Chief Janice George & Buddy Joseph
Artist Statement: “It was the year 1886. People in the village of Eslha7an were living directly across the inlet from what was then downtown Vancouver. When my ancestors saw the flames, they got into their canoes and paddled over to help. The people in the city were all standing in the water in the inlet seeking shelter from the heat. My great grandmother witnessed the fire and passed down to me the story of a woman singing the Paddle Song while she was rescuing people on the beaches in her canoe. The Paddle Song is used today for different occasions. It is about people being on their journeys and is sometimes used today for funerals. The fire burned for 45 minutes and only left 8 buildings standing. My Squamish ancestors, longshoreman, loggers and carpenters helped rebuild the city after the fire.
We included the two-headed serpent, Sínulhḵay,̓ on the north wall. We designed the serpent’s scales with a weaving pattern that reflects the flames of the fire. Long before the fire, the two headed serpent lived in our territory. My ancestor trained for four years and tracked it down. In a vision, the man was shown how to go about slaying it. He was to utilize two spears to pierce his head. Then he was to take a fragment of the skull and also take his name.”
Artist Statement: “The south wall directly faces the city, so I designed it to be a mirror, to reflect the aftermath of the fire. It shows the city’s remains, and the smoldering fires. You can see the blackened silhouettes of some of the remaining buildings in the bottom half of the design. The glowing embers and flames flow upward and are represented by Coast Salish design elements. You will notice that unlike the other three walls, there are no weaving designs on the south wall. While this mural project is part of the Blanketing The City series, this wall could not have beautiful patterns, as it shows the destruction of the town and what was left. When thinking about this mural, it is important to appreciate the irony of Indigenous people paddling across the inlet to risk their lives to rescue the people from a town that was systematically evicting Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people from their lands. This says a lot about who we are.”
THE WEALTH OF THE LAND
Artist Statement: “My design shows the resurgence after the fire. The weaving design elements feature the wealth of the lands and waters, glowing sky above and our mother, the inlet and its rejuvenating power rippling outward. The water of the inlet remains after the fire—it will always be here. Water prevails, nature prevails, it is our wealth. The water and its deep knowledge continue to nourish all living things. The wealth of these traditional lands and waters are restored. I have integrated the window in the wall into the design as a “portal”, the way our loom is a portal into the past and the future. Facing east, where the sun rises, the design also represents the new day, renewal. The copper color in the sky of the design represents the glow of the great fire.
It also demonstrates the wealth of the land that will continue to sustain all life, if we live in harmony with it. The ripples in the design remind us of our connection and responsibilities to create good ripples in this world. The fire in the design is a metaphor for the gross destruction caused by colonization and the Indian Residential and Day Schools and the devastating genocide of our people and ways of being. The land and the water prevail and ensure healing and restoration of wealth. Reconnecting to our lands and waters and all their ancient wisdom is restoring our health and wealth. We are meant to live in harmony with and reflect the laws of the lands and waters— in doing so, we are honoring our reciprocal relationship with the natural world and our ancestors.”
BLANKETING THE CITY is a public art series and Reconciliation process designed by acclaimed xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) weaver and designer, Debra Sparrow in collaboration with VMF. Begun in 2O18, the series boldly affirms the resurgence and importance of Coast Salish weaving on these lands, and directly combats the ongoing systemic suppression of Indigenous visual culture.
In 2O21, Debra Sparrow invited master weavers Chief Janice George (Sḵwxwú7mesh) and Angela George (səlilwətaɬ) to collaborate on the historic design of six landmark murals believed to be the first semi-permanent public art collaboration between weavers from the three local nations. This mural represents the fifth installation in the series depicting the story of the Great Vancouver Fire, and the role that Indigenous first responders played in bringing people to safety across the Burrard Inlet.