Two high-profile Vancouver public plazas given Indigenous names (… BUT what about the pronounciation?)

AT a special ceremony on Monday it was announced that new, Indigenous names have been given to the Vancouver Art Gallery north plaza and to the space formerly known as the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza.

At the direction of Vancouver City Council, and as part of its ongoing commitments as a City of Reconciliation, the City worked with representatives of Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh to find appropriate names for the two plazas.

Leading the naming ceremony was Ray Harris, a member of the Stz’uminus First Nation and former elected chief, who has been instrumental in organizing Coast Salish Gatherings and the formation of the Coast Salish Council, which focuses on environmental and resource health in the region.

The witnesses for the ceremony included Howard Grant, representing Musqueam, Khelsilem from Squamish, Gabriel George from Tsleil-Waututh, and Chief Robert Joseph representing Reconciliation Canada.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was joined at the event by Jinny Sims, the provincial Minister of Citizens’ Services, City Manager Sadhu Johnston, Sandra Singh, the City’s General Manager of Arts, Culture and Community Services, Wendy Soobis, representing the Vancouver Civic Theatres Board and Kathleen Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“Our government, like the City, is deeply committed to meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia,” said Sims. “Renaming these plazas will help ensure these three local Nations have a prominent presence in the downtown area, which is in the heart of their traditional territory.”

“Vancouver is committed to a new partnership with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh that’s based on mutual understanding and respect, and on caring for these lands and waters” said Robertson. “The living legacy of Coast Salish Peoples is always with us and today is an opportunity to acknowledge this legacy by naming two of Vancouver’s landmark public spaces.”

The new name for the plaza adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn, which refers to a place one is invited to, and a place one is invited to celebrate, and is connected to the past use of the plaza as a gathering place for the Walk for Reconciliation.

The new name for the plaza on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery is šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square, which refers to a place where a cultural gathering occurs such as a wedding, funeral, naming, honouring, or coming of age ceremony.

City staff are currently collaborating with Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh on signage design for each of the plazas, with the signage expected to be installed sometime in the fall.

A joint naming committee consisting of representatives of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh and the City of Vancouver collaborated to recommend the two plaza names, each using both hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the language of Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh, and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, the language of the Squamish Nation.

The Queen Elizabeth Theatre falls under the jurisdiction of Vancouver Civic Theatres and the City of Vancouver. The plaza adjacent to the art gallery is leased to the City by the Province, which also leases the building to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Visit the City’s web site for audio and video pronunciation guides for the new plaza names.