Explore Vancouver the First Nations way


Paddlers steer their canoe through the waters of North Vancouver while hearing a guide discuss the history and culture of the First Nations. (Dennis Thomas photo)

Story by Tricia Edgar Outdoors Columnist


Canoes trips with Takaya Tours trace the path that people living in this part of BC have travelled for centuries. (Dennis Thomas photo)

NORTH VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — A paddle around Deep Cove — a small, picturesque bay a short drive from Vancouver — is a glorious thing. Slipping into the water in your canoe or kayak, you move into an environment that seems like an ancient fjord. Seals lounge on the docks, and giant cedars, hemlocks and firs rise high above the houses that line the shore. In this place so close to the city, nature still dominates the landscape.

But long before the city was here, this natural wonder was already home to a very human landscape, one inhabited by local First Nations members. Since 1999, Takaya Tours has brought the human element of this landscape to life for visitors to the Vancouver area, a fact I begin to learn when I reach Dennis Thomas, the project manager, around 6:30 am one recent morning.

Our interview begins amidst the shouts of people carrying equipment and securing boats to vehicles. He’s going on a trip — a big one — up the coast of British Columbia to Porteau Cove, tracing the steps of his ancestors. Thirty youth from the local Squamish Nation are coming as well. On the trip, they will travel the way some of their predecessors voyaged, going up and down the coast. They’ll venture by canoe to see pictographs created by their family members of generations past.

Ancestry is key to Takaya Tours. Grown in the oceanfront community of North Vancouver, the tour operator is culturally grounded there, too.  The company has its roots in the Tsleil-Waututh band, and it brings that band’s songs and stories on canoe tours. The company draws its entire staff from BC First Nations.

In the busy urban environment that is Vancouver, it can be easy to see First Nations history as just that: the past. Takaya Tours connects visitors from around the world to the living cultural history of Burrard Inlet, the waterway that separates Vancouver from the north shore communities. On cultural history tours, groups pile into a 30-person canoe for a two-hour paddle around the inlet. In the canoe, visitors learn the stories and songs that connect this wild landscape to First Nations history. This is not a sit-back-and-relax motorized boat tour. In the canoe, everyone paddles, although elders are welcome to put their paddles up and enjoy the scenery.

Takaya Tours also brings culture and nature together. One of the keystone species in this wild place is the salmon. It is the iconic coastal animal, one that has a deep and long-lasting importance to coastal First Nations people. During salmon-spawning season, from mid-August to mid-November, visitors can also go on a salmon tour to visit the spawning pools along Indian Arm — which connects to Deep Cove to the north — and learn about the importance of this fish to societies present and past.

Takaya Tours brings the cultural history of this wild coastal landscape into the contemporary world. One of Thomas’s goals is to use Takaya Tours as a vehicle for cultural learning amongst the staff, helping local First Nations youth keep the traditional songs and stories alive. When you’re on the edge of the city, it can be easy to disconnect from the landscape. But moving through the waters of Burrard Inlet, it becomes much easier to reconnect to this place and the stories that it holds.

Location: 3093 Ghum-Lye  North Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Tour prices: Takaya Tours offers a 2-hour canoe trip through Indian Arm for $60 per person for corporate and group bookings; school groups start at $35 per person. Other tours are offered at a range of prices. To view them all, visit the Takaya Tours’ rates webpage.
Contact: 604-904-7410; for group trips, email

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