First Nations in Vancouver: Things to See and Do


With its lush, coastal rainforests and aboriginal heritage, Vancouver is a place of lore, legend and deep-rooted history. First Nations culture is prevalent throughout the city, keeping ancient traditions and stories alive with vibrantly colored totem poles, cultural centres, museums and contemporary art galleries. Experience the city’s rich First Nations history and heritage with these outdoor excursions and cultural adventures.


As Canada’s largest teaching museum, the UBC Museum of Anthropology houses more than 570,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects from around the world, 6,000 of which are from B.C.’s First Nations. Take a guided tour through the museum and learn about tribal cultures throughout North America, while viewing artifacts such as hunting tools, headdresses, hand-carved figurines and an array of intricate, hand-woven baskets. The MOA also features contemporary First Nations artwork and totem poles created by renowned artists such as Bill Reid, Doug Cranmer and Teddy Balanga.

To learn about Squamish and Lil’wat Aboriginal people, make the two-hour drive up to Whistler, B.C., where the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre celebrates the partnership between these two northwestern cultures. Take a guided or self-guided tour through the museum and contemporary galleries, watch traditional dances and songs, and walk through two outdoor dwellings: the cedar Squamish longhouse and the Lil’wat Istken, an underground pit dwelling with a moss roof.


From colorfully painted totem poles to intricate stone carvings, First Nations artwork is readily visible in galleries throughout the city. To see some of these iconic cultural pieces, start at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, located in downtown Vancouver. Named after acclaimed Canadian artist Bill Reid, this public art gallery displays Reid’s bronze sculptures, gold and silver jewelry, and a full-scale totem pole carved by James Hart, in celebration of Reid.

To see and purchase coastal artwork and jewelry such as cedar ceremonial masks, whalebone carvings and silver bracelets created by local indigenous artists, visit one of the many aboriginal art galleries.


During the summer months, Vancouver is the perfect city to head outdoors and enjoy the warm weather, the natural landscape and authentic First Nations experiences. Escape to the woodland setting of Stanley Park, where you can see towering totem poles and take part in interactive activities at the Klahowya Aboriginal Village. Watch tribal dance performances, indulge in aboriginal cuisine, listen to legends and lore at the storytelling circle and ride the Spirit Catcher Train through Stanley Park’s forest as you hear about Aboriginal history and culture.

For breathtaking views of the Pacific Northwest rainforest, take a walk along the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a 137-meter-long (450-foot-long) bridge above the Capilano River that is one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. Along with this thrilling view of B.C.’s lush forests, the park also features eco tours, First Nations cedar chiseling demonstrations and a treetops adventure consisting of a series of suspension bridges and tree perches. Take a picture next to colorful totem poles in Totem Park, or stop in the Kia’palano First Nations cultural center, where you can learn about their culture and heritage, as well as watch weaving and beadwork demonstrations.


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