First Nations cultural centre centre a step closer 

Five acres near Upper Village being rezoned by municipality

Council took the first steps to rezoning a five-acre parcel of environmentally sensitive crown land Monday night, setting the stage for a First Nations Cultural Centre in Whistler.

The $13 million project, which should break ground next spring, is the embodiment of a 2001 agreement signed between Whistler’s two neighbouring First Nations.

That Nation-to-Nation protocol, the first of its kind in Canada, signalled the start of a relationship between Squamish and Lil’wat Nations designed to foster economic and cultural activities of common interest.

The new centre will highlight that new relationship.

"It’s basically a celebration of both nations getting together," said architect Alfred Waugh, founder of Waugh + Busby Architects, the company designing the centre.

As well, the centre represents the growing positive relationship among First Nations and the resort.

On Monday council gave first and second reading to the land use and zoning bylaws to allow the First Nations cultural centre on a sensitive village site.

The five-acre forested area, opposite the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on the corner of Blackcomb Way and the eastern end of Lorimer Road, was slated at one time for a townhouse development.

"Kudos to previous councils for not letting that happen," said Bob MacPherson, the RMOW interim general manager of planning and development in his presentation to council.

Instead, the conceptual plans call for about 45,000 square feet of building on the site. The first phase will be roughly 25,000 square feet with the remaining square footage to be built during phase two.

The main cultural centre building will have two distinct forms.

One section will look like a "Big House," the traditional living space of the Coast-Salish people. The other section will take the form of an "ishkin" or pit house, in recognition of the traditions of the Lil’wat people.

In addition there will be forest trails leading to two separate buildings within the forest. These will be anthropologically correct forms of the "Big House" and "ishkin" so visitors can get a true traditional experience in the forest.

"I think none of us want to lose the sense of that being in a forest," said Councillor Ken Melamed who was acting mayor at the meeting.

Inside the main centre there will be a high-tech theatre to hold about 80 people, which will show 20-minute presentations about the history of the neighbouring First Nations. The theatre might also present shows about other Aboriginal cultures around the world.

There will also be an upper hall with exhibit space, a gift shop and a cafe selling traditional foods.

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