Whistler's First Nation Heritage
Long before the first skiers came to Whistler, this area made up the land of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations. These two peoples have existed peacefully alongside each other for as long that can be remembered. The First Nations people are so in touch with the land that they use the rivers, mountains and lakes when giving directions.
Their rich history has been passed down the generations through storytelling. Nowadays there are a number of ways that First Nation cultures are remembered and celebrated here in Whistler.
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre
The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre is one of Whistler’s newest buildings and proudly tells the stories and traditions of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations.
Indigenous arts and crafts are celebrated at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. There’s always a number of interesting exhibitions on show showcasing First Nations traditional clothes, art and history.
Guided Forest Walk
The guided forest walk takes place in the forest beside the centre. Led by the cultural ambassador, you’ll learn about the local plants, receive a tour of the museum and even experience a traditional welcome song!
The Cultural Centre also runs craft classes. You’ll be able to learn how to make your own traditional First Nations crafts. In no time at all, you’ll be making your own dreamcatchers, rattles and drums!
The inuksuk is ever present in Whistler. You’ll see them throughout the village, mountains and in many shop windows.
The indigenous people of Canada used inuksuks as landmarks, noting areas of good hunting, camps, travel routes of stashes of food. An inuksuk is made from stacking rocks vertically so they contrast their surrounding environment. They typically don’t have one exact form, with many inuksuit (this is the plural of inuksuk) looking vastly different from others. However, the most iconic inuksuk in Whistler is "Ilanaaq". "Ilanaaq" was the mascot for the 2010 Olympics. It is distinguishable from the others as it has a distinct human-like form.
Where to find an Inuksuk in Whistler
The first real-life inuksuk that most people see is the large one on Village Gate Boulevard as you turn off Highway 99. This is a great place to take photos. The inuksuk is lit up with bright lights that change every few minutes. The inuksuk is particularly striking during winter when it is covered in snow.
You’ll also find another inuksuk on Whistler mountain. This may just be the most scenic inuksuk in the world. Sitting on the top of the world on the peak of Whistler mountain and looking out on the distant valley below, it’s hard to beat this viewpoint.
As you drive towards Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway you’ll notice signposts with some unfamiliar names on them. Signposts here are bilingual. Signs list places names with their English names as well as their names in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh snichim, which is the native language of the Squamish Nation.
You’ll see Whistler written as Skwiḵw and Squamish written as Sḵwx̱wú7mesh. Many people wonder why there is a “7” in the translation of Squamish. The “7” is not pronounced, rather it represents a rest similar to a “-”.
Also known as a glottal stop, the original symbol more closely represented a "?" without the dot. However, during translation to English, the "7" was the closest character available to use on typewriters.
Art is very important in First Nations culture. It is easily recognizable, unique and often features animals or landscapes. You can find First Nations art on the street in Whistler, as well as museums and galleries.
One of the most viewed pieces of public First Nations art is the “Welcome Figure”. “Welcome Figure” was made by Tawx’sin Yexwulla / Poolxtun (Aaron Nelson-Moody), assisted by Bansht (Delmar Williams) and Westa7 (Todd Edmonds) in 2012. This tall, wooden sculpture features symbolic references to copper, cedar and salmon. You can find this sculpture on the Village Stroll.
“The Truce Wall” (Corinne Hunt, Leo Obstbaum and James Lee, 2010) was created for the 2010 Olympic Games. “The Truce Wall” carries on a tradition first started by ancient Olympiads with the Truce Wall symbolizing peace. You can find the Whistler “Truce Wall” at the Athletes Village.
Audain Art Museum
The Audain Art Museum has a whole host of First Nations art. There’s an exhibition of Northwest Coast First Nations masks as well as work from the incredible Emily Carr. The museum can be found on Blackcomb Way in Whistler.