Paddle Song performed to thank Indigenous responders to Great Vancouver fire
Squamish Nation members paddled from North Vancouver to rescue people from the 1886 fire
A member of the Squamish Nation, whose forebears paddled to Vancouver in 1886 to save residents from an out-of-control fire, performed a Paddle Song Saturday to recognize their contribution.
Last June, the City of Vancouver passed a motion to formally acknowledge the role of First Nations' members who saved lives during the city's Great Fire.
On Saturday, Marissa Nahanee sang on the banks of the Burrard Inlet, in front of the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum on Alma Street — the oldest building in Vancouver. It was established in 1865.
As Vancouver was emerging as a mill and logging town, an out-of-control fire swept through it on June 13, 1886.
According to historians, only three of the estimated 1,000 buildings in the city were left standing after the fire. Dozens perished.
Many panicked residents were forced to flee into the waters of Burrard Inlet.
Indigenous men and women from the community of Ustlawn on the North Shore came to their aid, paddling their canoes across the inlet to bring victims to safety.
During their rescue efforts, the first responders sang a Paddle Song to provide comfort and reassurance to those in distress.
Nahannee was told about the fire from her father, who had heard about it from his parents.
"It's been a story that's very important to me," she said.
On Saturday, she was invited to sing a similar Paddle Song at the museum.
"They literally put their lives in danger," she said. "So I'm very humbled to know that my people have such an amazing heart."
Lisa Anne Smith, a curator at the museum, said the event was part of reconciliation efforts, but also to express gratitude for what the museum calls acts of bravery and compassion.
"We are reaching out to the First Nation people," she said. "We thought it would be a nice thing to do to acknowledge their contribution."
The riding's MP, Joyce Murray, attended the event and said there is a direct link from the Squamish Nation's efforts in 1886 to work now being done under the federal Oceans Protection Plan.
One of its directives is to empower and support Indigenous communities to be first responders to marine emergencies.
With files from Jon Hernandez.