West Vancouver school gets a history lesson — and a new name
Students at Gleneagles elementary wrote their names into history last week, each autographing a large cedar carving commemorating the school’s adoption of its new First Nations name.
Following a naming ceremony on Thursday, the school is hereon known as Gleneagles-Ch’axay, the latter being the centuries-old title for the Horseshoe Bay area where the school sits today.
Pronounced “CHUCK-hi,” the name is a vocal approximation of the “sizzling” sound made by the once abundant herring that spawned in the waters of the bay, according to S7aplek (SOP-luck), a Squamish cultural advisor.
“So many fish that you could walk upon them and not fall in,” a Squamish elder told the hundreds of attendees at the naming ceremony in the Gleneagles gym. “They would hold your weight up when you walked across; that’s how the herring were in this area.”
That fishy abundance was also the inspiration for the three-metre cedar carving — one of two plaques carved for the school by renowned Squamish artist and recent Order of B.C. recipient Xwalacktun (huh-LACK-tun).
For weeks before the naming ceremony, he’d been toiling away on the two fish-and-eagle carvings under a schoolyard awning, patiently fielding questions from curious kids and even letting some students “take wood away” if they felt up to the task.
“So I can’t take all the credit,” Xwalacktun humbly told the gathering of 250 students, their teachers, municipal officials and Squamish elders. “This isn’t about me, it’s about the kids.”
Unveiling the artworks, Xwalacktun described how the inspiration he took from the school translated into the hand-carved cedar.
“I wanted to symbolize the movement, the swirl, the power that these little fish create and make all this sound and echo off the mountains,” he told the attendees.
The school ceremony marked a change in more than name alone, suggested B.C. Lieutenant Governor Steven Point, who told those gathered that the move represented a change of heart and a break from tradition between the two intertwined communities of the Squamish Nation and West Vancouver.
“You could have turned your mind away; you didn’t have to begin this journey,” Point told Gleneagles staff and West Vancouver school board officials. “And now you can see the result of that idea.”
“You’re opening a trail now, a trail that I think will lead to this school for young people of the Squamish Nation. And you’re going to have to add a few more rooms, I think. You’re going to have to add a longhouse, I think. So that these stories can carry on — these stories about the bay.”
The renaming ceremony was the culmination of an aboriginal-focused curriculum that Gleneagles-Ch’axay principal Scott Wallace said involved kindergarten to Grade 7 students in everything from dances to potlatches, singing, headband weaving and learning local First Nations history.
“The unique part about it is we don’t have a significant aboriginal population at the school,” Wallace told The Outlook in an interview at the school early last week. In fact, Gleneagles-Ch’axay has only two students who identify as First Nations, Wallace said, both of them Métis. “But it’s bringing awareness to the whole community.”
“These symbols mean something. They stand for something,” the B.C. Lieutenant Governor continued at the assembly. “And you children I hope will one day learn about these things — like the eagle,” Point said, considering the bird for which the school is named. “The Great Eagle guided our people for so many years since the time of The Flood. Still honour the eagle.”
Andrea Smith, the school’s teacher-representative for the co-naming ceremony told The Outlook the response from her students and their parents to the school’s new Squamish title has been nothing but positive.
“They’re fascinated by what was here before the houses and it’s made this place more honourable in their minds,” she said.
S7aplek told The Outlook that while the herring of Horseshoe Bay haven’t quite recovered to the great numbers seen before the bay was settled, the fish have been making a valiant comeback over the past few years — and with them have come the seals, dolphins and killer whales.
“Horseshoe Bay is a nice name, but I can tell you I like this one much better,” the Lieutenant Governor said in closing. “Say it, Ch’axay!”