The legacy of Sen̓áḵw

A landmark development for Canada and the Squamish Nation
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
by Erin Ruddy

Sen̓áḵw is one of the largest low-carbon residential and Indigenous-led real estate developments in Canadian history. Currently underway at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, 11 towers will soon soar from the 10.5-acre reservation, filling a diverse range of housing needs in an area desperate for supply. But the project is ground-breaking for more reasons than that: setting new standards for collaboration, green building design, and long-term income for the Squamish Nation, Sen̓áḵw is a powerful testament to Indigenous land ownership and an economic legacy that’s expected to generate upwards of $10 billion in revenue over its 100-year lifespan from rental income alone.

“Sen̓áḵw is not just about real estate; it’s rooted in a story of the shared journey of our people coming home,” says Mindy Wight, CEO of Nch’ḵay Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Squamish Nation. “Sen̓áḵw is reconciliation in action.”

SenakwEnvisioned with future high-density development in mind, the plans for Sen̓áḵw—which can be interpreted as “The place inside the head of False Creek”—were heavily influenced by what the surrounding area could look like a century from now, with towers soaring over 50 storeys, accessible green spaces, and energy efficiencies exceeding today’s standards. The striking renderings evoke a re-imagined ‘Towers in the Park’ feel, with bright, open courtyards, a multi-tiered landscape for social and commercial uses, and plenty of space to roam on foot or bike.

“The project is also part of the solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis,” Wight says. “With the goal of 6,000 rental homes—including 1,200 affordable homes—it will ease Vancouver’s rental housing shortage.”

History of the land

For thousands of years, the fertile lands beneath the new Sen̓áḵw development were home to members of the Squamish Nation. Once an important hub for trade, commerce, social relationships, and cultural practices, the arrival of the European settlers in 1791 ignited industrial expansion in the area and put pressure on the residents to vacate. In 1913, the Government of British Columbia forced the illegal surrender of the lands, and the families at Sen̓áḵw were displaced across the inlet to other Squamish reserves. Since the 1970s, efforts by the Squamish Nation to reclaim Sen̓áḵw have been underway, with multiple court battles and little success until 2003 when the Federal Court of Canada finally returned a small portion of the original reserve to its rightful inhabitants.

Sen̓áḵw’s proximity to downtown Vancouver, along with its rich, complicated history, contributed to the ensuing plans for a mega-mixed-use housing development that will bring continued value for the Squamish Nation.

“A project of this magnitude comes with unique challenges,” Wight points out, adding that the arrival of COVID-19 less than a year into the process didn’t help matters. “One of the largest challenges, however, was securing the right partnerships, multi-stakeholder interests, and navigating approval processes. At this scale and complexity, a diverse, highly experienced team is required to realize the project’s full potential successfully.”

This reality prompted the Squamish Nation to seek out a partnership with Westbank, an international development practice based in Vancouver. The Nation, Nch’ḵay̓ and Westbank have since been working together to lead the development of Sen̓áḵw with support from a consulting team of globally renowned development and construction professionals.

“The partnership has allowed us to accelerate the project and deliver more housing and amenities in a shorter amount of time,” Wight says. “Moving forward, we continue to face the same challenges that other developments face, such as rising inflation and interest rates, and labour shortages.”

Challenges aside, the project is well on its way to a completion date of 2030, with many notable milestones still to come. Sen̓áḵw will be Canada’s first large-scale net zero operational carbon residential development—one of only a few in the world—with aspirations to be 100 per cent GHG-free. All Sen̓áḵw’s heating and cooling will be produced by a new 10MW district energy system fed by waste heat from Metro Vancouver’s adjacent sewer infrastructure, and 45,000 square feet of mass timber construction will help reduce embodied carbon by 50 per cent compared to typical concrete construction.

Meanwhile, Nch’ḵay̓ has been making significant strides in contributing to the growth and well-being of the community since its establishment in 2018. Although Sen̓áḵw is a major project for the growing team based in Vancouver, it’s not the only development in the pipeline.

“Unfortunately, we cannot share any details at this time about our other projects due to ongoing negotiations and due diligence,” Wight says. “All we can say is… stay tuned!”

Additional project details:

Sen̓áḵw promotes a deep connection to urban living and nature by bringing together the four essential pillars of city-building: built environment, culture, transportation, and energy, creating a unique development for the City of Vancouver.

Sen̓áḵw is…

  • currently the largest Canadian residential partnership with any First Nation
  • the largest net zero residential project in Canada
  • a historic economic development opportunity that will set the Squamish Nation on a path to complete economic independence
  • a lasting example of Coast Salish architecture and design, and a cultural legacy for the Squamish Nation and for Canada
  • a project that will lead to hundreds of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for the Squamish Nation membership in design, construction, and operations.
  • projected to be complete in 2030

About the Squamish Nation

Consisting of 23 villages, the Squamish Nation is comprised of descendants of the Coast Salish Aboriginal people who live in the present-day Greater Vancouver area, Gibson’s Landing and Squamish River watershed. The Squamish Nation has occupied and governed the territory since beyond recorded history. The culture is rich and resilient, with customs and traditions that are strongly interconnected with the traditional territory.

Renderings courtesy of the Squamish Nation.
Design Architect: Revery Architecture; Architect of Record: Kasian Architecture, Interior Design

Find out more about this landmark project at: Sen̓áḵ

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