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c̓əsnaʔəm (Marpole Midden): Timeline of Desecration to Protection

c̓əsnaʔəm (Marpole Midden): Timeline of Desecration to Protection

The Marpole Midden, just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, is believed to date back 4000 years. It is one of the largest pre-contact middens in the province and is considered to be one of the most significant archaeological sites in the country.

Bone and stone implements, utensils and ornaments have been recovered through various archaeological excavations. They testify to the maritime orientation and the highly developed woodworking skills, which characterized the the Coast Salish people, and also other later Northwest Coast cultures, such as the Musqueam.

Canada’s Historic Places, Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1933, 1977, 2007.

The Musqueam Indian Band was unrelenting in the effort to protect the site from a development project that would place 108 condominiums on this sacred piece of ground. Below is the timeline of their fight that drew national and international attention.


1892 - The excavation of this extensive midden led by Charles Hill Tout, in 1892 stimulated the archaeological study of other such prehistoric refuse heaps on the Pacific slope;

1933 - Marpole Midden designated National Historic Site;

January 2011 - Musqueam Indian Band discovers a 108-unit residential condo development is being planned for the site without prior consultation with the Band;

May 2011 - Musqueam Indian Band members met and corresponded with the Provincial Archaeology Branch to persuade them to protect the site and not to issue permits for archaeological “investigation” and “alteration” of the site under the Heritage Conservation Act.,

December 2011 - Permits issued under the Heritage Conservation Act to Century Group to develop the property and build a five-story condominium development;

January 2012 - Remains of two adults, two babies and a partial skeleton of another baby, all believed to belong to the Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen bands, were found;

January 2012 - A four-week suspension of work on the site (except by agreement, such as the demolition of buildings on the lots proposed for development). Talks were not productive as the Province failed to participate in any meaningful way. The developer resumed the work and the Band continued to try to bring the Province to the table;

March 12, 2012 - Protesters prevent development project workers from working;

May 3, 2012 - Musqueam Indian Band members and supporters occupy the site and begin vigil;

May 8, 2012 - Musqueam Indian Band members halt construction at Marpole Midden again;

May 15, 2012 - National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo joined Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould at the site;

May 24, 2012 - Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson calls upon the provincial government to support the Musqueam Indian Band’s request to stop the development;

May 31, 2012 - Members of the Musqueam Indian Band block traffic on the Arthur Laing Bridge in protest. The protesters forced the closure of the bridge, which is the main route between the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond and Vancouver, during the morning commute;

May 31, 2012 - BC Métis Federation stands with the Musqueam on Arthur Laing Bridge in Vancouver;

June 1, 2012 - BC teachers' union expresses support of Musqueam campaign;

June 8, 2012 - Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations issues an amendment that cancels authorization of any further alteration of the investigation area on Lot 9 and requires that the investigation area be returned as close as possible to its original condition. In addition, the expiration of Alteration Permit 2011-0210 is extended from June 30 to July 15 to accommodate information-gathering and further consultation with the parties;

June 13, 2012 - BC offers $4.8 million to solve the Marpole land dispute. The Musqueam Indian Band plans to use the money to try and convince the developer to find another site;

June 28, 2012 - 32,000 unionized nurses support the Musqueam Indian Band in the battle over the burial site;

August 12, 2012 - Marks 100 days of continuous protest and occupation of Marpole Village and Midden;

August 22, 2012 - Musqueam presence at the Marpole site is scaled back to respect the ongoing negotiations between Musqueam, the developers, the City of Vancouver and the Province of BC;

September 28, 2012 - Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations cancels development permits;

October 17, 2018 - Vancouver returns city-owned land to Musqueam.

Featured photo: Bob Joseph

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