By Beth Boyce, Museum at Campbell River
It has been called many names over the years. Longhouse, Heritage Pavilion, Foreshore Pavilion, Big House Pavilion, the list goes on.
It is an Awak̕wis, described in the 1970s as, “an open Community House and was used in times past by Native people as a ‘sitting down talking place’ for song and dance during summer evenings.”
For those of us who are new to Campbell River it seems as though the weathered structure has always been there, an integral part of our city’s public waterfront. However, upon looking a little deeper at its history, it is remarkable that it was ever built in the first place.
Reconciliation is a big buzz word nowadays, and people argue about what it means, and how to do it well. But here in Campbell River, we have a concrete example of reconciliation from well before ‘reconciliation’ was a thing.
The project was organized by the Salmon Festival Committee in 1972 and developed into a real community effort. The original grant to construct the pavilion only covered labour costs and so all of the materials were donated by various local organizations. Beams and logs for the carved poles, roof and support beams were donated by: Elk River Timber Company, Raven Lumber, Crown Zellerbach, and Canadian Forest Products. Other community members and businesses donated their services and time to the project. One only has to look at the long list of names on the bronze plaque onsite to see how much support the project received.
The house posts were carved by representatives from the local Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ community: Sam Henderson and his sons, and from the North Island: Bob Neel, Eugene Alfred, Dora Cook, and Adam and Blackie Dick among others.
The opening ceremonies were attended by provincial and local dignitaries as well as representatives from over 12 different Indigenous Nations. The ceremonies were organized by the local Liǧʷiɫdax̌ʷ nations and the proceedings were in fact a formal Potlatch, real business was done that day. This was before we had the modern Big House Kwanwatsi in the community, and the pavilion served as a location to Potlatch and host community events, such as Museum Days and other festivities for many years. Today it still hosts weddings and other functions.
At the opening ceremonies, the pavilion was formally presented to the Municipality of Campbell River and was accepted by Mayor Ken Forde; however, it was noted in the Courier Newspaper at the time that, “the carved poles of the pavilion belong to Sam Henderson and his family, and are only on loan.” The city remains responsible for the physical upkeep of the pavilion while the preservation of the cultural components remains with the Henderson family.
When it was first built, the project was not without controversy. Many objected to the project, saying the money would be better spent elsewhere. Others did not object to the idea of the pavilion but protested the location, fearing that it would obstruct the ocean view. A community referendum was held in the months after it was completed to determine whether to move it to a new location. As you can see, it remained in place, and has become very much a part of our community’s landscape.
Over time it has weathered. In 2006 the poles were restored and repainted by Mark Henderson, who was assisted by Jr. Henderson, Patrick Hunt and Bert Smith. At that time the pavilion was rededicated through ceremony that featured many of the same dances from its opening day back in 1972.
What is the pavilion’s future? I very much hope that it will remain a part of Campbell River’s community landscape for many more years to come. In 1972 this community got together to build something that benefited everyone, and did it in a good way. It is something we can be proud of and is worth remembering and preserving.