Fumano: Differing definitions of heritage define Indigenous project

First Nations want the historic Class A building that housed the RCMP gone and say it is a symbol of pain

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The first major real estate project from a joint venture by Aboriginal peoples Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh reaches Vancouver City Council this month.

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The proposal calls for more than 2,600 apartments, commercial and cultural spaces in towers up to 28 stories high. It would have a total area of ​​2.5 million square meters.

The project consists of an 85,000 square foot lot south of 33rd Avenue between Oak and Cambie streets being developed by MST Development Corporation and the federal government’s Canada Lands Co.

The rezoning application, the culmination of six years of planning, is scheduled to go to public hearing on May 24, followed by a council decision.

Proponents of the project call it a powerful example of “economic reconciliation.”

But the proposal is not without controversy. The rezoning application asks council to approve the removal of a century-old Tudor-style building at 4949 Heather St., which is listed in the Vancouver Heritage Registry’s “A” category. This is a step rarely taken for Grade A listed buildings, recognized for their supreme architectural and cultural value.

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The rezoning would be for a mixed-use development comprising shops, services, childcare, parks, 540 units of public housing, 400 market rental units occupying approximately 25 percent of the floor area at below market rents, and 1,670 leasehold units.

Concept illustration for Heather Lands in Vancouver, BC
Concept illustration for Heather Lands in Vancouver, BC Photo by Matthew Thomson Concept illusion /PNG

The Heather Street building was a private boys’ school from 1914. It was transferred to the RCMP in 1920, which used it as a regional headquarters and training academy. In 2012 the RCMP moved to new headquarters in Surrey.

The property passed to Canada Lands Co. in 2014. MST partnered with Canada Lands and is a co-owner.

The joint venture does not seek demolition of the historic building, also known as the Fairmont Building. But First Nations want it moved.

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“The Fairmont Building is a standing reminder of the RCMP’s role in enforcing the Indian Act and other discriminatory laws,” said a report to the city council. “The demanded preservation of the building is viewed by the MST nations as an imposition of colonial values.”

While the building could be relocated and renovated for about $47 million, city officials couldn’t find a suitable place for it. As such, staff are asking the council to approve its removal, and according to the report, that approval will guide review of any possible removal future demolition permit.

“In requiring nations to continue to uphold this symbol of colonialism, the City of Vancouver rightly recognized that it was an unfair demand,” said Brennan Cook, vice president of acquisitions and development at MST Development Corporation.

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Robert Lemon, Vancouver’s Senior Heritage Planner from 1991 to 1996, said he was “deeply disappointed” to learn that the building might not remain on the site – or survive at all.

“To allow the building to be removed, either through demolition or relocation…that would be unprecedented,” Lemon said. “That would set a precedent.”

Lemon said he hoped the council would oppose the removal of the Fairmont building, which he described as “an outstanding example of Tudor Revival architecture”.

Lemon said he hoped “the three First Nations would reconsider the decision to remove the building so it could stand as a legacy to tell history in physical form, like the RCMP did to First Nations in British Columbia.” treated.”

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Lemon pointed to the 96-year-old Hudson’s Bay building in Winnipeg, which was donated to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization last month for an Indigenous-led development project. Lemon also completed a feasibility study for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation for the Kamloops Indian Residential School building. After discovering hundreds of unmarked graves there, he said the nation’s leaders decided to preserve them as “evidence of the horrors that were going on there.”

Of that proposal, Cook said, “The MST nations were clear … it was too painful a symbol to keep on their lands.”

“It’s an interesting position to talk about heritage when you’re talking to people who have owned the land for thousands of years,” Cook said. “What they consider heritage is not a 100-year-old building.”

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Ginger Gosnell-Myers agrees that the removal of a Grade A listed building would be significant.

Gosnell-Myers was an Indigenous planner for the city of Vancouver and wrote the reconciliation framework that the council passed in 2014. “It’s a political tool that can be used to overturn decisions and policies when they don’t meet the city’s goals of advancing reconciliation.

“The RCMP building in Heather Lands is actually the city’s first major test,” said Gosnell-Myers, a fellow at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue who focused on decolonization and urban Indigenous planning.

“Heritage policy used to be like the Holy Grail. You don’t touch it, it’s sacred.”

That decision, she said, will be a test of “the city’s commitment to change.”



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