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Squamish, Lil’wat break ground on cultural centre

With the completion of the traditional ground blessing ceremony construction is underway on the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

Located on a five-acre site of Crown land at the intersections of Lorimer Road and Blackcomb Way the centre will introduce visitors to the culture and history of the corridor’s aboriginal peoples.

"The cultural centre will offer a profile of the First Nations to the world," said Lyle Leo, business development director for the Mount Currie Band Council. "It will provide a presence where non-aboriginal people will be able to access information on First Nations in B.C. and the local First Nations who have been here historically for thousands of years.

"It is adding to the richness of our diverse culture. It is adding to the richness of our diverse economy."

Aboriginal Tourism is a $100 million business in B.C. and it’s growing. Centres like the one being built in Whistler are an integral part of the growing success of this tourism segment.

"I think the Centre is incredibly important," said Brenda Baptiste, chair of Aboriginal Tourism B.C. "For one thing tourism is the fastest growing industry in B.C. and certainly aboriginal tourism is becoming more and more important to the tourism sector as a whole."

Baptiste believes having more cultural centres and other facilities which share the richness of aboriginal culture with visitors provides context to all the cultural products on offer in B.C. They act as a drawing card for tourists.

"We are very pleased and we are very proud, and Aboriginal Tourism B.C. celebrates the success (of the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations) and is incredibly supportive and proud of them," said Baptiste.

It’s expected that the $20 million Whistler cultural centre will open in about 18 months and will be modelled after the traditional architecture of Whistler’s neighbouring First Nations.

In 2003 the federal and provincial governments announced a contribution of almost $8 million to the centre; $3 million from the provincial government and $4.7 million from the federal government. Subsequent funding arrangements have been identified which involve public and private partnerships.

Last year Bell Canada, a sponsor of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games which will be held in Whistler and Vancouver, announced they would invest $3 million to support the centre’s development. Additional funding is still being sought.

The main building will be about 25,000 square feet and eco-tour buildings will total another 6,000 square feet. Along with exhibit space for canoes, baskets and carvings, there will be a mini totem pole park and a botanical garden.

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

The land is leased from Land and Water BC with an option to buy at fair market value. The rent is $24,864 a year. The project will provide about 35 construction jobs and an estimated 15 year-round jobs. Up to 31 people could be employed during peak season.

Leo said staff at the University of British Columbia Museum have also been engaged to help with the construction of the building so that proper antiquities storage and display is ensured.