By :Georgette Diamandis

Planning on going to the 2010 Olympics? You will find beautiful and progressive Vancouver steeped in tradition and maybe the most multicultural city in the world. While you’re there, don’t forget it’s also the home of northwest Aboriginal art, which you will have no trouble finding after reading this article.

Even though I arrived at JFK only 40 minutes prior to my international flight due to traffic and a terrible rainstorm, the pleasant Air Canada employee checked me and my bag through. The flight was on an Airbus 319 and luckily, I had an empty seat next to me. I was surprised that it took just over five hours to get there and that the return flight was even shorter because of the tailwinds. I arrived at the stunning Vancouver airport (YVR) and took the airport shuttle bus downtown for $13.50. Give yourself an hour because the bus stops at several hotels, or if you’re in a hurry, take a cab for around $35. The bus left me close to my hotel, and since I travel light, it was no problem to walk the block to my hotel.

Warning: Do not read this unless you like five-star accommodations! The location of the Four Seasons is only four blocks from the waterfront and right in the middle of the shopping district, making it ideal. My sweet suite was overlooking Vancouver Harbor and had a comfy king-sized bed, marble bathroom on one side, a living room with a desk and an extra bathroom on the other and was decorated in a classic decor style; the hotel is only 30 years old but they are just beginning to renovate the rooms to the tune of $25 million. The old-style salon reminded me of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City and rates start as low as $239 per night.

The menu at the newly renovated, contemporary but rustic Yew restaurant is a blend of Pacific regional influences including Asian and west coast Canadian cuisine. Dramatic tall ceilings with natural wood and granite surfaces bring the elements of the Canadian Rockies to the big city of Vancouver. Along with a special raw bar, all 150 wines are available by the glass. New York educated executive chef Rafael Gonzalez trained under both David Bouley of Bouley Bakery and Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin, so you know the food is spectacular. Their breakfast features an excellent buffet laid out on a rough hewn wood table with a dazzling array of fruits, pastries, yogurt and smoked fish and meats.

In the fitness area, there is a large pool, which is half outside/half inside. The locker rooms have saunas, open very early and serve complimentary coffee. Four Seasons Vancouver, 791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6C 2T4, Tel: (604) 689-9333.

The resurgence of indigenous art and culture is coinciding with the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The Native people of the region are proud to show off their heritage through the arts. The “Coast Salish” is the name that encompasses all of the nations of indigenous tribal people that live in the Northwest US and Southwest Canada. Fifty-two tribes in all! The largest are the Haida, the Squamish, the Lil’wat and Tsleil-Waututh (pronounced slay-wa-tooth). Only one block away from the Four Seasons Hotel is the mind-expanding Bill Reid Gallery. Several months old, this New York-quality art museum and gallery explores the art and carving of Haida tribe member Bill Reid. His jewelry collection of frogs, bears, whales and other Northwest Aboriginal symbols in gold and abalone is really inspirational. He worked in many mediums: jewelry, painting and carving large and small sculptures in both wood and stone. Bill inspired and trained young artists and is one of the key people responsible for the revival in Haida culture and art. He influenced other tribal artists as well, as witnessed by a large totem pole that graced the main room, carved by Squamish Chief, Jim Hart. Jim’s nephew Ernest entertained us in Native regalia by chanting an ancient song, which uses energy to “sweep” the room of negativity while he drummed. I literally felt my jet lag leaving me as he sang. A dinner prepared by an indigenous caterer using wild game – moose in a shepherd’s pie and a soapberry trifle for dessert – was served at the gallery that night. The soapberry was whipped to the consistency of whipped cream, then sugar was added to minimize the tartness. The new hundred-mile cooking fad was always “in” with Native North Americans!

I visited several galleries close to Vancouver, which are treasure chests for finding authentic collectible Native art. Khot-La-Cha in North Vancouver is run by Nancy Nightingale, daughter of Chief Simon Baker. The gallery is on the Capilano Indian Reserve and features items created by some of British Columbia’s finest Aboriginal artists and craftspeople of mostly Squamish origin but other tribes from all across Canada are represented here. You will find exquisite gold and silver crafted jewelry, painted and carved wood masks by renowned artists Charles Harper, Mathew Baker and D’Arcy Joseph, as well as inexpensive gifts from Native companies. Next, I visited the weaving studio of matrilineal Chief Janice George and partner Buddy Joseph who brought the thousand-year tradition of weaving back to the Squamish after it was almost extinct in their nation. Their studio is around the corner from Khot-La-Cha. Buddy told me that weaving is like a portal to their history reconnecting him to his ancestry. Their beautiful weavings can be seen in the Squamish Cultural Center at Whistler.

Close by is Granville Island, a place to spend the day visiting shops and art galleries and the Emily Carr Art Institute to take in a student’s show. There you will find the Wickaninnish Gallery, a First Nation’s gift boutique that offers affordable high-quality collectible jewelry, art, pottery and carvings as well. Silver jewelry in Aboriginal animal motifs from the oral traditions is interpreted by each artist following traditional guidelines. Have lunch outside at Bridges Restaurant and watch the aqua taxis go back and forth to Vancouver.

Close to the city in North Vancouver is Cates Park, where we were treated to a paddling adventure on a traditional canoe as lovely First Nation’s guide Marissa Nahanee told stories, sang traditional songs and pointed out ancient village sites.

Next, we traveled east into the Fraser Valley for an hour to see two important places for the Aboriginals of the area. First, we visited Xa:ytem Longhouse and Interpretive Centre, where thousands of ancient artifacts were recently found. Our host and founder Linnea Battel explained how an archaeologist had driven by the site, which was about to be bulldozed for a housing project. The large rock caught his attention as it looked like a “transformer” stone, a culturally significant item for the native people. Legend has it that people who did not share were turned to stone to teach others. The builder said it was going to be blown up the next day, but it rained long enough for the huge boulder to get a reprieve. They started digging and found hundreds of thousands of ancient artifacts including the foundation of the oldest house in BC, and that is how Xa:ytem was founded. Now it is a museum and cultural center with two “pit” houses, homes that are an exact replica of where the Native people lived in the winter. Truly resourceful, they are built on the side of a hill and entered through one door. I was shocked at how comfortable and spacious the round abode was, and also how inconspicuous. We were told that large extended families would live in a place like this and in the summer they went to live by the sea to live in “long houses”. They have a saying: “When the tide is out, the table is set”, for the Native people subsisted on all the Pacific Ocean’s offerings. Unfortunately, now even the once abundant salmon is in peril. We were taught to braid cedar bark to make strands for coil pots; when bound together, water is added and it expands to provide a cooking device. Hot stones from the fire are added for slow cooking, another incredibly inventive idea. The cedar tree was important to the local ancestors who even made clothing out of it.

Our second stop in Fraser Valley was the Sto:lo Artisan Center in Chilliwack, a hub for local artisans to display their wares. It was a delight to visit with so many of them. Carvers, painters, storytellers, knitters and weavers explained their craft while dancers performed, carrying on their heritage. I met an old woman who even spins the wool for her knitted creations. A storyteller named Maxine Prevost told the tale of a little girl who was annoying people and was asked, “Do you want to be like a mosquito who bites or a hummingbird that brings joy to people’s lives?” The renaissance in the arts are a catalyst for transforming the victim role felt by many of the Canadian Aboriginals who were forced into state boarding schools and taken away from their families to unlearn their traditions. Now they are taking them back, willing to forgive and move forward, and ready to display their heritage for the world to see, which is presumably coming in the form of the 2010 winter Olympics!

After driving farther east to Harrison Lake, we stayed at Harrison Hot Springs. The hotel is a throw back to when the springs were popular for curing ailments. The room had an awesome view and was decorated Las Vegas 80s-style. A highlight was the sand castle competition just down the road. Unusual, elaborate and massive sculptures created out of sand and glue made this an interesting stop. There is also a spa and soothing hot outdoor pools in the Japanese-style garden.

The next morning we drove another hour back east towards Vancouver and then north to Whistler, the future home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We did a tour of the bobsled site, the ski jump, and the downhill. Lunch was right on the mountain at Garibaldi Lift Company where we enjoyed the mild weather as we dined outdoors on Ahi tuna. We listened to loud rock music as young mountain bikers cruised down in front of us.

We stayed at the luxuriously rustic Four Seasons Hotel. Like the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Vancouver, only now it is a full-scale hotel! There is an outdoor pool and the spa has a special Sea-to-Sky signature massage. This treatment uses products that are indigenous to the Canadian west coast, Hawaiian lomi lomi-style strokes to bring optimal balance and wellbeing to your body and special Native-inspired salt rubs. The locker room is also a nice place to chill out!

That night, dinner was downstairs of the hotel at 5280, named for the highest elevation at Whistler. Chef Scott Thomas Dolbee hales from Hollywood and is into simple, organic and local cooking, using no more than three ingredients per dish. He researched two nations, the Lil’wat and the Squamish, and incorporates their traditional cooking techniques into his own. Offerings include buffalo carpaccio and roasted tomato and fennel soup along with traditional Canadian comfort foods.

For a keen insight into the culture and traditions of two of the chief tribes of British Columbia, the Lil’wat and the Squamish, you must visit the new and awe-inspiring Squamish Cultural Center — the pride of First Nations People. The $18 admission fee includes a First Nations guide. Squamish are the coastal people and represented by blue informational panels, while the Lil’wat, are the inland tribe and shown with green panels. Singing and dancing outside of the center happens every morning, weather permitting, combining songs and dances from both tribes.

We left majestic Whistler and headed on the hour and a half journey back west to Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky highway, soon to be adorned with signs of indigenous language and symbols, to attend a press conference on the First Nations involvement with the 2010 winter Olympics The pride and cooperation of Four Nations (Lil’wat, Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh) acting as full partners in an Olympics is a historic first and obviously a very positive influence for and by the Native people. We learned of the First Nations snowboarding team and the 2010 First Nations designed snowboard.

The opening ceremonies shall be a spectacular event with many indigenous nations participating and giving the aboriginal youth pride and hope.

My last night was spent at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, a grand old hotel from the days of the railroad. My room was charming and my favorite thing was the two yellow Labradors that live in the lobby that are available to escort you on walks! I walked the large male around downtown Vancouver and enjoyed a latte at an outdoor café called Caffe Artigiano. I brought the pup back and went to the Vancouver Art Museum, right across the street from my hotel. I saw some of the original paintings of Emily Carr, for whom the Art Institute on Granville Island is named, and other painters of that genre. For dinner that night, I met Laura Serena of Immedia PR and travel writer Kasey Wilson who just wrote a book on Vancouver (Best Places Vancouver/Sasquatch on at the Moroccan Silk Road-style restaurant Sanafir where we sampled tapas-style entrees like grilled baby calamari stuffed with Israeli couscous, Vindaloo prawns and crispy vegetable pakoras.

As I walked back to my hotel, I felt a little sad that my Northwest trip was coming to an end, but like all of my travel experiences, I have been permanently “tattooed” in some way. However, this time perhaps with an ancient tribal motif (maybe a whale?) on my heart.

Hi, I am Georgette, a writer and artist (here’s my website) based in Connecticut. I am also Johnny Jet’s older sister, who quite possibly ignited his first spark of interest in traveling to exotic places, when at the impressionable age of 14, he saw my trip to Australia last three years! Whether skiing in the mountains, snorkeling in the tropics, or exploring faraway cities, I am always game for traveling and the privilege of writing for my baby brother’s website Of course, coming home to my husband Cam, our dog Baci, and three cats – Ace, Arrow and Wizard – is great, too! 


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