Six new panels were installed last week on the Ruskin Dam in Mission, thanks to Kwantlen First Nations artist Brandon Gabriel.
More than 100 people gathered at the dam on Thursday, Feb. 7 to celebrate the official unveiling of Gabriel’s project which he called “one of the biggest highlights” of his career.
“It was probably one of the most overwhelming experiences of my career as an artist to see it put on display in that way. It was emotional the whole way through. The entire experience was overwhelming in so many ways, and to have my whole family there was awesome,” said Gabriel.
Video coverage of the panel unveiling can be found at the link below:
Gabriel was first brought on board with the project in 2011, and over the years has been working on drawing designs, consulting with engineers and architects, and ensuring his vision for the pieces of steel was met.
“It was a steady, slow process putting the entire thing together and making sure my story was told in a good way.”
Gabriel added the project was a “huge team effort” with everyone involved.
According to Gabriel, each panel is 35-feet-long, and 12-feet-wide.
“Each one is about three storeys [tall],” he added.
Since the panels will constantly be exposed to moving water, they were engineered from weather-proof steel, and installed by a group of engineers at the end of January.
The panels are also an integral part of the dam’s infrastructure, and not just decorative, according to Gabriel.
Gabriel explained the panel artwork is important to the Kwantlen First Nation, as the Ruskin Dam area is an “active archaeological location in the heart of our [Kwantlen] territory,” dating back 9,000 years ago.
“On that site there’s a continuous presence of uninterrupted cultural findings to the present day. It’s important for Kwantlen people,” he elaborated.
According to Gabriel, when the first dam was built on the site in the 1930s, Kwantlen people were not consulted or respected.
That’s why this time around it was important that Kwantlen people were not disregarded, he said.
“I was quite impressed. BC Hydro spokesperson Chris O’Riley talked about the displacement of Kwantlen people at the time of the building, destruction of habitat, and the ancient village site under the dam. It was all addressed in his speech. It was a really good acknowledgement of that history,” Gabriel added.
Gabriel said it’s important the Kwantlen people be represented at the dam to ensure “history is told in a good way.”
Each panels illustrates and represents a different theme such as the Raven and the Sun, the Two Salmon, the Frog, the Mountain Goat and First Sunrise, and the Kwantlen Wolf Clan crest.