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Musqueam ponder park to protect Marpole ancestral site

A publicly accessible park may be in the cards for the portion of the Marpole Midden archaeological site bought by…

By Maura Forrest , in City Feature story , on October 21, 2013 Tags: , , , ,

Cecilia Point at Marpole Midden
Point was among a group of Musqueam band members who staged protests at Marpole Midden for 200 days last year.

A publicly accessible park may be in the cards for the portion of the Marpole Midden archaeological site bought by the Musqueam Indian Band earlier this month.

Band members are considering various options – including green space – to preserve their ancestral village now that the purchase from real-estate developer Century Group is finalized, said band councillor Wade Grant.

Construction on the plot, which covers about six city lots near the Arthur Laing Bridge, was halted when workers unearthed human remains in early 2012.

“The majority of the community members have shown that they want to protect it as a green space,” said Grant. Other components might include an interpretive centre that would showcase Musqueam history and culture, which could also generate revenue to maintain the site.

“We want something that we can share with the whole community,” said Grant. “We wouldn’t close it off, we would make sure that everybody … could go there.”

Legal hurdles

It may be a while before a park is realized. Turning a First Nations’ heritage site into a city-style park is an unusual concept, said city Coun. Andrea Reimer.

“[Existing heritage sites] are protected for the cultural use of the First Nation, not for the general public,” she said. “Nobody’s done this on purpose anywhere in Canada.”

Reimer thinks the Musqueam will need to work with the federal government to create a legal status for the site. The Marpole Midden was designated a national historic site in 1933, but that conferred no protection from development.

“Presumably, under Musqueam ownership, it won’t be developed,” said Reimer. “But until it has some form of protected status, ownership alone isn’t necessarily enough.”

Protecting the land

Luminaire Plaza and liquor store
The Luminaire Plaza (formerly the Fraser Arms Hotel) was purchased by the Musqueam in 1991 and renovated last year.

The Marpole village site is larger than the area in question, covering much of the surrounding city block. The most recent purchase is not the only part owned by the Musqueam.

In 1991, the band bought the nearby Fraser Arms Hotel to prevent development that would have disturbed the ground beneath it. The hotel was renovated in 2012 and a liquor store and other businesses now occupy parts of the building.

Cecilia Point, a band member who quit her job last summer to take part in 200 days of protests against the condo development, would like to see the Musqueam take ownership of the entire ancestral village.

“The only way to get that sense of relief that we could absolutely protect it would be if we held title to it,” said Point.

For now, though, Point is just happy that this struggle is over. She and several other community members visited the site to celebrate by singing and drumming shortly after the sale was finalized.

Meetings are slated for the coming weeks, when band members will discuss how best to move forward. But Point has already decided that she wants the area converted to a park. “I would like to see a really respectful, peaceful place overall.”