This Vancouver boutique hotel connects guests to the region’s Aboriginal past in modern ways.
Ahead of a visit to British Columbia’s Okanagan wine country last year, I padded around Vancouver for a 24-hour layover with a stay at the guesthouse-as-art-installation Skwachàys Lodge. Part hotel and part gallery, with Francis Horne Sr.’s 40-foot Dreamweaver Totem Pole capping the building, the property offers 18 suites appointed by teams of Aboriginal artists paired with interior designers. The front desk opens to the gift shop-gallery featuring works by the artists working onsite, and there’s an artist-in-residence program. In the hotel’s Kayachtcn café, people gather around a fireplace and a raised common table bearing traditional Aboriginal designs to eat or share a drink. Everywhere is the framed artwork and iconography of the First Nations people. The bear. The raven. The salmon.
I stayed in the Paddle Suite. The two-floor space, featuring the work of Sabina Hill and Mark Preston and MCM Interiors, is awash with the significance of water and salmon to the indigenous people of British Columbia. A salmon-weir installation — the design is typical of the salmon traps historically used by the indigenous communities of Vancouver Island’s northwest coast — hangs above the stairs that lead to the main space.
The room’s overall design is modern yet comforting with its palette of regionally traditional colors. There is red. There is black. There is white. And there is dramatic formline art inspired by the connection of First Nations peoples to the Northwest’s waterways, canoes, salmon, and islands.
The carved paddle-curve headboard, created by Sabina Hill using Mark Preston’s salmon trout’s head motif, is a tribute to the canoe, the region’s former primary means of transportation. “The salmon is the bringer of life,” says the descriptive note left in my room. “The paddle guides and conveys the canoe to its destination. The paddle headboard, therefore, represents guests’ journey to Skwachàys Lodge and, like the migration of the salmon, back home again.”
Everywhere is history. Everywhere is cultural significance.
The Skwachàys property was named by Chief Ian Campbell, the hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, on whose tribal territory the hotel stands. Skwachàys refers to the spring waters that once covered the land. The Squamish people believe that these sacred waters are a portal into the spirit realm.
Other suites connect thematically to water and salmon, including the Sea Kingdom Suite (designed by Lou Ann Neel and Inside Design Studio) and the King Salmon Suite (designed by Richard Shorty and Podara Design). Additional rooms include the Air Suite, showcasing the balance of Raven and Eagle; the Northern Lights Suite, illustrating Black Bear watching over a gathering of powwow dancers under a vibrant aurora borealis; and the Hummingbird Suite, featuring earth tones and the cool, calming blues associated with the namesake bird.
In its public areas, Skwachàys offers further immersion in First Nations traditions. The hotel houses a sweat lodge and smudge lodge, both sacred spaces for purification. The sweat lodge is made from a framework of interwoven willow branches meant to symbolize Mother Nature’s womb, where heat heals. In the smudge lodge, the burning of cedar, sage, and sweet grass cleanses the body and the soul.
I wasn’t able to experience the sweat or smudge lodges during my short but memorable time at Skwachàys, but I was able to drift off — or should I say paddle away — into a deeply restful sleep before heading out to the Okanagan wine country the following day.
For more information on Skwachàys Lodge or to make reservations, visit the hotel’s website. Read more about First Nations art and totems in the August/September 2018 issue’s feature, “Totem Revival.” More on British Columbia wine country in the upcoming October 2018 issue. Photography: Skwachàys Lodge Aboriginal Hotel & Gallery.