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Vancity supports Skwachàys Lodge and Gallery


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High above the urban streetscape of downtown Vancouver, a 40-foot storey pole points skyward. It is the design and creation of master carver Francis Horne Sr.—a self-taught Coast Salish artist—who also carved the welcome pole that greets visitors at the entrance way to the Skwachàys (pronounced squa-chizeꞌ) Lodge and Residence at 31 West Pender Street in Vancouver.

The building is a striking integration of Victorian and Indigenous architecture and also an important milestone for the Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS). In addition to the 24 shelter-rate rental apartments for Indigenous people at risk of homelessness, Skwachàys, (pronounced squa-chizeꞌ) also houses two social enterprises that support the Society’s goals of financial stability and provision of housing and support for their residents and community.

Eighteen boutique hotel units have been transformed by artists, designers, tradespeople and suppliers into the first Indigenous arts-themed hotel in Canada. The hotel now represents a unique vacation experience for socially responsible travellers and a showcase for contemporary northwest coast Indigenous art.

Visitors have given the hotel rave reviews. In fact, Time magazine included Skwachàys Lodge in its 2018 “World’s Greatest Places” list, which highlights 100 destinations that are breaking new ground, leading industry trends and offering visitors an extraordinary experience. To create the list, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories—including museums, parks, restaurants and hotels—from TIME editors and correspondents around the world, as well as dozens of industry experts.

Time lauds it as a “facility that immerses guests in Native art—they can take classes on beading, tribal art and spoken-word poetry—and also empowers the people who create it.”

At street level, the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery showcases Indigenous artistic and cultural work, while the basement houses workshop/production space. Other distinguishing features include a rooftop sweat lodge and smudge room used for spiritual cleansing, and a commercial kitchen.

The concept for the project first germinated in 2002, when VNHS saw the need for a culturally-appropriate facility for Indigenous patients and their families travelling to Vancouver for medical appointments. The society, an independent not-for-profit organization with a 20-year history of successfully managing safe and affordable social housing, explored other locations but sought a building with self-contained units.

Fast forward to 2010 and a series of what Dave Eddy, CEO of VNHS, calls serendipitous events involving the former Pender Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel that was part of the provincial stock of hotels slated for renovation.

“The federal government was seeking shovel-ready projects to receive infrastructure stimulus funding. They had a deadline and we had 48 hours to put together a proposal,” he says. “Our architect for the project, Joe Wai, deemed the project to be feasible and the city and our neighbours came onside.”

Three levels of government co-operated and contributed $8.5 million toward the cost of Skwachàys and Vancity bridged the remaining $2 million funding gap with a commitment to provide financing to allow BC Housing to start construction. Vancity also advised on the art gallery and healing lodge, social enterprise components vital to VNHS’s ongoing revenue.

“This project represents the type of community impact investing that Vancity wants to support,” says Stewart Anderson, Vancity manager, community investment. “Skwachàys is a significant asset for the community.”

In the official naming and ceremonial blessing, Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation explained how Skwachàys is a traditional reference to this area of Vancouver as a place of transformation. Dave Eddy views Skwachàys as a place of pride, cultural significance and a visual marker to Indigenous people of their rightful place.

“There is evidence of longhouses in the Vancouver area that are 200 feet long,” says Francis Horne Sr. “Native residency existed here long before contact and in the supernatural world this building already stood. It is only fitting that the Dream Weaver pole stands as testament and a reminder of our rich cultural history.”


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