British Columbia

Squamish chief suggests tearing down Vancouver's historic RCMP barracks in spirit of reconciliation

In the spirit of reconciliation, Chief Ian Campbell says he doesn't want stakeholders to feel surprised when the development team comes to the table with plans that don't include the historic Fairmont Academy.

The 100-year-old Fairmont Academy stands as a symbol of oppression and discrimination, says chief

First Nations used the lands now known as Heather Street for thousands of years before the Fairmont Academy was built in 1912. (City of Vancouver)

It may be listed in the Vancouver heritage register as a building of primary significance, but some First Nations say Vancouver's former RCMP Fairmont Academy is a symbol of oppression that should be torn down. 

The 1912 Tudor-style building was acquired by the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Development Corporation and Canada Lands Company (CLC) in 2014.

It's part of the Heather Street Lands, an 8.5-hectare parcel located between 33rd Avenue and 37th Avenue at Heather Street that the City of Vancouver is holding consultations on.

Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish First Nation says the building should make way for a space that better represents the process of reconciliation.

"The forced imposition of colonialism and the marginalization of Indigenous peoples from our lands largely was inflicted through the Canadian government, through the RCMP," Campbell told Rick Cluff, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"The Fairmont Building represents some of that old healing that needs to take place."

Campbell said he doesn't want the idea that the building might be torn down to surprise anyone when the latest plans for the site are presented to the public.

Heather Street Lands occupies about 8.5 hectares of land between 33rd Avenue and 37th Avenue along Heather Street. (City of Vancouver)

Economic opportunity

MP Don Davies once called for the barracks to be converted into affordable housing. Others said it should be converted into units to house former or retired RCMP members.

  At an open house a year ago, the majority of respondents to a city questionaire on the subject suggested it be used as a community centre or gathering space, according to the city's  consultation summary.

First Nations recall the land where the building now sits as a traditional hunting ground with travel routes and trade paths.

They want to see it turned into a profitable development that aligns with and reflects Indigenous values.

More than 200 people responded to a city questionnaire that suggested the Fairmont Academy would remain a part of future developments. (City of Vancouver)

'We weren't citizens in our own lands'

Campbell says he's especially concerned about the trauma the Fairmont building could trigger for elders.

"They're the ones that bore the brunt of discrimination in this country prior to the '50s when we weren't citizens in our own lands," he said.

He's open to that idea of replacing the building with a new cultural or community space. 

While he would like to see the building gone, he says what ends up in its place is equally as important.

"We really want to put our signature on these developments to showcase our values and our principles and our connections to these lands," he said, adding there has been no opportunity to do so in that traditional territory for more than 150 years.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition