Parallels 01: A Strong Sense Of Place

The Polygon is pleased to launch a new series of chapbooks, Parallels. Parallels engages our specific context, both as a place and the programs we generate. The series will present diverse perspectives on cultural histories and the visual arts, spanning from The Polygon’s locale to contemporary art and photography.

Parallels 01: A Strong Sense of Place features a text by Sharon Fortney about the public presence of Indigenous art in North Vancouver, accompanied by an ethnobotany of plants found on the North Shore by T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss. The book is free to read digitally, with printed copies forthcoming.

Sharon Fortney is a curator, researcher, and writer with a PhD in anthropology from the University of British Columbia. She is Curator of Indigenous Collections and Engagement at the Museum of Vancouver since 2017 and previously was a researcher, curator and educator at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives and Burnaby Village Museum.

In A Strong Sense of Place, Fortney discusses a petroglyph depicting a mountain goat, last seen decades ago near the low watermark by Lonsdale Quay, where the Carrie Cates tug shed stood. Click below to hear archaeologist Dr. Rudy Reimer Yumks, associate professor and director of the Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University, speak more about the petroglyph’s context and history.

The petroglyph is thousands of years old, as is the nearby Squamish village of Eslha7an. In her short story “Goodbye Snauq”, Stó:lō writer and educator Lee Maracle, granddaughter of Tsleil-Waututh Chief Dan George, reflects on the Indigenous village of Snauq that stood near present-day False Creek. Prior to colonisation, Snauq abounded with edible plants and wildlife, serving as a garden harvested by the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh. Maracle recounts the village’s destruction – its burning by white settlers, the violent evictions and disentitlement of Indigenous people, and the poisoning of the land and water by industry – and Indigenous people’s exclusion from the society built on their stolen territories.

The erasure of Snauq and an ancient petroglyph are but two of innumerable instances of the suppression and disregard for Indigenous people, which persist across Canada today. The invisibility of Indigenous histories distorts understandings of the place where we live. For instance, reflecting on the parallels between the impact of today’s COVID pandemic and an earlier time, Vancouver artist Dana Claxton shared an article about the disastrous impact on the West Coast of the smallpox epidemic introduced and spread by settlers in the 1860s, which killed thousands of Indigenous people on Vancouver Island. Meaghie Champion discusses the devastating effects on a place in her piece for The Capital, written in the midst of COVID.

A Strong Sense of Place looks critically at The Polygon’s geopolitical context, in which Fortney considers the challenges of preserving and presenting cultural memory. Future issues of Parallels will share further knowledge, untold stories, and new insights on where we are located, as well as expand upon our exhibition programs through a variety of contributors.