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c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city

Look Closer

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city

Look Closer

c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city


January 25, 2015 – January 24, 2016

The Museum of Anthropology, the Musqueam First Nation, and the Museum of Vancouver partner on a groundbreaking exploration of an ancient landscape and living culture in a series of exhibitions entitled c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city.  

People often think of Vancouver as a new city, when in fact this region has been occupied for 9000 years. Located in the area now commonly known as the neighbourhood of Marpole in Vancouver, c̓əsnaʔəm was first occupied almost 5000 years ago and became one of the largest of the Musqueam people’s ancient village sites approximately two thousand years ago. Generations of families lived at what was then the mouth of the Fraser River, harvesting the rich resources of the delta.

Over the past 125 years, archaeologists, collectors, and treasure hunters have mined the c̓əsnaʔəm village and burial ground for artifacts and ancestral remains. The land has been given various names since colonialism, including Great Fraser Midden, Eburne Midden, DhRs-1, and Marpole Midden — a name under which it would receive designation as a National Historic Site in 1933. Today, intersecting railway lines, roads, and bridges to Richmond and YVR Airport obscure the heart of Musqueam’s traditional territory, yet c̓əsnaʔəm’s importance to the Musqueam community remains undiminished.

The exhibition at MOA focuses on Musqueam identity and worldview. It highlights language, oral history and the community’s recent actions to protect c̓əsnaʔəm. Rich in multi-media, it demonstrates Musqueam’s continuous connection to their territory, despite the many changes to the land. Told from the first-person perspectives of Musqueam community members both past and present, it also seeks to replicate aspects of Musqueam ways of educating.  c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city at MOA will leave the visitor with a different understanding of the deep history of what is now known as Metro Vancouver.

The exhibition at the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre & Gallery focuses on the sophistication of the Musqueam culture – past and present. It makes connections between the expertise of pre-contact knowledge-holders and contemporary professionals. The exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver draws connections between c̓əsnaʔəm artifacts, Indigenous ways of knowing, colonialism, heritage politics, cultural resilience, and contemporary Musqueam culture. It includes graphic and 3D modelling of maps and artifacts, original videography, family-friendly interactivity, and soundscapes blending traditional and modern sounds.

For further exhibition information, visit

Curator: Susan Rowley, Jordan Wilson (Musqueam).