Program News

HRM Orientation Week Site Tour

November 12, 2019

Re-examining Stanley Park’s history: an HRM Orientation Week site tour with municipal archaeologist Geordie Howe.

Though many visitors assume Vancouver’s most popular public park was established on an untouched sliver of land when it was dedicated in 1888, there remain secrets hiding here–beneath the soil and in the not-so-distant past. First Nations, including Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh lived in modern-day Stanley Park for millennia and were removed forcibly to build the roads and infrastructure we see today. “Most people are very surprised that at one time within the last hundred years, there were Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh communities in the High Bank, Brockton Point and Lumberman’s Arch areas of the park. And now there’s a couple of signposts, but few visible indicators,” says Vancouver Park Board archaeologist Geordie Howe.

As an introduction to his work as the park’s archaeologist, Howe led SFU’s Heritage Resource Management graduate students on a tour highlighting some of the more interesting archaeological sites, which he points out are mostly below the ground’s surface.  

Today, Howe’s work is directed by the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, who ensure all proposed changes to the park are sensitive to and respectful of the Nations who once lived in the park and who still hold an unbreakable connection to the place and broader landscape. “We work jointly with the Nations to protect and preserve the archaeological heritage of Stanley Park,” he says. “They’re providing leadership and direction that has been sadly missing in the care, maintenance and visioning of Stanley Park as a whole, not just the archaeological resources.”

The students were amazed to learn of the very recent occupation of Stanley Park by Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh families, says HRM Program Director and SFU professor Dr. John Welch, and of the concerted recent initiatives to return interpretive control of much of the park to the original occupant’s descendants. The park itself is a glowing example of heritage resource management work in practice, and the result of a political decision spurred by the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and by the Nations themselves, who have long been excluded from any discussions surrounding Park stewardship.

One of the first recommendations the Nations made when they reclaimed their places at the decision-making table alongside the Parks Board was to hire a dedicated Parks Board archaeologist–the first of its kind in Canada. “Even relatively small and scattered jurisdictions can really benefit from a full-time heritage steward,” says Welch. “Consultants are great, but they are seldom a match for a dedicated professional assigned to maintain inventories, valuation systems, relationships, and interpretive continuity.”

Since it’s one of two opportunities students have to meet with faculty and each other face-to-face, it’s a given that the group would be eager to get outdoors together. “Archaeologists have a hard time being together for more than 48 hours without kicking some dirt,” says Dr. Welch. “Our crew of candidates and instructors work in a lot of different places doing a lot of different things,” he says, “so it’s important to celebrate our common roots in the fascination with the relationships among people, places, and things.”

Howe’s experience working directly with First Nations archaeologists and other representatives–some of whom had relatives who lived in the park–has exposed the need for heritage management training that is culturally sensitive to preserving and restoring relationships with Indigenous people. “Anyone who’s dealing with ground disturbance activities in most Canadian and US jurisdictions needs just this sort this expertise,” says Howe. The HRM program coursework includes readings, lectures, and case studies to focus learning on ways to boost the many values of heritage—communal, cultural, and educational, as well as scientific. Thesis projects that involve Indigenous peoples, lands, or heritage require good faith consultations and transparent information exchanges with affected individuals, groups, and governments. The program is structured in a way that’s insightful, Howe says, and it addresses some critical gaps between formal education and on-the-job practice.

Howe emphasizes the relevance of the HRM program to future jobs–developing connections with Indigenous communities, finding out how they see things, and how they would like to see things with regards to their own heritage are vital skills for any archaeologist to consider today: “It’s about relationships way more than about dirt,” says Howe. Ongoing consultations and collaborations with Indigenous communities regarding program delivery and thesis projects are already yielding better and more broadly beneficial research and outreach. "The program is in its infancy, and we have a lot to learn," says Welch. "We are doing our best to listen carefully to advice from Indigenous people and to take a hard, critical look at prevailing assumptions about heritage management. We are especially proud of our collaboration with the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council to focus thesis research on projects they have specifically identified. Much work remains to return control of Indigenous heritage to Indigenous owners,” he says.  

The graduate program is delivered entirely online through a digital portal, with trips to the Burnaby campus for Orientation Week and for thesis defence. As a professional master’s program, it’s suited to working archaeologists who have at least a year or two of fieldwork under their belt, meaning students often have a clear vision of their research intentions when they first enroll.

“As I said to most of the students, it’s up to them to get what they need out of the course,” says Howe, noting the interdisciplinary nature of pursuing an online graduate degree. With a wide range of expertise in the program faculty and a variety of research intents, the Heritage Resource Management master’s program is a logical next step for dedicated archaeologists seeking career mobility.