St’a7mes School Indigenous Leadership Group – Designing Playground for Sp’akw’us Feather Park

A Vision Comes to Life:
Matthew Van Oostdam, the dedicated Land-based Coordinator at St'a7mes School, alongside Principal Alysa Patching, facilitated a remarkable initiative involving the school's Indigenous Leadership Group. Their mission: to weave the rich cultural tapestry of the Squamish Nation into the fabric of a new community playground at Sp’akw’us Feather Park, formerly known as Nexen Beach.

The Journey Begins:


The seeds of this initiative were planted in 2019 under the wise guidance of Elder Bob Baker. He envisioned a space where local children could engage with traditional practices, such as the herring spawn harvest, fostering a deep connection to their heritage. This cultural vision set the stage for a playground project generously supported by developer Matthews West.


Students as Designers:


Students from St’a7mes School played a pivotal role in the playground's creation. Engaging in the design and development process, they contributed innovative ideas while immersing themselves in traditional legends and practices. Their brainstorming sessions brought to life stories like Sinulkay, the Two-Headed Sea Serpent, Kalkalith, the Cannibal Woman, Kwos, the Salmon Chief, the Xaays Brothers, and the Raven, Seagull, and the Daylight Box.


Bringing Legends to Life:


Design Process: Collaborating with architects and playground builders, students saw their ideas take physical form.


Symbolic Elements:

  • Two-Headed Sea Serpent: Carved heads and a spine-like structure weave through the playground, telling the tale of Sinulkay.
  • Kalkalith - Cannibal Woman: A large basket with a slide symbolizes the children’s escape from her grasp, echoing the traditional stories.
  • Canoe: A carved cedar canoe represents the transformative journey of one of the Xaays Brothers.

Construction: Materials like yellow cedar, historically significant to the Squamish people, were used. Community carvers Matthew Baker and his son Liam were instrumental in crafting the playground’s unique structures.


Interactive Features: Signage with QR codes offers visitors audio explanations of the legends and symbols, narrated by the students themselves, enriching the visitor experience.


A Celebration of Culture and Community: 


The playground’s grand opening featured a formal blessing by Squamish Nation leaders, followed by a vibrant community event honouring the students' contributions. This two-year project stands as a testament to the power of integrating traditional knowledge into modern spaces, fostering pride and ownership among students and the broader community.


Principal Alysa Patching expressed her heartfelt pride: "This work exemplifies meaningful and purposeful project-based learning, facilitating the competencies of contribution and collaboration in its purest form. It represents the harmony of education and business in reconciliation, meaningful for past, present, and future generations. It is moving and inspiring. I’m so proud to be a part of this community and grateful to be here when this work was done."


Visitors are invited to explore the playground and experience firsthand the rich cultural heritage embedded in its design.


Please view the presentation here:


Watch Matthew Van Oostdam present this project at the June 12 Public Board Meeting: