Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Community and Change:
Aboriginal Social Clubs

A limited number of threads link together significant aboriginal cultural and political leaders with contemporary aboriginal organizations and clubs. These links provide a window on the emergence of urban aboriginal communities in which self-identifying traditionalists and “moderns” circulated. Key actors and groups involved in modern Indian art and cultural practices included those who lived in and/or migrated to and from the city. People joined together in Vancouver because of cultural connections and similarity between areas, including “the diffusion of culture by the mass media.” Links of kinship, friendship and community ties between artists and organizations created a context for the formation of social clubs, created and led by aboriginal people themselves.

Salish canoe races in North Vancouver

Salish canoe races in North Vancouver

Communities were formed in Vancouver on unstable ground, parallel to great socio-political change in which some political and cultural leaders crossed national and religious lines to achieve shared goals. For example, Catholic Coast Salish leader Andy Paull joined the predominantly Anglican Native Brotherhood in 1933. Paull, also an important sports figure in Vancouver, mentored Simon Baker, whose Coast Salish family created the Capilano Community club in the 1940s to honour the teachings of Mary Capilano. By 1958 the Club had grown from family gatherings to large sports and powwow events that boasted thousands of participants and spectators. Baker’s interests also included his membership in the Native Brotherhood, and the Vancouver Coqualeetza Fellowship Club, formed by residential school graduates with the support of Raley, their past principal. The membership was “non-sectarian and non-political” (Evans) and included in its mandate the aim to “gather and display items made by Native people of BC and America,” and to assist, support and provide a gathering place for newcomers to the city.

In 1953 the Coqualeetza club held their first exhibition of Native arts and crafts at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which included a cross-section of artists whose rich and multi-layered lives also involved serving as artist-educators, board-members and community and political leaders. These people created a living aboriginal public identity recognized as far away as Europe, as opposed to the archival, anthropological identity that was framed by museums. Examining the activities that took place in association the social clubs has the potential to unravel existing art histories that have focused solely on Indian art production in museums and galleries.

December 1931




February 14, 1950




June 1, 1954



June 15, 1963



May 17, 1968