An exterior view of the proposed 18,000-square-foot Lhtako Dené Indigenous Cultural Centre at the current Ceal Tingley Park in Quesnel. Photo courtesy of Formline Architecture

City of Quesnel will give Ceal Tingley Park back to Lhtako Dené Nation

Land will be gifted once funding is in place for the Lhtako Dené Indigenous Cultural Centre project

The Lhtako Dené Nation is taking big steps towards building an Indigenous Cultural Centre on Quesnel’s riverfront, and if all goes well, the nation will own the centre and the land on which it sits.

Quesnel City Council agreed this week to return the land at Ceal Tingley Park to Lhtako Dené Nation for the proposed Lhtako Dené Indigenous Cultural Centre project.

This site, at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel rivers, is significant to the Lhtako Dené as the site of a major settlement, according to a joint press release from the City and the Lhtako Dené Nation, which notes this site is also historically significant as the site of first contact with European explorers when Alexander Mackenzie first travelled through the area, and later, with Simon Fraser as he journeyed down the Fraser River.

The Lhtako Dené Nation has submitted an application for an Invest in Canada Infrastructure grant in the Rural and Northern Communities stream. This grant provides up to 100 per cent funding for Indigenous, off-reserve projects like the Cultural Centre.

The transfer of land ownership will occur once the funding is in place for the project.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working with Lhtako since 2015,” Mayor Bob Simpson explained during a council meeting Feb. 19 at which council received an update on the Indigenous Cultural Centre project. “We’ve been working through building a relationship, that led to a protocol agreement and the beginning of partnerships together. We were talking throughout that process … about taking the portion where the Lhtako’s portion of the village was, which we refer to as Ceal Tingley Park, and doing something there to recognize the Lhtako history. That conversation was accelerated when a federal and provincial infrastructure grant became available that actually fit.”

Architect Alfred Waugh, owner of Formline Architecture, shared the vision for the Lhtako Dené Indigenous Cultural Centre with council and the public during the Feb. 19 meeting.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity, another great story of a community working together with a First Nation group and creating something that is going to enhance the area here,” he told council.

The site itself is above the 200-year flood plain, and the site area is roughly 31,000 square feet, explained Waugh.

Plans for the proposed 18,000-square-foot Lhtako Dené Indigenous Cultural Centre include an archival space to house repatriated local indigenous artifacts, a 250-seat community assembly space, art gallery, gift shop and café.

The two primary components — the community assembly space and an exhibition space — feature a pit house structure to honour the Lhtako Dené’s history.

“We looked at the history of the area, the Lhtako Dené people around 2,500 years ago started using pit house structures as more of a permanent encampment, and you can see signs of these encampments all the way along the Fraser River down to the Thompson all the way to the Kamloops area,” said Waugh. “Also, the Lhtako Dené were the people of the river. They had a close connection to the salmon, canoe and living around the river.”

Waugh says when they started looking at ideas for the centre, they wanted to include a space for performance, and because Quesnel is in need of a 250-seat theatre, they looked at the possibility of integrating that idea within the facility. As well, they needed a museum-quality space to exhibit repatriated items and objects.

“The pit house structure became our genesis of an idea of creating a village on the complements of the Fraser River, up on a bank,” said Waugh. “We started looking at this idea of generating these two major elements and then having secondary elements around them. One of the important things we wanted to look at is we didn’t want to just replace the park area with just a building; we wanted this building to be in a sense taking the park and lifting it up, with a building underneath it.”

In the proposal, a café would spill out onto the Riverwalk, and there would be a central plaza with electrical outlets, so that events such as a market, could take place as well. Their plans include developing a walkway with a five-per-cent slope down to the river, where there would be a viewing platform so people can sit and look at the river.

“It creates these different levels of experience of the park,” said Waugh. “The idea is you have these two main pit houses, the plaza at the lower level, and then you have this garden on the top of the roof, and there’s a ramp that goes up, so you can go up and over this building. So this building is, in a sense, the park lifted up. And one of the ideas is to have a garden of planting up top there that you could sit in amongst, and they could be traditional herbs and botany that Lhtako Dené used to use.”

Waugh says the total cost for the project is around $16 million. After working with the City’s economic development officer, Amy Reid, the Lhtako Dené Nation has submitted a grant application that could potentially provide 100 per cent of the funding.

Following Waugh’s presentation, Lhtako Dené Nation Coun. Raymond Aldred expressed the nation’s support and enthusiasm for this project.

“The membership of Lhtako would like to let you know we are extremely excited about this project,” he told council. “We’re looking forward to working with the mayor and the council of Quesnel, as well as the community. It will be great to see not only the residents of Quesnel, but also the tourists learning the history and the past of Lhtako Dené Nation, so we are thankful for the recognition received from the City of Quesnel, and we’re pleased to see things moving forward from here.”

Waugh says it looks like the funding stream would probably come in the fall, so they would have the fall and early spring to complete the working drawings. Construction would start in the spring of 2020. He says a building like this would take 14-16 months to build, so it would probably be complete in the spring or summer of 2021.

City councillors were enthusiastic in their support of the project.

“It really is exciting,” said Coun. Scott Elliott. “The City of Quesnel has made some great grounds with Lhtako, and we’re just looking to move it forward. To look at this project, it’s absolutely amazing. Working with tourism closely, one of our No. 1 asks is for the tourists and locals alike to immerse themselves in the culture, and this is really going to fill the void. Speaking, I think, for all of us, to see the revisioning of the river and the Riverwalk, the whole area, and just the potential that we’ve got, it’s a clean slate. To start this program as the No. 1 thing going in is absolutely amazing, and potentially to be able to get some of those artifacts back from Victoria or wherever they may be now into Quesnel, for Lhtako nation, and I think for all of us, is extremely exciting.”

Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg says she keeps getting more and more excited about the potential of what this could mean for the community as a whole each time she sees the project. She says she shared a bit about the project with colleagues in Kelowna a couple weeks ago, and they told her it gave them a reason to come up and visit the north.

“There are so many people in our province who are so interested in where we’ve come from that this is just going to be one of those shining spots,” she said.

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