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Salish Stroll connects visitors with the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations' cultural worlds

Collaboration on old-growth trail between Fairmont and SLCC emphasizes community partnerships
Walk on the wilderness side Brady Smith, the SLCC's executive director (right), Norman Mastalir, managing director of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler (left) with Joshua Joseph (third from the left) and members of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations. They led the opening of the Salish Stroll trail. Photo by Cathryn Atkinson

The cultural world of the two indigenous First Nations in the Sea to Sky region begins and ends with their connection to the wilderness.

The Squamish and Lil'wat communities, based to the south and north of Whistler respectively, meet at the resort's Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC), with their art, artifacts and food presented to visitors from around the world and shown by members who act as ambassadors.

Now the wilderness and the centre are better connected than ever with the opening of the Salish Stroll, a short interpretive trail that passes through a stand of old-growth forest in the Upper Village.

The trail is short, about half a kilometre, and is graded and accessible for people of all abilities. It is a year-round trail and will be kept clear in the winter.

The Salish Stroll was officially opened on Monday, June 29, providing a look at both the flora and fauna and the cultural uses made of the forest through signage and displays. This includes information about animals, plants and trees, and how they connected to both communities.

It was completed with a $10,000 grant from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's company program, Community Assistance and Responsibility to the Environment (CARE). The trail provides easy access to the SLCC and guests from the hotel, and is free and open to all.

Norman Mastalir, managing director of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, said the hotel and the SLCC had worked together.

"We think the partnership between the centre and the hotel is so important," Mastalir explained.

"We welcome more than 100,000 guests a year to Whistler and we think every one of them should see this place and understand the cultural significance of the centre. This little path is an opportunity to make it a more enjoyable experience."

Joshua Joseph of the Squamish Nation is current president of the SLCC board.

Asked about the significance of the stroll project, Joseph said it was about building partnerships.

"We have a lot to offer with the SLCC. It is always our goal to share our culture; we just want to participate in this economy and educate people about who we are," he said.

"Historically, our two nations were connected through trails through the rivers and the mountains. It's quite amazing how we're still doing this today with other organizations."

Brady Smith, the SLCC's executive director, said the project had been planned for a year. The trail was completed in April.

"It gives people more of a green experience before they get to the cultural centre," he said.

"We want guests to understand that the flora and fauna are the beginnings of both the cultures of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations. Both nations still live off the land and still thrive by using the flora and fauna."