- Category: news
- Created: Thursday, 05 September 2013 13:24
- Published: Thursday, 05 September 2013 13:24
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BY KENT SPENCER, THE PROVINCE
It’s easy to forget that a First Nations community once lived in Stanley Park before being turfed out by the city’s white European rulers some 80 years ago.
But Rennie Smith, 52, remembers them. They were her grandfathers and grandmothers, great-aunts and uncles. Her father left when he was three years old.
“It was a tragedy. We are known as the forgotten families of Stanley Park,” she said.
The 400-hectare area, which officially became a park in 1888, is marking its 125th anniversary this year.
It has taken Smith years to discover her long-buried past, because natives like her dad wanted to forget it.
“My father, Herbert Smith, wanted to stamp out his past. If he had embraced First Nations heritage, he may not have succeeded (in mainstream society). That’s the brutal reality,” she said.
The Smiths were a large family from the Squamish Nation with a bit of Portuguese thrown in when a sailor jumped ship in the 1860s.
They lived in simple cabins along Brockton Point for decades, like their ancestors for hundreds of years before them.
“We made a very good choice of real estate,” Smith said.
She said she has always been told that life in the park was about community.
“On Sunday mornings there was a traditional brunch, where the whole community got together and lit up the barbecue the first thing. The men would smoke and drink homemade red wine,” she said.
The family got its surname from a Portuguese seaman named Pedro Verados, who changed his name to Peter Smith soon after arriving.
He married a Squamish woman; several generations of Smiths followed. Peter Smith was Smith’s great-great grandfather.
Today, Vancouver has been built over with pavement and concrete, but the park is one place where it is easy to imagine that native people once made their homes.
Smith said the men fished and women worked farmers’ fields.
She remembers one great aunt who began each day with a swim, always entering the water off a certain rock.
“She was known as a brilliant swimmer,” said Smith.
Her grandfather could row all the way to Bowen Island and back in a single day, a distance of almost 40 kilometres.
The natives’ days were numbered when white Europeans started playing polo on newly built fields nearby.
“We were looked down upon and called dirty half-breeds who should get out of the park,” said Smith.
“Everybody was pretty darn upset when the evictions took place in the 1930s. They were losing homes and they had every right to them,” she said.
“When I get to the park I still feel it. What hurts the most is that history is still not remembering. I want to bring light to this story,” she said.
Pictures in Jean Barman’s book Stanley Park’s Secret (Harbour Publishing, 2005) show Smith’s aunt Martha at her Brockton Point house during the natives’ court challenge in 1923.
The long-running battle ended in the Supreme Court of Canada; the last holdouts left the park in 1958.
The natives’ burial ground was located near the site of the Nine O’Clock Gun; Smith knows family members who were buried there.
“I’m very sad when I come here, but, as Chief Dan George once said, I see a bright future for our people,” she said.
“I know it looks awful now with all the stories of pain and suffering from the residential schools, but I feel like I am the termination point for the abuses of the past. It stops with me,” she said.