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First Nations plan to break ground on cultural centre in September

Excavation permit may be on Sept. 7 council agenda

Excavation of the five-acre site for the First Nations Cultural Centre in Whistler is expected to get underway by the end of September.

Architect Alfred Waugh, from Waugh Busby Architects, said they are working to submit a package to the municipality for the excavation permit at the Sept. 7 council meeting, which could allow them to break ground by the end of that month.

"All we want to do this year is basically get all the site development work done and start fresh next spring with full-on construction," said Waugh.

The Squamish/Lil’wat Cultural Centre will stand in the forested land on the southwest corner of Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road, opposite the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

After the excavation, a clearing will be visible from Lorimer Road at the site of the centre’s main building.

Waugh explained that they are trying to save as many trees as possible on the land.

"We’re really working to minimize the amount of site clearing and things like that for the building itself," said Waugh.

"So what we’re going to try to do is cut a swathe into the forest just where the building is, so it’s a bit of co-ordination with the contractors and things like that to make sure we do minimum damage."

If all goes according to plan the $18.5 million project will be open by spring 2006.

The federal and provincial governments, as well as the Resort Municipality of Whistler, have all contributed to the project.

The centre will include the historical architecture of both the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. A version of a Squamish Long House will be the main building on the site. The traditional Lil’wat Eshkin or pit-house will also be on display.

There will also be carved poles, a smoke house for salmon, fish drying racks and berry drying racks where visitors can learn about the local First Nations cultures.

The site will also have a First Nations botanical garden.

Scientist Fidel Fogarty, who is involved in the botanical garden, said they are currently in the process of fundraising for the garden project.

The garden is estimated to cost $1.6 million for four years of training, materials, equipment, set up costs and operation.

It will include native food and medicinal plants. Fogarty said the garden will have 50 species in the next couple of years, which will probably double by the time the project is fully online.

He explained that people from both Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation will be doing most of the work on the garden and will use their traditional knowledge to guide them on the types of plants and herbs which should be used.

"We have to respect their knowledge and only include plants that are agreeable to the nations," said Fogarty.

He sees the botanical garden as a huge draw for tourists.

"The clientele that come to Whistler are often times very interested in the use of these things, medicinal plants for health purposes," said Fogarty.

The centre is expected to bring in $1.7 million in revenue during its first year in operation through admissions, cafeteria, eco-walks, theatre shows, gift shop sales and themed conferences, among other things.