THE ANNOUNCEMENT last week of new commercial buildings to be built at Lansdowne Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, and on the corner of Victoria Street and 6th Avenue where currently there are parking lots, is good news for Kamloops.
In a few years, we will have all forgotten that there were parking lots there. It will be as if the office buildings were always there.
But of course where the new buildings will be built weren’t always parking lots either. For decades, up until the 1970s, the area along Lansdowne was primarily single-family residential.
Downtown Kamloops has been transforming continually.
And back in the 1810s, when European contact first occurred, the valley that became the city of Kamloops was full of First Nations villages. In what is now downtown Kamloops was a Secwepemc village named Stk’emlúps.
Fast forward 210 years to 2020, and all visible evidence of Stk’emlúps are gone and paved over. But it doesn’t mean we should forget that Stk’emlúps ever existed.
We need to take a page from how the Dutch do things.
In Dutch cities, the past is remembered literally on the streets beneath people’s feet.
In The Netherlands, where once there stood the city gates and walls of cities, black paving stones are laid in the pavement to mark the old entrances and walls. These paving stones are called Groene Stadspoorten, which translates to green city gates.
Many Dutch cities are hundreds of years old. Not as old as the Secwepemc villages that predate present day Kamloops. But old enough that the present day Dutch want to remember those who lived in their cities before them. Groene Stadspoorten are a simple but effective reminder.
It would be a simple task to put outlines of Secwepemc pithouses into the pavement throughout the downtown of Kamloops. Simple but effective reminders of what our city was for eons before the current grid was overlaid and the landscape became paved parking lots.
The Dutch don’t just remember gates and walls. They remember people. Specifically Jewish people who were expelled from their homes and sent to death camps during World War II. In front of the houses where the Jews lived, in the pavement are Stolpersteine, which literally means tripping stones. On each tripping stone, is the name, date of birth and date of death of a Jewish person exterminated in the Holocaust. A silent testament to one who once lived there.
Most of our street signs, civic buildings or geography in Kamloops have been named for people of European descent. There is almost a complete absence of Secwepemc people commemorated anywhere in our city. It as if the people who were here for 10,000 years before 1810 might not have even existed.
The Dutch have shown, even a simple act like a tripping stone can be a powerful way to honour individuals. Maybe it is time to put some tripping stones on the streets of Kamloops as well. We could start by installing a tripping stone for the Secwepemc woman whose 550 year-old remains were found along Victoria Street West during last year’s street upgrades. A tripping stone on the site her remains were found would remind us that others came before us in this place now called Kamloops.
The new buildings along Lansdowne are good news for Kamloops. They will bring vibrancy and life to our downtown. But even as we build for the future, Kamloops needs to connect to our past.
As our city grows, small memorials, similar to Groene Stadspoorten and Stolpersteine, could remind us that what are now the parking lots and will soon be commercial buildings, were once home to many others.
As Kamloops grows, let’s build our own Groene Stadspoorten and Stolpersteine so we don’t forget what came before.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.