Trip Ideas

Vancouver's Aboriginal Culture

Artistic expression and the art of storytelling has always been at the heart of Aboriginal culture in British Columbia. Discover its unique cultural footprint in Vancouver at places like the Museum of Anthropology or at Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. 


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MAP LEGEND
  1. Gastown
  2. Vancouver International Airport
  3. Museum of Anthropology
  4. Stanley Park
  5. North Vancouver
  6. West Vancouver

Aboriginal Artwork at YVR

Vancouver International Airport welcomes you with dozens of stunning works in wood, stone and textiles, many on a monumental scale. International passengers are greeted by Nuu-chah-nulth artist Joe David’s Welcome Figures – they stand in the arrivals meet and greet area. Bill Reid’s iconic The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe, is the centrepiece of the collection, located in the international terminal near the check-in desks where everyone can admire it.

Museum of Anthropology

Museum of Anthropology at UBC. Photo Credit: Kevin Arnold

See history take shape at the Museum of Anthropology, on the University of British Columbia campus. Against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, you will find in the Great Hall house posts, totem poles and more created by the Haida, Gitxsan, Nisga’a and others. And don’t forget to check out the Haida houses and totem poles on the cliff-top behind the museum.
The Museum of Anthropology also has an excellent collection of works by Bill Reid (1920-1998), one of BC’s best-known artists. See more of Reid’s work at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver.

Aboriginal Culture in Stanley Park

Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. Photo Credit: Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC

For even more Bill Reid, look for the artist’s Orca sculpture, Chief of the Undersea World, outside the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. Also in the park are the much-visited totem poles and cedar gateways at Brockton Point. The nine poles and three gateways were carved by artists from the Haida, Squamish, Coast Salish and other First Nations bands. An on-site interpretive centre provides historic details.

As you stroll along the Stanley Park Seawall, watch for Siwash Rock just north of Third Beach. This 32-million-year-old sea stack is the focus of a Squamish legend about a young man immortalized in stone. At nearby Ferguson Point stands a memorial to Pauline Johnson, an Aboriginal poet who recorded many local legends. Just outside the park at English Bay have your picture taken with the Inukshuk, an Inuit-inspired memento to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

In summer, enjoy a sensory cultural experience at Stanley Park’s Klahowya Village. Watch artisans at work, sample Aboriginal cuisine and see cultural performances. Then ride the Spirit Catcher Miniature Train through the forest to learn more about BC’s Aboriginal history and culture.

Aboriginal Culture in North Vancouver

North Vancouver is also rich in Aboriginal culture: see traditional First Nations at Kia’palano, at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, then check out the 80-year-old collection of Aboriginal artifacts at the Tomahawk Barbecue; tuck into an organic burger or big Yukon breakfast while you’re at it.

Aboriginal Cuisine

Try real Aboriginal home cooking, like clam fritters, wild deer stew or bison burgers, all served with bannock (traditional fried bread) at Salmon n’ Bannock, a bistro and gallery on West Broadway. Aboriginal cuisine has inspired other Vancouver chefs too. Top tastes include cedar plank or alder-grilled salmon, with its delightful smoky flavour, and salmon candy – smoked salmon marinated in brown sugar or maple syrup. Most Granville Island fishmongers carry it: try Longliner Seafoods or Finest at Sea.

Oysters, alder-grilled salmon, and even smoked salmon and prawn spring rolls reflect indigenous influences at West Vancouver’s Salmon House on the Hill. Check out the Aboriginal masks, canoes and other artifacts gracing the interior – when not eyeing the view, of course.

Shopping for Aboriginal Artwork

Aboriginal works, from museum-quality antiques to fun fashions, abound in Vancouver. Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, with stores in Gastown and Yaletown, have contemporary works from basketry to silver jewellery. For sheer volume, visit Hill’s Native Art in Gastown, with three levels of treasures from bentwood boxes to totem poles. On Granville Island, check out the Wickaninnish Gallery, Eagle Spirit Gallery, the Raven and the Bear, and the Inukshuk Gallery.

The gift shop at The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art is great place to pick up original works by local artists; the grassy courtyard outside is a little-known pocket of urban serenity.

Vancouver Accommodations

Wake up to a room full of art on the Museum Floor of The Listel Hotel. Thanks to a partnership with the Museum of Anthropology, works by renowned Aboriginal artists grace the rooms.

Lord Stanley Suites On The Park offers easy access to Stanley Park. Also close to Stanley Park, as well as to the bustling Robson shopping district, is the West End Guest House, a refurbished 1906 heritage B&B.

Vancouver Transportation

To see the galleries, museums and public art in downtown, Gastown and Stanley Park, your best bet is a TransLink bus or a hop-on-hop-off tour, like those run by the Vancouver Trolley Company. False Creek Ferries and The Aquabus sail to Granville Island from downtown, and any TransLink bus marked “UBC” travels near the Museum of Anthropology. A car is handy for exploring the North Shore, but a SeaBus-bus combo is an easy way to reach Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.