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An Insider's Guide to Indigenous Vancouver

Take a deep dive into the art, cuisine, and living culture of the First Nations.

Totem poles in Vancouver, Canada
Hi, I'm Margot!

Margot Bigg is a journalist who has lived in the UK, the US, France, and India. She’s the author of Moon Living Abroad in India and Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur and a co-author of Fodor's Essential India and Fodor's Pacific Northwest. Her stories have appeared in Rolling Stone India, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, and VICE.

With a Squamish mother and a Haida father, artist and Indigenous cultural ambassador guide Seraphine Lewis grew up immersed in the traditions of two distinct Indigenous Nations: the Squamish and the Haida peoples. “They’ve got their own culture, their own identity, their own language,” she explains. “They could not be more different.”

Lewis, whose ancestral name is Kwii Gee Iiwans, grew up in the Squamish Valley as a member of the Squamish Nation and would spend summers in Haida Gwaii with her father’s family. Today, she lives in Vancouver, where she leads educational tours such as Talking Trees: Stanley Park Indigenous Walking Tour Led by a First Nations Guide. This interpretive walking tour introduces visitors to the land and shares Indigenous history and knowledge that's been passed down through generations or—in some instances—rediscovered after many years of suppression of Indigenous people and traditions. On her tour, you’ll learn about everything from tree identification to how plants can be used for food, medicine, and shelter.

But although the Talking Trees tour offers a great introduction to First Nations traditions and to the land that Indigenous people have stewarded for generations, British Columbia’s biggest city offers even more. Here are Lewis’ tips for experiencing Indigenous culture and the great outdoors in Vancouver.

Seraphine Lewis poses with a tree in Vancouver, Canada
Seraphine Lewis is an Indigenous tour guide in Vancouver, Canada.Foto: Seraphine Lewis

Understanding Indigenous cultures in Vancouver

It’s not just about the past.

While you can learn a lot about Indigenous history through books and museums, it’s important to be mindful that First Nations people are very much a part of the fabric of modern life in Canada.

Lewis stresses the importance of “changing the framework” of how outsiders are presented with information about Indigenous people. “This is not a thing of the past,” she points out. “This is a living culture … It’s not like artifacts in a museum or relics of a past culture. We’re still here and we’re still occupying our territory,” she continues. “And it might be eye-opening to see what modern Indigenous people sound like, look like, talk like. It’s very different from the views of what a typical Indigenous person is in the media.”

Indigenous person protesting missing Indigenous women and girls in Vancouver, Canada
Indigenous people are a part of Canada's present.Foto: Liam Hill-Allan / Shutterstock

Where to try Indigenous cuisine in Vancouver

Fuel up on delicious fried bread and more.

Lewis recommends two great spots to try Indigenous food in Vancouver. One is Salmon n' Bannock, which has a main location in the South Granville neighborhood and a second, newer outlet in the Vancouver International Airport. “It’s Indigenous-owned,” she says. “[The chefs] escalate our food, and it’s very, very good—I highly recommend getting the sampler plate.” She also recommends Mr. Bannock Indigenous Cuisine, an Indigenous-owned catering company and food truck that specializes in fried bread called bannock. “[It’s] a staple in many different nations and has been since flour was brought over to trade with,” Lewis explains. “So it’s not traditional-traditional, but we’ve made it part of our staple foods.”

Person makes bannock from flour in Canada at a pow wow.
Bannock is prepared in many Indigenous communities in Canada.Foto: Christopher O'Donnell / Shutterstock

Where to get close to nature in Vancouver

Visit a beach named after a famous chief.

Although Vancouver is a big city, there are plenty of natural areas within easy reach of its urban center. “If you come to Vancouver, take the SeaBus,” says Lewis, referring to a passenger ferry that connects North Vancouver with the city center on the opposite side of the Burrard Inlet. “I think it’s such a unique feature here.” From Downtown, you can easily get to Stanley Park, where the Talking Trees tour takes place. While you’re at the park, visit the sandy shores of Second Beach and Third Beach, Lewis suggests.

Alternatively, you can head down to the Kitsilano neighborhood, best known for Kitsilano Beach. “My family comes from Kitsilano,” says Lewis. “It was previously known as Sen̓áḵw, and later on it became known as Kitsilano, named after Chief Khatsahlano. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, and it’s got really nice vibes.”

Lewis also recommends spending some time in North Vancouver, particularly in Lynn Canyon Park. “The trails are beautiful, stunning, and might be less busy than, say, the well-known Capilano Suspension Bridge,” she says. The Lynn Valley also has a suspension that’s free and—I think—more accessible, And it’s just as beautiful.”

Café at the Lynn Canyon Park, Vancouver, Canada.
Lynn Canyon Park makes for a great alternative to the Capilano Suspension Bridge.Foto: Margarita Young / Shutterstock

Where to see Indigenous art in Vancouver

Peruse artifacts and more at museums and shops.

Vancouver has quite a few spots to see art and artifacts from across the region. Lewis recommends checking out the Bill Reid Gallery or heading over to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, where you’ll find acres of land with hiking trails along with “amazing artifacts from the wide and diverse cultures that are found here on the West Coast.”

If you’re still keen to see more Indigenous art, the Indigenous Tourism Association of British Columbia has additional suggestions on its website, including Skwachàys Lodge Aboriginal Hotel and Gallery, an art gallery and boutique hotel that operates as a social enterprise under the auspices of the nonprofit Vancouver Native Housing Society. And if you want to take a piece of art home with you, you can head over to the Indigenous-owned Spirit Gallery in West Vancouver.

Related: How To Support Indigenous Communities While Traveling in Canada

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