Visitors to the gallery can view exhibitions between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is $13 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for students, and $6 for youth aged 13 to 17. Children visit for free.
Stanley Park Totem Poles
Travel to Stanley Park’s Brockton Point Visitor Centre and you’ll experience striking visuals from the diverse cultures of the region’s first people. The nine intricately carved totem poles depict animals, natural elements, and vibrant colors, and act as BC’s most beloved (and most visited) tourist attraction. The collection dates back to the 1920s, when Vancouver purchased four of the totems from Alert Bay.
But the collection was added to later by the Haida Gwaii on the Queen Charlotte Islands and Rivers Inlet, though one (the Skedans Mortuary Pole) is a replica, the original having been sent back to the Haida Gwaii. Visit this site to understand the culture of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations groups and to honor their original homeland.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
If you liked the totem poles at Stanley Park, you’ll want to head up the road and pay a visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (specifically Kia’palano and Totem Park), which hosts the largest private collection of First Nations totem poles in the world, including rare art carvings from the Coast Salish, Haida, Tsimshian and Tlingit groups.
The tradition began in the ’30s, when local nations were invited by park administrators to place their ceremonial poles on the park grounds. The legacy continues today with a complete storytelling experience centered around the art pieces, where visitors can listen to, watch, and read stories about their origin. 90 years later, the poles remain, cementing the importance of First Nations culture in Vancouver.
Grouse Mountain isn’t just a premier destination for outdoor adventure, it’s also an important cultural hub for First Nations tradition and antiquity. The area routinely hosts events that help the first people of Vancouver preserve their heritage and share it with others.
One example is the híwus feasthouse — a ceremonial day of legends, dances, crafts, and songs, all located inside a Pacific Northwest Longhouse with a Squamish First Nations elder. This is just one of Grouse Mountain’s unique opportunities designed to help visitors appreciate the richness and diversity of cultures that the region holds, so be sure to pay a visit to this historic land.
Have you ever visited First Nations cultural sites in Vancouver? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!