Mayor Gregor Robertson is calling on the provincial government to support the Musqueam Indian Band’s request to stop the development of a condominium project in Marpole where intact remains, believed to be those of the band’s ancestors, were discovered this year.
Robertson visited the construction site along Southwest Marine Drive Monday night and joined supporters in song and drumming. He also signed the band’s petition to stop the development of the land.
The next day, the mayor announced his support to a wider audience via a Tweet he sent to his 24,000 followers, which read: “Honoured to support Musqueam nation to protect @cusnaum heritage site. B.C. gov’t must enable land swap, respect ancestors.”
A spokesman from Robertson’s office said the mayor’s schedule was fully booked Wednesday and he was unavailable for an interview with the Courier.
Cecilia Point, one of the Musqueam’s organizers at the site, said Robertson showed up unannounced on his bike and stayed for about an hour. “I certainly hope it will pull some weight and push the province at least to know that the city is also on our side,” said Point by telephone from the site Wednesday.
“It was very uplifting for us as a group for him to come down and sing and drum with us—and sign our petition,” Point added.
At issue is an acre-sized piece of property near the on-ramp to the Arthur Laing Bridge. Fran and Gary Hackett own the property and are working with Century Holdings Ltd. to build 108 condos with an underground parkade.
The provincial government and the city granted the development team the necessary permits to begin the project, with both governments aware the area was declared a Canadian heritage site in the 1930s.
During the required archaeological dig of the site, workers discovered the intact remains of an adult and two infants, who are believed to be ancestors of the Musqueam band.
The discoveries have put a stop to the development, with the city, the development team and the provincial government in discussions of what to do next.
The Musqueam have proposed a land swap that would see the Southwest Marine Drive property turned into an interpretive park. The complex swap, which involves land promised to the Musqueam under a separate agreement with the province, would allow the development team to acquire a comparable piece of land elsewhere in the city.
Bob Ransford, a spokesman for the Hacketts and Century, said the head of Century met with a government-appointed facilitator last Wednesday but nothing was resolved.
Ransford said the preferred option for his clients is to proceed with development but they are willing to consider a land swap if the provincial government decides the project should be scrapped.
Asked what he thought of the mayor taking a public position on the dispute, Ransford said the city has limited authority and it’s up to the provincial government to make a final decision. “I think he’s supporting a resolution of the issue,” he said. “Are their sides?”
Ransford, a longtime NPA supporter, surprised many in local political circles by publicly endorsing Robertson and Vision Vancouver in the 2008 civic election campaign. “My own politics have nothing to do with what I speak on, on behalf of the owners of the site,” he added.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations emailed a statement to the Courier Wednesday saying there was no update on the file.
The statement added that the mayor’s decision to support the Musqueam “doesn’t affect negotiations from the province’s perspective.”
The Courier requested an update on negotiations Wednesday from the city but had not heard back before deadline. Premier Christy Clark has been silent on the dispute.