Whose Land Is This?

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What existed at 438 Terminal Avenue 150+ years ago? What communities lived here before we came and where did they go? You might have noticed the enormous bronze banana slugs stationed outside the College and wondered why they were here. 

Real-life banana slugs once occupied the land Columbia College was on before they were displaced. Displacement is the forced departure of inhabitants from their homes, typically because of war, colonization, or natural disaster. Many things can be displaced, not just people. Salmon, coho, chum, sturgeon, elk, terrestrial and aquatic plants, animal life, trees, water, and streams once existed at 438 Terminal but were displaced.

In fact, False Creek (the neighbourhood where 438 Terminal is located) was a rich coastal wetland and mudflat where the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish first peoples lived and foraged for materials to sustain their livelihoods. They used and cultivated the land for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and artwork. When European settlers arrived in Vancouver around 1860 and rapidly settled on False Creek, the area underwent a dramatic transformation as forests were clear cut and salmon streams were filled with garbage and disappeared under pavements into sewer pipes. The natural habitats were destroyed and Indigenous people were forcibly evicted from their homes in order to make way for European settlement.

Other communities, not only European settlers, have also occupied False Creek flats and surrounding neighbourhoods: these include the Chinese, Japanese, Black, Italian, and Jewish diaspora communities.

There has been community activism to protect these peoples’ homes from being displaced. In the late 1960s, the City of Vancouver proposed a freeway to run through Chinatown and Strathcona. Residents came together to protest the construction of the freeway and were successful in halting government attempts to pave through their neighbourhoods.  

As well, Hogan’s Alley used to be a vibrant neighbourhood where many Black Canadians lived. There have been efforts by the City and the people who live and work in those neighbourhoods to reclaim these spaces. Today the struggle for affordability and for homes for all has much to do with the present as it has to do with the past. 

When people talk about reconciliation, what does that mean in this context? The City of Vancouver wants to build community centres and revitalize False Creek once the viaducts go down. Who are the communities being consulted and what would this look like? As students and staff living, studying, and working at Columbia College, what is our role and responsibility to the land our campus resides on?

Interested in learning more about Indigenous people’s histories and Columbia College? Check out this fantastic Libguide.