British Columbia

Groundbreaking c̓əsnaʔəm exhibition traces Musqueam's past

Co-curator and Musqueam community member Jordan Wilson talks about c̓əsnaʔəm exhibition at Musqueam Cultural Education Resourse Centre and Gallery.

Long before there was Vancouver, there was c̓əsnaʔəm, a thriving Musqueam community on the edge of the Fraser River.

A new three-site exhibition at the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre, UBC's Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver tells the story of the 5000-year-old village and burial site.

"This was a major place," said Jordan Wilson, a graduate student at UBC and co-curator of the exhibit. He's also a member of the Musqueam First Nation.

"Countless generations ... lived here and worked here, raised their families here and put their people to rest."

"c̓əsnaʔəm: the city before the city" draws on artifacts, multimedia and oral history to tell the ongoing story of the Musqueam people.

"One of the main goals of this exhibit is to tell people that Musqueam are still here," said Wilson.

"We're still a thriving, growing community, we have a connection to our traditional territory. And although a lot has been paved over and developed, there's still meaning in these places."

Part of c̓əsnaʔəm now lies beneath a tangle of overpasses, railroad tracks and industry along Southwest Marine Drive. The land has been given various names including the Great Fraser Midden and Eburne Midden and the Marpole Midden.

Wilson said that until the 1960s, it was common practice for Vancouver families to come and dig for artifacts, without understanding the significance of the location or making the connection to the Musqueam community now located further to the west.

But in recent years, the community has begun to see a return of some of those items. "The awareness is growing of this place and people are starting to feel uncomfortable in having these things that were taken from here and mean so much as a community," said Wilson.

In 2012, intact ancestral remains were discovered near the Arthur Laing bridge during an archaeological excavation related to a proposed condominium development. A 200+ day community vigil halted the development and the Musqueam First Nation eventually purchased the land.

The new exhibition traces early history of c̓əsnaʔəm up to the present, including the 2012 protests.

"There's thirst for information, a desire for people to know more about where they live and work," said Wilson. 

"Vancouver has a real rich history that extends far, far beyond the establishment of the city of called Vancouver. There's this common narrative that Vancouver is new city or a place without history. These exhibits are really trying to counter that narrative."

To hear Jordan Wilson giving the Early Edition a tour of the original c̓əsnaʔəm site, click the audio link above.


Margaret Gallagher is the reporter for On the Coast and the host of Hot Air on CBC Radio One.