Archive for April, 2010

The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

April 18, 2010

Great Spaces

by Janet Nicol

Among the trendy condos and hotel resorts at Whistler village
is a cedar and glass complex built into a landscaped hillside,
housing the cultural and historical treasures of two First Nations
groups, the Squamish and the Lil’wat. “The two nations have
overlapping territory in the Whistler area, and there were on-going
disputes,” says operations coordinator Josh Anderson. “In the end,
we decided to build a centre together.” He adds that combining
two First Nations groups under one roof is a unique concept.
Begun in 2001 and opened two years ago, the Squamish
Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s activities picked up speed when the
Olympics came to town this year — they represent two of the
four host First Nations in the area, so there were cultural events
on throughout the Olympics.

The Centre was designed by Vancouver architect Alfred
Waugh, with a focus on natural and sustainable materials. Visitors
are greeted by two carved welcoming figures before entering
through large cedar doors. Natural light
streams through the windowed
Great Hall, designed in the form of a traditional Squamish
Longhouse and decorated with massive models of hand-carved
cedar spindle whorls, a celebration of the Sqamish weaving heritage.
The hall is filled with cultural artifacts, including authentic
dugout canoes, and wool and cedar weavings.

The neighbouring Istken Hall is designed to evoke the traditional
underground dwellings of the Lil’wat people, a circular
space with a dramatic backdrop of forest and mountain scenery,
and a living roof. The space hosts artists’ workshops — carving,
weaving, drum-making — temporary exhibitions, and activities
for the Centre’s artist-in-residence program. A recent exhibition
included a canoe carved in 1975 by Charlie Mack Seymour, a
revered Lil’wat cultural leader and teacher, and a youth photography
exhibition displayed images on the theme of biodiversity.

Display pieces are all described in English, and the Squamish and
Lil’wat languages. “The Centre plays a key role in our cultural
revitalization,” Anderson says. “We’re teaching future generations
how we’ve lived.”

Reprinted from Galleries West, Spring 2010

Roses Bloom

April 10, 2010

By Janet Nicol

Gardens meander through Janet Wood’s life like roses sprawling across a trellis. A long-time mentor to rose growers in Vancouver; Janet’s first memory of a garden is her mother’s flower bed.

“We had a victory garden too,” recalls the slender silver-haired grandmother.

Janet’s corner lot bungalow in the Southlands neighbourhood is surrounded by beds of roses covering the front, back and side yard.

“I’ve been a member of the Vancouver Rose Society for about 30 years,” says Janet. “At one point there were 600 members. But the numbers are smaller now because there’s so much going on. There are other local gardening clubs and specialized groups, like the orchid society.”

The Vancouver Rose Society was established in 1949 and 60 years later, still has a good membership mix, says Janet. Men and women ranging in age from 30 to 80 plus, attend events. “People come to socialize too.”

Janet is a past president and has been given a lifetime membership in honour of her contributions. She continues to offer advice to rose enthusiasts.

“I just had a call from someone in a seniors complex near Jericho Beach. He wanted advice on the roses growing in the courtyard garden.”

A clopping sound outside interrupts the conversation. It turns out a young woman is making her way down the empty street – on horseback. Only blocks away from busy Arbutus Street, Southlands still has patches of farmland, stables and homes with property large enough to graze a horse or two.

But this warm afternoon is also filled with the sounds of construction as more homes are being built. “The neighbourhood is changing,” Janet notes regretfully.

“My parents were Scottish immigrants who came out here in 1929. My mother had eight babies in nine years.”

Janet grew up on the city’s east side, attending Britannia Secondary, and then training as an elementary school teacher. “I taught for two years and quit teaching to marry.”

Janet and her husband, a forester, had four children. Busy years were spent raising her family in northern B.C. and, later, on Vancouver’s west side. All the while, she volunteered in the community and kept gardening. At some point as Janet dug in to the soil, her interest in roses bloomed.

“I love the fresh air and knowing exactly what I’m doing,” she says. “I don’t have a creative eye. I like doing something that feels neat and tidy.”

But others who know Janet say she has a taste and an eye for roses. The result of her green thumb is noted in *Gardens of Vancouver* by Collin Vamer and Christine Allen. And every June, Janet’s home garden is on the city tour list, with busloads of admirers coming to see trellises reminiscent of Givenchy in England.

“The mist from the Fraser River dampens the roses in my garden,” Janet explains. “The climate is similar to Britain. That’s why my tea roses do so well.”

In fact, most roses in her garden have fewer than 20 petals because of her “misty” location. That’s why Janet advises novice gardeners to buy roses from local nurseries, where staff can suggest types suitable to localized climates.

Lots of other gardening advice is available in the society’s newsletter, *The Rosebed*, and on the website

Stepping into the garden, Janet shows her favourites. “Look at the shades on the petals. Just perfect,” she coos about her five-petal hybrid tea roses.

The compost containers along the side wall hold an important secret to her success – great fertilizer.

“The neighbours bring over horse manure and grass clippings,” she says.

The backyard contains a bright yellow “Julia Child” rose, named after the popular American chef, and another lighter yellow rose, named for Canada’s female astronaut, Roberta Bondar.

Besides planting Canadian and American roses, Janet also has roses from England. Moving carefully around the rose beds, the scents and many petal colours, from powder blues to brilliant reds, are to be savoured.

On the front lawn, the tour ends with an unexpected surprise as Janet points to a pink and white petal tea rose. She says the flower was recently bred by Brad Jalbert of Select Roses nursery in Langley.

“This is the Janet A. Wood,” the life-long gardener reveals, her legacy of five delicate petals cupped gently yet firmly in her hand.

Reprinted from Senior Living magazine, April, 2010.

Brave optimism

April 8, 2010

Brazilian newcomer Mariana Garcia goes out every day into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to empower women to belong

by Janet Nicol

Since emigrating from Brazil two years ago, Mariana Garcia has empowered others to belong — even though, as a newcomer, she was still trying to fit in herself. She has done this by working with an artists’ program for women in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood — Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“When I came to Canada, I wanted to work for a non-profit,” Garcia says from her small studio apartment in Yaletown. “That was my goal. I wanted to work for social programs.”

The soft-spoken young woman, whose first language is Portuguese, was born and raised in Belo Horizonte, a mountain city in Brazil. She also went to university there, learning business and marketing skills. Hired as a corporate consultant trainee after graduation, Garcia travelled and worked all over Brazil. She advised oil companies, banks and telecommunication firms. In only eight years, Garcia had risen to senior consultant in a male-dominated profession.

“We helped the companies restructure, reduce costs and increase profits,” she explains. “There were about 1,000 consultants in my firm. I learned a lot.”

At the top of her career ladder, Garcia was ready for a different challenge. “I questioned why I was doing this work. It was all about profits for the stakeholders,” she says. “I did some projects for the government as well, in education and health. I liked this side.”
Garcia visited other countries while on vacation from her high-powered work, including Canada — where she travelled from coast to coast.

“I really liked Canada a lot,” she says. “It’s very easy to live here. People are super friendly.
Everything is organized. The country is beautiful. People are respectful. In Vancouver, people are very socially responsible. I like the way they think.”

And so Garcia quit her job in Brazil, said goodbye to her friends and relatives, and bravely immigrated to Vancouver on her own.

“It’s hard to be far from family,” Garcia says. “I talk to my mom every day. I telephone or email family and visit Brazil once a year. But I have made new friends here from Brazil and Canadian. I meet them through other friends, through work, going to the gym and socializing.”

Those friends also helped in her initial job search. “I had friends here so I was able to give personal references, but I did not have work experience in Canada,” she says. “I gave work references from Brazil.”

Garcia’s job hunt took two months. She met with success when she applied for a position at the Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit group providing housing and shelter for women, many of whom have experienced domestic abuse. Atira offered Garcia a part-time position as co-ordinator of its program Enterprising Women Making Art (EWMA).

“The first thing I was asked to do was to write a business plan,” she remembers. “I didn’t have much knowledge at that time of the Downtown Eastside. I was being intuitive.”

When Garcia was hired, only three women were participating in the program, working in a small room at Atria’s head office at 101 East Cordova St.

“I started to get artists [in the greater community] involved,” Garcia says. “We had several workshops and artists volunteered to teach. We managed to get studio space in a heritage building [at 54 East Cordova St]. It has been renovated and has high ceilings and brick walls.”

The program became more popular as more women living or accessing services on the Downtown Eastside began to join the workshops. They learned to make crafts, knit, crochet, paint and sew. Eventually a few of the students became teachers.

“We help them to create products. And then we help to market them,” Garcia explains.

“Some of the artists are single mothers,” she says of the 30 or so regular participants. “Others have mental health issues or are older and on their own and lonely. They are all artisans. That’s what they have in common.”

While the primary aim is to make women self-sufficient, Garcia has realized this is not always possible. Sometimes the impact is smaller, but still valuable.

“They don’t all want to make an income. Some come to the studio to socialize, to have a community,” Garcia says.

“But I have noticed the changes in the women,” she adds. “Some who are very shy and very quiet are now talking a lot and are very comfortable. They often change their style, their clothes.”

Garcia also sees an evolution in their work as time goes on. “One woman makes beautiful jewelry for brides,” Garcia says. “She uses very expensive crystals, silver and fresh water pearls to make necklaces. She was making $10 earrings and now she is making necklaces that cost $200. So it’s also about confidence.”

Garcia’s marketing skills have also benefited the women and the program, which now has a store where the women’s art pieces are sold.

The EWMA store is at 802 East Hastings, on the main floor of a heritage building known as the Rice Block, with 42 apartments providing housing for women by Atira. The cozy retail space, neighbouring a corner grocery shop, is tastefully furnished with tables, walls and shelves and displays a variety of handmade crafts and art work at very reasonable prices.

“Before we got the store, I went to craft fairs with the women,” Garcia says. “We went all over the city. But when we got the store, it was much easier.”
And more successful.

“I was the only paid staff of the EWMA program,” Garcia says, “but now we have a store manager. Before that I hired volunteers to work in the store. That was challenging. Now the store manager hires volunteers to work on the days she isn’t there.”
Still, marketing the store in the poor neighbourhood was a challenge.

“It wasn’t getting much pedestrian traffic,” Garcia says of the store’s location, “so I started ‘East Fridays,’ an open house at the store on the first Friday of the month. This is my Brazilian nature. We have musicians and we have well-known artists show their work. Lots of people come and they shop as well.”

Garcia also has helped build partnerships with other local groups, too.
“We were part of the East Side Cultural Crawl last year,” Garcia says. “It costs $100 per artist so I talked to the organizers and asked for a sponsorship.”

The store’s website ( is also the result of a partnership with students at the Emily Carr Art Institute. The site features biographies and product samples of 15 EWMA artisans.

Garcia has also connected artisans with corporate clients. A Vancouver accounting firm bought 300 pieces of jewelry to use as gifts for their clients. Other companies have bought pottery mugs for their employees.

“The artisan gets 85 per cent of the proceeds of the sale and EWMA takes 15 per cent. I am now trying to get clients for our sewing artisans,” she says.

Even though she’s accomplished a great deal, Garcia acknowledges helping women on the Downtown Eastside is challenging. “It is more complex than I thought,” she admits. “It is also very political and can be very tiring.”

What Garcia also finds shocking in Canada is the “disconnect” among families. “In Brazil, poverty is far from your own reality,” she observes. “But, here, it is close. It could happen to you.”

She says some of the women she works with have family members who could help financially, but choose not to. “In Brazil, family is very important. This wouldn’t happen,” she says. “I see people dying when I go to work. It’s very sad. They are in the back alley behind the studio smoking crack.”

Garcia says it’s important she remains optimistic. After work, she goes dancing, takes yoga classes and watches movies. “Every night I pray,” she says.

But Garcia adds her experiences working with extreme economic contrasts have led to an interest in international development work. She would like return to university and pursue graduate studies in this area. In the meantime, at press time she was entertaining a new job offer as manager of retail services and programs of Battered Women’s Support Services, a non-profit organization that helps women affected by violence.

“I am happy to be in Canada,” Garcia says. “And I am glad I am able to give back, too.”

Reprinted from The Canadian Immigrant, April, 2010