By Jessica Brodeur
VANCOUVER — The lament of Vancouver’s lost heritage is felt deeply by many people. With art deco ballrooms being replaced with condos and character homes flattened and paved for parking lots, much of the original cityscape is lost forever. But picture the city before all of that. Before e-petitions to save endangered relics, urbanist bloggers to raise awareness or even a daily newspaper at all. Vancouver’s entire heritage as we know it was built on another. In recognition of this, and to, the Museum of Vancouver, Museum of Anthropology, and Musqueam First Nation have joined in an unprecedented collaboration to create c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city. “There is an extensive presence of First Nations history and art and culture… cultures from across BC have been celebrated in Vancouver and our contemporary visual art is celebrated but the history and what is commonly referred to as archaeology hasn’t really received that much of a spotlight up until now,” comments Jordan Wilson, co-curator and Musqueam band member. Wilson is a member of a team of over 100 people who worked on these exhibits, forging connections between historians and artists, ancient artifacts and new technologies, and archaic sites with modern maps.
From a thriving society to devastating smallpox outbreaks to contemporary artists, c̓əsnaʔəm is an invitation from the Musqueam to locals and tourists to share their own history in their own words. “I think as a member of the Musqueam community, the first people to really welcome the first newcomers to this territory – and we still feel that we are the host of this territory because this is where we’ve always been – part of our teaching is to share who we are and where we come from,” explains Wilson.
While most modern Vancouverite’s exposure to the Musqueam presence in the area is limited to the Marpole Midden’s impact on condo development, this exhibit is humbling for any Canadian descended from immigrants. “Our history and our culture has been misrepresented,” tells Wilson. “This was really a chance to right that history, to correct that history and then also to counter that narrative of Vancouver being a young city and convey to people that there was a very complex, thriving community that has existed here for thousands of years.”
The next time your favourite retro diner gets demolished, take it as a queue to check out c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, graciously hosted on Musqueam land by Musqueam people. In a city constantly changing and rebuilding in the name of progress, nothing has more continuity or a deeper-running presence than the Musqueam of c̓əsnaʔəm.
Visit http://www.thecitybeforethecity.com/ for details, the exhibit opened January 25th.BC, British Columbia, c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, Vancouver history