A two-acre plot of land in south Vancouver once destined to become a five-storey residential building could instead become a cultural site celebrating First Nations heritage after being purchased by the Musqueam Indian Band.
The purchase concludes a lengthy dispute between the band and developer Century Group, which had been working with Fran and Gary Hackett – who owned the property for more than 50 years – to develop the 108-unit building in the 1300-block of southwest Marine Drive.
That plan was halted in early 2012 after intact human remains were discovered during pre-construction archeological work, spurring a picket by the Musqueam, who say the site was an ancestral burial ground dating back thousands of years.
Musqueam councillor Wade Grant said the band is both happy and relieved to see this outcome after 18 months of negotiation involving chief and council, community members, Century Group and the province. “It seemed that it started off on the wrong foot, but the conversations that we’ve had have been more of a reconciliatory approach,” he said.
The sale of the land, which is recognized as a Canada Heritage site, is believed to have cost at least $10-million. Last year, the province gave the band $4.8-million – owed under a previous agreement related to the South Fraser Perimeter Road project, which goes through traditional Musqueam territory – which the band said would go toward the purchase. The province also provided another $5.3-million directly to the property owner for development costs on the cancelled project, spokesman Brennan Clarke said in an e-mail. It is unknown if the band contributed any additional money.
Band members, backed by the First Nations Summit, have called for the property and adjacent lands to be turned into a protected site with cultural and discovery centres dedicated to reviving Musqueam history in the area. Former chief Ernie Campbell had called for a park.
“Instead of a jumbled collection of rundown buildings and car lots,” he told The Globe and Mail last year, “visitors [driving into the city from the airport] would be greeted by a vision of an interpretive park open to all British Columbians, travellers and citizens of Vancouver that would celebrate the Musqueam-Coast Salish heritage on whose lands all of Metro Vancouver and surrounding cities are built.”
Mr. Grant said that is “still the direction the Musqueam want to go” and that a community meeting will be held in the coming weeks to determine next steps. “We just want to ensure the community has the opportunity to come out and talk with chief and council, so we can get a little bit more direction from the community as to what they feel is the best way to commemorate that area,” he said.
Sean Hodgins, president of Century Group, did not return a phone call by deadline. However, he said in a joint statement with the Musqueam he felt the decision was “fair.”
“It took some time to get this outcome, but I appreciate the determination of the Musqueam leaders and their perseverance in working with us to reach an agreement,” he said. “They followed through on their promise to me when I agreed to halt work – that they would pursue a purchase in good faith – and they followed through and acted honorably.”
Current Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow said in the statement the successful resolution “demonstrates First Nations and private property owners can work together to understand each other’s interests and conduct business in a respectful way.”