On a rainy day in Vancouver, people in the city often run and take cover. But in Stanley Park, the unceded and traditional territory of the Coast Salish nations of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil Waututh, the rain marks a time when indigenous plants, trees, and underbrush come alive.
And there is no better way to learn all about the ecological significance of Stanley Park than through Talaysay Tours. Since 2002, the First Nations owned and operated tour group has offered Aboriginal cultural experiences in and around Vancouver. Their Talking Trees tour, a journey through Stanley Park’s trailheads alongside a First Nations cultural ambassador, is a discovery of ancient and sacred medicinal plants and food sources in the park. And in thanks to a recent partnership with Fairmont Waterfront, the tour group is offering hotel guests a chance to explore the lands, stories, and ways of living of the Coast Salish people in an intimate, authentic setting.
Talaysay Tours founder Candace Campo leads a pack of guests through trees after being shuttled from Fairmont Waterfront to the Stanley Park Tea House on a wet February afternoon. “Our people utilized 122-different plants and trees for both food and medicine,” she explains as her and fellow guide Alfonso Salinas stroll along the South Creek Trail out to Beaver Lake. Campo, who is a member of the Shíshálh tribe, launched Talisay Tours alongside her husband, Larry, a member of the Squamish Nation, and brother, Jon, also of Shíshálh lineage. The Aboriginal and eco tour service, which also operates out of the Sunshine Coast and Squamish, launched the seasonal Talking Trees tours with Fairmont Waterfront in September 2018 as a package which is available between September through to May.
“We were a potlatch people,” Campo, a natural storyteller, says to the group. “So, this time of the year, it was really about celebrating, maintaining, and building relations with the other tribes.” There is much to be learned about the creation stories and societal structures of the communities which once thrived here. Campo explains the impressive berry production (controlled by the matriarch) and the consumption of the bulrush (which interestingly enough, provides more carbohydrates than an acre of potatoes) here in the park. She also mentions sourcing sap from cedar trees (known as the “tree of life”) and welcomes guests to sip on blackberry and stinging nettle tea, said to reduce stress and inflammation, to learn about the abundance of resources found here in Stanley Park. Campo then points to the alder tree, which produces a cold and sinus anecdote not too unlike modern-day Buckley’s, she says. Then, there is the ‘frog plant,’ which is still used as an antiseptic for skin ailments to this day.
Later that evening back at the Fairmont Waterfront, there is an Indigenous-inspired menu being prepared at the Arc Restaurant by resident executive chef Anthony Marzo. For the three-course dinner, which is included in the Talking Trees package available through the hotel, chef Marzo consulted Campo and the team at Talaysay Tours in the creation of these seasonal dishes that touched upon the local bounty. The first course is an oyster and herring roe garnished with kelp, hemlock, and eucalyptus emulsion. Cocktails are also served, including the Comox-based Wayward Distillation House’s honey distilled gin which is garnished with Indigenous botanicals and juniper. Then there is the elk tartar, served with a blackberry, elderberry, hazelnut and bone marrow sabayon, followed by the heart of the meal, a west coast kedgeree salmon, perfectly cooked over a bed of wild rice with a 63-degree egg.
To wrap up the dining experience, there is fry bread, served with dark chocolate and sour and sweet berries, taking taste buds on a journey through history and time. Enjoyed with a glass of red from Oliver-based Burrowing Owl, it is the perfect end to a splendid winter day spent appreciating the history of the Northwest coastline.