Skwelwil’Em Eco-Cultural Centre

Skwelwil’Em Eco-Cultural Centre


Completed as part of my Masters in Landscape Architecture (MLA) thesis in 2013, Skwelwil’Em Eco-Cultural Centre explores the intersection of provincial land conservation policy and the potential for contemporary indigenous land use practices.  The conceptual design focuses on the development of a research, education, and visitor center (Lhasem Village) as the nexus for restoration of an old log sort site within the Squamish river estuary. The project explores how potential developments for first nations on conservation lands can balance economic opportunities and cultural practices to achieve long term management goals in protected areas.

The first nations people of Canada have a culturally rich heritage and connection to the natural environment that is not fully realized or respected by current government policies surrounding land use and planning. The world views of first nations illustrate a deep respect for the natural world that is reflected in their cultural beliefs, stories, and ceremonies.  They have been the keystone species for millennia on this continent and it is through their stewardship the rich biodiversity of this country flourished prior to colonization.

Skwelwil’Em Eco-Cultural Center provides the opportunity for the revitalization of the cultural practices of the Squamish Nation within a protected area. State of the art facilities including greenhouses, classrooms, labs, administration, gathering space, a restaurant, and ceremonial facilities provide the tools to support not only the restoration of the Squamish river estuary but also economic development and educational opportunities. The “landscape exhibits” that surround the facilities reflect the restoration of native ecosystems based on site hydrologic conditions and existing plant community dispersal within the Squamish Estuary. These natural ecosystems are designed based on intensive research into traditional plant use and cultivation known to have historically occurred within the estuary.


Siem Lelum


Phase 2 of Siem Lelum, Respectful House, was completed in the fall of 2017. Designed for the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC), Siem Lelum is a supportive housing unit for young urban aboriginal families.  The site features two residential buildings, a community house, and inner courtyard.  The site is located on Gorge Rd E in the traditional territory of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. As a LEED® for homes certified project, management of onsite stormwater and the reduction of potable water use for irrigation were key considerations. The central feature of the landscapes design was the incorporation of a medicine wheel which contains the children’s play area in the inner courtyard.

 The circle represents the interconnectedness of ones being including their connection to each other and the natural world. The paving line divisions are aligned with the four cardinal directions and define the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual realities. The inner circle of the play area is off-centre causing the medicine wheel to be imbalanced. It is meant as a reflection on the intergenerational trauma experienced by residential school survivors and their families. By placing the children in the centre it is a reminder of the importance to balance these worlds and avoid passing on our wounds. Through the traditional teachings of the medicine wheel we can achieve personal reconciliation and bring balance to the circle for our future generations.

The landscape design also features the use of traditional plants important to the Lekwungen people. These include but are not limited to the use of food plants such as Vaccinum ovatum, Evergreen huckleberry around the children’s play area, sage plantings along the Gorge Rd frontage to be used in ceremony, and the incorporation of Scirpus acutes, Tule in the rain gardens, used in traditional Tule basket weaving. Site paving also incorporated a traditional Coast Salish pattern often used in sweaters and in basket weaving.

Murdoch de Greeff Inc (MDI Design) was responsible for the landscape design at Siem Lelum.  As part of the MDI Design team Terence Radford was responsible for conceptual design, contract documents, construction documents and field services.  MDI collaborated with Merrick Architecture (Prime consultant), Westbrook, AME Group, AES Engineering, and Gye and Associates during the design and construction of the project.

For additional information on this project please visit the Victoria Native Friendship Centre website.