Klahowya Village Stanley Park Vancouver BC

First Nations art, legends in Stanley Park

Story by Kathleen Kenna
Vacay.ca Senior Writer

richard krentz eagle stanley park

Richard Krentz’s giant eagle sculpture greets you in Stanley Park’s First Nations village that is open until September 3. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Artist Richard Krentz of the nearby city of Squamish regards his public sculpture with critical eyes and declares, “I’ve been dreaming of doing this a long, long time.”

“This” is a huge eagle, handmade by the 66-year-old carver from Sechelt, British Columbia, and newly installed near the southeast entrance of Stanley Park.

Krentz has transformed trees downed by Pacific storms in the park into an eagle whose outstretched wings appear to protect Klahowya Village. The First Nations showplace has just begun its second year at the park, and it’s open to the public every day until September 3.

The eagle is a masterwork. The bird’s head is solid hemlock; each feather was hand-carved from castoff wood Krentz selected for strength and beauty.

Sitting at an outdoor grove fragrant with cedar shavings, Krentz describes his struggle to handle knots in the raw wood.

“I just couldn’t figure it out,” he says, motioning toward the eagle atop the Klahowya stage. “And then I used the knots to work with every feather.”

Getting up close and personal with First Nations artists like Krentz is one of the highlights of Klahowya.

First Nations and Metis artists who work in almost every medium are at the village daily, painting, carving, designing fine jewelry and more, and explaining their inspiration and culture to the curious.

“I just love it here,” says Krentz, showing a hand-carved panel with symbols showing his journey from urban Vancouver to these woods. “I swear I’ve been called here … to bring life to every piece I carve.”

It’s free to wander around the artists’ outdoor workshop, well-shaded by Stanley Park’s giants. There are daily storytelling sessions, representing many First Nations cultures, and weekend dance, music and drama performances on the stage graced by Krentz’s eagle.

Aboriginal designers worked with natural elements to create an intimate, outdoor theatre with small pools and cascades, and wildflowers like buttercups and foxgloves. Big ferns that carpet so much of Stanley Park fringe natural groves in Klahowya.

Tree stumps make for back-to-nature seats near the stage; cafe tables offer comfortable seating for enjoying bannock (aboriginal flatbread), “Indian candy” (smoked, sweet salmon) and other traditional foods.

“We’ve put a lot of our blood and sweat into this,” says Krentz, founder of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (AtBC). “Everything here has to be traditional.”

This urban park — one of the largest on the continent — is the traditional territory of Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Their members open Klahowya Village each morning with a prayer and smudging ceremony; and share their history and stories throughout the day, on diverse stages and on the Spirit Catcher train.

Klahowya has been drawing more visitors every year since it opened, says AtBC’s Linda Calla. Last summer, 55,000 tickets were sold for the Spirit Catcher’s First Nations storytelling rides, and another 20,000 visitors are estimated to have come to the artisans’ village and free performances.

“We’re just offering people a little glimpse of authentic cultural tourism,” Calla says. “This is especially important in Vancouver, because it’s a major gateway to the rest of the province. There’s really nothing else for tourists who want to come and see authentic craftsmen at work, meet aboriginal people and hear their stories.”

Growing interest in First Nations culture has spurred expansion of this village in the forest. An old barn has been renovated to showcase art and host a new puppet theatre featuring First Nations lore. Everything from the sets to the puppets’ costumes is made from recycled materials, from secondhand clothes to driftwood to fishing nets. Even signs from the 2010 Olympics — where Klahowya began — have been recycled here, Krentz says.

The Sts’ailes Nation is sharing its legend of the Sasquatch in the puppet theatre and aboard the Spirit Catcher. Sasquatch sightings in the woods already have been reported.

Burns Lake carver Ben Gerow, whose hand-carved Sasquatch stands larger-than-life — one imagines — at the Klahowya entrance, claims to have seen the creature in the wild. His sculpture was “carved from memory,” Krentz says, mysteriously.

Hours and Prices: Klahowya Village is a joint venture of the AtBC and the Vancouver Park Board. It’s free of charge and is open from 11 am to 4 pm every day; 11 am to 5 pm on weekends and holidays.
Special Events: New “Nation Days” are highlights this summer at Klahowya.  The Sts’ailes Nation shares its art, stories and culture from July 13-15, followed by the Squamish Nation, July 27-29; Tsleil-Waututh Nation, August 10-13; and Musqueam Nation, August 24-26.
Train Rides: Tickets for the Spirit Catcher miniature train are $10 for adults; $8 for elders and children aged 3 to 17. Youngsters always ride free. A family pack of four tickets is $25, allowing unlimited rides for a day. Spirit Catcher tickets are available only on-site at the ticket booth. Advance group bookings are available same-day by calling 778.968.1070.

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Kathleen Kenna is an award-winning writer who has traveled the world, and tells everyone British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. She has traveled from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific; worked in some of the most dangerous places as the Toronto Star's South Asia bureau chief; and finds peace, always, kayaking the Pacific Coast. She blogs with her husband, photojournalist Hadi Dadashian, at http://tripsfor2.wordpress.com.

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