British Columbia

Paddle Song performed to thank Indigenous responders to Great Vancouver fire

The Old Hastings Mill Store Museum organized the performance to further recognize the Squamish Nation's efforts to save Vancouverites from the great fire of 1886.

Squamish Nation members paddled from North Vancouver to rescue people from the 1886 fire

Squamish Nation member Marissa Nahanee sings a Paddle Song on June 16, 2018 to recognize Indigenous people who paddled to save Vancouverites in danger from the great fire of 1886. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

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.

Marissa Nahanee says she is proud of her ancestors who risked their own lives to save others, who they did not know. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

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.

Squamish rescuers

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.

Residents gathered on June 16, 2018 to listen to a Paddle Song commemorating First Nation efforts to save people from the Great Vancouver fire of 1886. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

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 with the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum says it was important to further recognize the Squamish Nation's brave and compassionate acts during Vancouver's Great Fire of 1886. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

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.

Marissa Nahanee performs Paddle Song

5 years ago
Duration 1:59
Marissa Nahanee of the Squamish Nation performs a Paddle Song in Vancouver on June 16, 2018 to commemorate her nation's efforts to save people from the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886.

With files from Jon Hernandez.