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First Nations artists join forces to bring thought-provoking mural to The Shipyards

The mural is the fifth to come from Blanketing the City, an art series and reconciliation process designed to restore Coast Salish visual culture throughout Greater Vancouver

Down on Burrard Pier sits a large patterned edifice, a vibrant flash of colour against the cafes and restaurants that have begun to call the area home. Towering over the water, the artwork garners attention from nearby coffee drinkers and dog walkers, but there is more to the piece than simply an aesthetic upgrade. 

“It’s a special mural,” says Tseil-Waututh artist and weaver Angela George, on the fifth piece to come from public art series and reconciliation process Blanketing the City. “It’s representative of us, our people, and it’s the first public art collaboration to be made from weavers from the three local nations.”

In 2021, acclaimed Musqueam weaver and designer Debra Sparrow invited Angela George and Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) weaver Chief Janice George to design six murals that would be scattered throughout Greater Vancouver. The latest in the lineup, curated with help from additional weaver Buddy Joseph, is the first in the series to be erected on Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh lands. 

Inspired by the Great Vancouver Fire, the artwork tells the previously untold story of the role the Indigenous first responders played in the rescue, bringing people to safety across Burrard Inlet. 

Each given a wall of the dry dock storage building to tell their part of the story, Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph depicted the Rescue element, while Sparrow retold the Aftermath, and Angela George illustrated the Wealth of the Land: the rescue.

“My part represents the nurturing and the rejuvenation that happened after the fire,” George explains. 

“It focuses on the water, and how water nurtures everything. The water and the life of the inlet will always prevail, it will always continue to live.” 

For George, one of the biggest highlights of the project has been collaborating with fellow First Nations artists. “There is just that empowerment when we come together. We share, we learn from each other, we grow. It's just a far more rich, wholesome process when you're collaborating,” she said. 

Blanketing the City, made in collaboration with production agency Van Mural Festival, is one of a slew of art projects supporting the resurgence of Coast Salish weaving and art throughout the Greater Vancouver region. 

"Artwork like this is needed in urban areas like this, because visual reminders of these First Nations have been practically erased," said Van Mural Festival founder Adrian Sinclair.

Sinclair said the "most special" part of the project is how it elevates the weaving shared by three local First Nations. 

"It unites all three, and by letting it be artist-led it ensures the communities themselves are being properly represented."

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.