Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 22 – Native Education College

It’s back! I has been 3 years since I published my last Local History Advent Calendar! So much has happened since that last time—including the publication of my first book, Mount Pleasant Stories—that I figured it was about time to dust off the Local History Advent Calendar once again. Similar to a regular advent calendar but instead of chocolate treats, each day you “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder– 24 facts or stories about local history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

The Native Education College’s impressive structure, based on traditional Coast Salish architecture, serves as a tangible reminder that Indigenous people are the first people of these lands. 

NEC building in background. Granite History marker SE corner 5th and Scotia. Photo: C.Hagemoen

Established in 1967, the Native Education Centre (NEC), now the Native Education College, began as a project to meet the educational needs of Vancouver’s growing urban Indigenous population and to provide “Indigenous learners with the academic and life skills to secure employment and improve their quality of life”. The College was established under the leadership and direction of Ray Collins from the Department of Indian Affairs and local Indigenous leaders like Gertrude Guerin. In 1979, the NEC became a private post-secondary college operated and controlled by BC First Nations. 

The college’s purpose-built campus opened in 1985 at East 5th and Scotia. Prior to the construction of the campus 285 East 5th, the NEC was operating out of a small space at 224 West Broadway. The NEC’s post-and-beam longhouse was designed by Vancouver architect Larry McFarland, assisted by building designer Malcom McSporran. The building’s largest beams are made from first growth Douglas Fir. 

Raising the pole, 1985, courtesy Native Education College.

The 42-foot totem pole on the east side of the building was carved by renowned Nisga’a master carver Norman Tait (1941-2016). Named Wil Sayt Bakwhlgat, which means “the place where the people gather”, Tait designed the pole to illustrate a Nisga’a myth about the origin of forest, water, and sky animals. The totem pole’s traditional doorway carved into the base serves as the longhouse’s ceremonial entrance. 

The NEC celebrated its 55th anniversary this year.

NEC pole in 2022. Photo: C. Hagemoen

You can read this and other Mount Pleasant stories in my walking tour book, Mount Pleasant Stories. Copies are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulpfiction Books – 2422 Main Street and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St. It makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for your favourite local history buff!

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