Vancouver Museums win Governor General’s Award for First Nations Exhibition

c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City shares Musqueam history and culture

VANCOUVER, BC – A unique collaboration amongst three Vancouver cultural institutions has been named winner of the 2015 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums. Gold medals were presented Friday at Rideau Hall by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

The award recognizes individuals or institutions that have made remarkable contributions to a better knowledge of Canadian history. This year’s winning project is c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City. The exhibition tells the story of c̓əsnaʔəm, one of the largest ancient Musqueam villages and burial sites upon which Vancouver was built. It was jointly curated by the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in collaboration with the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC, Musqueam First Nation, and Susan Roy from the University of Waterloo.

“Winning such a prestigious national award is a testament to the hard work, creativity and perseverance of the curatorial teams,” says Nancy Noble, CEO of MOV. “This important exhibition has allowed the Museum to confront its own colonial past, acknowledging the actions of our predecessors and hopefully, in some small way, reconciling the many misconceptions about the Musqueam people, their history and their continued contributions to Vancouver and Canadian society.”

The three-location exhibition intends to generate public discussion about indigenous history, and to raise awareness of the significance of c̓əsnaʔəm for the Musqueam people and for Vancouver. The ancient village of c̓əsnaʔəm was founded about 5,000 years ago at what was then the mouth of the Fraser—the southern border of today’s Marpole neighbourhood.

“c̓əsnaʔəm was a place where families lived and put their people to rest and was a sophisticated society. That’s why the exhibit is called ‘The City Before the City,’ says Jordan Wilson of the MOA and co-curator of the exhibition. “All too often there’s a picture painted of these villages as quite small and primitive, but in fact it was quite a large site, and the Musqueam people played a significant role in shaping the City of Vancouver.”

“Museums are no longer just passive buildings that store old objects. They play an active role in sharing new knowledge,” says Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada’s History Society, which administers the award. “c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City is a perfect example of how a museum exhibition can counter an existing narrative—that Vancouver is a young city of immigrants—and replace it with a more truthful version of events. In this way, museums help shape our future as well as our past.”

The joint exhibition opened earlier this year at the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology and the Musqueam Cultural Centre, and continues through January 2016. Each location explores different aspects of c̓əsnaʔəm, through artifacts—collected mainly in the 1920s and ‘30s—and new technologies such as 3-D printing.

You can find more information about the exhibition at

About the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums
The Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive! is a partnership between the Canadian Museums Association and Canada’s History Society. First presented in 2011, it honours significant achievement in the historical field and encourages standards of excellence specifically in the presentation, preservation and interpretation of national, regional or local history.

About Canada’s History
Canada’s History is a national charitable organization whose mission is to promote greater popular interest in Canadian history, principally through its publishing, education, and recognition programs. In addition to administering the Governor General’s History Awards and publishing Canada’s History magazine (formerly The Beaver) and Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids, Canada’s History produces a number of educational and online programs to encourage a Canada where people are deeply engaged in connecting with their shared past.

About Museum of Vancouver
The Museum of Vancouver (MOV) is an award-winning authority on Vancouver’s history, sharing the region’s stories from its Aboriginal beginnings to contemporary topics. It creates engaging exhibitions and programs that encourage dialogue about what was, is, and can be Vancouver, serving as a gathering place that connects Vancouverites to each other, and Vancouver to the world.  

About MOA
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is world-renowned for its collections, research, teaching, public programs, and community connections.  Founded in 1949 in the basement of the Main Library at UBC, its mission is to inspire understanding of and respect for world arts and cultures. Today, Canada's largest teaching museum is located in a spectacular building overlooking mountains and sea. MOA houses more than 42,000 ethnographic objects and 535,000 archaeological objects, including many which originate from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. The Koerner Gallery features one of Canada’s most important European ceramics collections, while MOA's recently opened Multiversity Galleries provide public access to more than 10,000 objects from around the world.

About Musqueam First Nation
Musqueam First Nation are traditional hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking people whose territory, and dozens of villages, encompasses much of what is now the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Extensive networks of trade and relations radiate up and down the coast and into the interior. Although a metropolitan city has developed in the heart of Musqueam territory, the community maintains strong cultural and traditional beliefs and these networks. Families teach and pass on this traditional knowledge and history to their people, to keep culture and traditions strong. Musqueam people continue to thrive and evolve, with a population of over 1,200 people; relying on the guiding principles of knowing who they are and where they come from and the responsibilities they share. Nearly half of Musqueam lives on a very small portion of their traditional territory, known as the Musqueam Indian Reserve #2, located south of Marine Drive near the mouth of the Fraser River.


For further media information, contact
Myles Constable, Marketing Officer, Museum of Vancouver
604.730.5309 |

Friday, October 16, 2015