Welcome to AMMSA.COM, the news archive website for our family of Indigenous news publications.

Community celebrates history with canoe ceremony

Article Origin


M. Morning Star Doherty, Raven's Eye Writer, Vancouver







The year of 1886 was an extraordinary one in the history of Vancouver. The city was incorporated in April and was almost destroyed two months later on June 13 by the Great Vancouver Fire. This year will mark the 120th anniversary of the fire, and the Squamish Nation will commemorate the milestone with a special event.

The Si'em: One Mind, One Heart Sacred Canoe Ceremony and Celebration will be held on Sunday, June 18 hosted by the Squamish Nation of North Vancouver. Members of the Squamish Nation will gather to tell the stories about the fire, accounts that were passed down to them from eyewitnesses from their community.

On June 13, 1886 a clearing fire in Yaletown blazed out of control and burned the townsite of Vancouver to the ground, leaving less than a dozen buildings standing. The Aboriginal people who lived on the North Shore of Vancouver at Ustlawn (pronounced Ots-a-lawn), now known as the Mission reserve, could see from the smoke and flames that there would be many people needing help.

Heeding the traditional teachings of the Squamish Elders-help is always given to those in need-the community assembled, canoes were launched, a sacred song composed and the dangerous Burrard Inlet crossed. Many survivors of the fire were paddled to the safety of the North Shore.
The story resonates in the telling by Squamish Elders, who remember being told about the Great Vancouver Fire by parents and relatives. The Paddle Song, comprising of Squamish words set to a Christian melody, is still sung to this day.

"The word Si'em in our language means One Mind, One Heart, and we believe the canoe ceremony and celebration will create many opportunities for healing for Aboriginal people throughout the region through the sharing of our culture and traditions," said Squamish Nation veteran, youth counsellor and organizer Robert Nahanee.

"Educating Aboriginal youth about our traditional values, together with a strong mentoring component and acknowledgement through presentation of First Nations history, will greatly benefit them in taking their place in the world today."

He said many non-Aboriginal people living in Vancouver are not aware of the account of this history from the Native perspectives, nor of who the people are today.

"The time has come to share our traditional and living culture through community events that bring people together. This year offers an opportunity for our nation to tell the full story of the creation of the City of Vancouver from our own oral and written histories. It is also important for us to honor and celebrate the strength and courage of the Squamish people, who responded to the Great Vancouver Fire by assisting others. We also kept things going in the aftermath and helped to rebuild the devastated city."

About 25 Squamish Nation youth and 25 urban Aboriginal youth from Vancouver will be participating in the event. They will travel together in canoes, launching from Vancouver's North Shore to arrive at Crab Park at Portside after crossing Burrard Inlet, Nahanee said.

Organizers plan to hold the event every year on the Sunday before National Aboriginal Day, June 21, and hope it will become a highlight of Vancouver's tourism season calendar.

For further information contact the Turtle Island Professionals Society at turtleisland@telus.net.