Updated December 2019: There’s now a winter version of this event.
For anyone who thinks stimulating neurons is all about hucking off rocks, diving into cold lakes and skiing really fast, they’re only half right. There’s other ways to fire the senses, and a night out at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre Tour & Feast in Whistler is one of them, combining a tour, dinner and performances into one memorable night.
This year marks ten years since the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) opened the doors, and with the recent signing of a historic Protocol Agreement between the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation, there has never been a better time to celebrate the intersection of cultures here in Whistler.
Take a walk through the senses on a Feast and Tour.
Whistler is famous for views and vistas and this night delivered on all fronts. From the short walk to the centre on the Valley Trail through the forest and over Fitzsimmons Creek to the sweeping mountain views from the Istken Hall where the dinner is held, you feel connected to the mountains outside through the evening.
Add in the rich colours of woven blankets, the hand-carved welcome poles and sweeping lines of the First Nation canoes on display and you have a visual melody to satisfy the artist in you. The regalia worn by the performers was an incredible combination of colour, pattern and feathers which complemented the dancers’ movements.
The SLCC is staffed by members of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, who lead the tours. Each tour is interactive, beginning with a traditional song and dance and moving through video presentations and in-depth looks at different exhibits in the hall. Listening to your guide you can learn the correct way to harvest cedar bark, the different ways to smoke and dry salmon and how canoes are created.
As you dine, you are treated to a performance including a series of songs and dances introducing different musical instruments and songs that are important and sung in the communities to this day. Listening to a mother’s lullaby performed as a cappella as the sun casts its last light through the valley outside is an experience you won’t get elsewhere.
Many of the exhibits at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre are interactive. From the cool, soft surface of the carved yellow cedar to the strength of the harvested bark to the soft and lush animal pelts, there were plenty of opportunities to engage with the exhibits. Our guide Redmond passed around paddles carved from cedar, surprisingly light and a perfect fit for the hand as well as inviting us to feel the soft and supple material of his own beautiful drum bag, made of animal hides.
Stepping into the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre one realises the entire space is infused with the delicious smell of cedar, a tree held in high regard with many uses. The bark is harvested for weaving, while the strong wood is used for creating canoes, paddles and for carving masks and welcome poles.
Of course when we finished the tour and wandered through the exhibits, the tantalising aromas from the prepared feast drew us into the Istken Hall.
After spending a day exploring outdoors and the evening exploring the exhibits, the meal is just what you need. The indigenous inspired feast was perfect for satisfying hearty appetites while adding elements of culinary adventure. With plates heaped high with freshly baked bannock, buffalo smokies, West Coast cedar plank salmon and field green salad it was a true feast, with the performers adding song and dance to the already brilliant night.
As I left the venue for a slow walk home, I wandered past cyclists finishing up after the local Toonie Ride, families out for a last stroll of the Village and new arrivals gawking up at the mountains, still just visible against a dark blue summer sky, and I wondered about this extra element that made the night so special.
We’re wired to learn, grow and seek connections with other humans, and this night at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre was the perfect opportunity to do so, in a place where people have been gathering for different reasons for many thousands of years.
For those seeking a dining experience with a difference, the Feast at the SLCC is worth a night out.
Whistler is where mountains and culture meet. Learn more about the arts in Whistler, and get ready to celebrate the season of arts all fall with festivals, events and exhibitions throughout Sea to Sky Country.