A crowd of nearly 40 people gathered on Feb. 4 at Hackett Park in downtown Sechelt to witness the ceremonial groundbreaking of a long-awaited outdoor performance venue.
The $253,000 project was originally approved by the District of Sechelt council in July 2020. In a municipal parks plan released two years earlier, the district committed to develop the five-acre greenbelt as "a community event space" that would encourage groups and gatherings to use the park. Last year, skyrocketing lumber prices delayed the amphitheatre's construction.
On Friday, shíshálh Nation hiwus (Chief) Warren Paull joined other dignitaries who inaugurated the build by flinging spadefuls of rain-damped soil. hiwus Paull recollected that the park was an important reunion site for the nation before it was surveyed and designated in 1952.
"This area is in the heart of ch'atlich, which not all that long ago used to be the winter grounds for the stalashen, which is my clan," he said. "This spot is well-known within our people, and we think this is a great spot for gathering, and for a stage. We need a centre where people can share all their ideas, their visions and their concepts of what this area is, and where we are going to."
Paull announced that shíshálh Elders and other groups plan to erect interpretive signage near the stage site to illuminate its historical and cultural significance.
The stage project is funded in part through a grant from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program that included a $101,200 contribution from the Government of Canada and $84,325 from the Province of British Columbia.
Member of Parliament Patrick Weiler recalled that his childhood home was on Medusa Street, just a block from the future stage's fenced-in construction site. As a youth, he participated in arts and crafts fairs in the park.
During COVID-19, Weiler said, urban greenery has helped dispel social isolation. "Throughout the pandemic, we've seen the importance of access to outdoor spaces. As we move through the most recent phase of the pandemic, parks are a place where British Columbians can connect with one another."
Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers officiated the ceremony, predicting that the outdoor stage will support a re-emergence of live art, theatre and dance. "Our community needs a central space where we can bring people together and gather," she said, "particularly because of what's happened during COVID. This is going to be an opportunity to come back together."
Site preparations began in the fall of 2020 with environmental and archeological work overseen by District staff, representatives of the shíshálh Nation, and In Situ Archeology.
Dakota Ridge Builders, a construction firm headquartered in Gibsons, was engaged by Sechelt in 2021 to design and build the performance facility. Its design will incorporate heavy timber and logs. Amenities will include change rooms, storage space, lighting, and accessible pathways around the structure.
MLA Nicholas Simons also attended the sod-turning ceremony, which opened with a song and blessing from shíshálh Nation Elder kwayimin Andy Johnson.
The outdoor stage is scheduled to open this spring, another in a string of recent park upgrades that include new playground equipment, picnic tables, a second mural for the park’s washroom building, and a pair of park benches.