British Columbia

Vancouver returns city-owned land to Musqueam

Located at 8902 Milton Street, the land is currently home to a parking lot. It is adjacent to the where the Fraser Arms Hotel used to operate. According to a statement, the hotel was purchased by Musqueam in 1991.

Land was once used as burial site for the First Nation

Mayor Gregor Robertson (left) and Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow were present at a Tuesday ceremony to mark the donation of city land to the First Nation. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Vancouver politicians and Musqueam First Nation leaders attended a ceremony Tuesday to mark the city's return of land once used as a burial site for the First Nation.

The city-owned land in South Vancouver, near the Arthur Laing Bridge, is part of an ancient Indigenous site containing remains of Musqueam ancestors and the so-called Marpole Midden.

But Musqueam Councillor Wendy Grant-John says to her nation, it has always been the C̓əsnaʔəm (pronounced "sets-NAHM") village site. She described the city's returning of the land as "exciting, extraordinary, moving."

"It's land of ours that's being returned to the rightful owners," Grant-John told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. "We should all really cherish what's there because it's the history of who we are as Vancouver people."

Grant-John said the site could yield a bounty of artifacts — "The belongings of our people," she put it — and illuminate Musqueam ways of life at the village.

Thousands of years old

Located at 8902 Milton Street, the donated land is currently home to a parking lot. It is adjacent to the where the Fraser Arms Hotel used to operate. According to a statement, the hotel was purchased by Musqueam in 1991.

The land, a June city staff report notes, includes the 1,500-to-2,900-year-old remains of a Musqueam house site. It was designated as a National Historic Site by Canada in 1933 as one of the largest pre-contact middens in Western Canada.

A Google Streetview of the land at 8902 Milton Street, a city-owned parcel that was donated to Musqueam First Nation. (Google Streetview)

"It really tells the story of who Musqueam are at the the mouth of the Fraser River," Grant-John said.

The estimated value of the land, the city and First Nation said Tuesday, is $2.3 million.

Development and construction on land connected to the Marpole Midden has been a contentious issue for years.

'This is about reconciliation'

At Tuesday's ceremony, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the return of land in this way was a first for Vancouver.

He said the land donation was unanimously supported by council and one of his last actions as mayor would be to ask the federal government to add the land to Musqueam's reserve.

"This is about reconciliation, doing the right thing and returning sacred lands to the people that have taken care of them for thousands of years," Robertson said.

Grant-John said before any decision is made about what will be done with the land, Musqueam will take action to protect culturally important items beneath the surface.

Listen to the full interview with Coun. Wendy Grant-John:

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard and CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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