A $6-million vision, unveiled today, paints Newcastle Island as a place where people will learn to carve and weave, peruse artisans’ wares and sample indigenous-inspired food.
Petroglyph Development Group, the economic development arm of Snuneymuxw First Nation, revealed a proposed plan for Saysutshun Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park during an invite-only event, Friday.
The vision, shared by the City of Nanaimo and B.C. Parks, shows new amenities for the 363-hectare island, such as a welcome and adventure centre, a new restaurant with waterfront vistas and indigenous-inspired fare, a longhouse, artisans village and more campsites.
According to the economic development group and Snuneymuxw, the idea is to connect residents, Snuneymuxw and tourists to the island, a 10-minute ferry ride away from Maffeo Sutton Park, as well as share traditions and ways of life of the Snuneymuxw people and the history of the island.
Saysutshun was a place where Snuneymuxw people collected medicinal herbs, retreated to recover from life trauma and where competitive canoe pullers ran trails to build strength and endurance. It later hosted a resort, Japanese herring saltery, shipyard and sandstone quarry.
“We hold this island to a very high significance in our cultural ways and we want to share that with the rest of the world,” said Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse, who said the goal is to share who the Snuneymuxw are and where they come from and to get the greater community of Nanaimo interested and back to the island where they can create memories.
“I spent a bit of time over here when I was a kid too … we used to come over here and have picnics, just family time. You remember those times, those are special. That’s our main objective is to really bring our island back to life.”
Among the amenities showcased Friday, was a 20,000-square-foot longhouse that’s considered one of the first projects the Snuneymuxw would look to build. It’s proposed to showcase indigenous traditions and offer workshops to people, such as in carving and weaving.
There’s also a 2,000-square foot restaurant, a covered amphitheatre and a welcome and adventure centre that would host administrative offices, washrooms and reception with tickets for things like watersports and island tours. The plan also speaks to 18 more campsites, which would add to the 23 already in the marine park, and an artisan village behind the pavilion where Snuneymuxw artists could sell wares to residents and visitors.
Also mentioned was a fixed crossing, but Erralyn Thomas, development group president, said all options are still being looked at and the public and decision makers will be engaged on what they want to see.
Sheila Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, was encouraged by the vision.
“This feels like a place that we could really encourage a lot of visitors to come, learn about the really precious ecology, the sensitive shorelines and unspoiled part of the coast and learn, most importantly about the culture of the people that protected it and in whose territory it is,” Malcolmson said. “I can picture tourists from all over the world coming here, learning about Snuneymuxw culture, learning about reconciliation in a hands on way, getting a great salmon dinner at the same time, but also some real cultural immersion opportunities for settlers and indigenous peoples both.
“I’d love to take back to Ottawa what Snuneymuxw’s asks are so that we can make sure their vision is fully funded.”
The economic development group is now looking for partnerships and investments to bring the vision to life.
– With files from Chris Bush