City returns land to Musqueam Indian Band 158 years after pre-emption


The City of Vancouver transferred ownership of 8902 Milton Street to the Musqueam Indian Band in recognition that the site was part of the land taken from indigenous people in 1860 and that the land held significant cultural and heritage value to the Musqueam people.


The municipal government for the first time agreed to give back ownership of land that was taken when European settlers first arrived. Previously in BC, land has been transferred to first nations only through a formal negotiation process with the federal and provincial government.

The site, with a market value of $5,814,700-million, was transferred at no cost to a subsidiary of a company controlled by the Musqueam Indian Band.  The transfer of the property is considered a grant at fair market value of the site.

Although a precedent, some questioned whether the city would transfer additional sites to indigenous peoples in a similar process. Questions have also been raised about whether land ownership affects planning and land use.


The native population had lived in villages along the Fraser River, and elsewhere in the region, for more than 2,700 years before the arrival of European explorers. Governor James Douglas in 1860 brought in a “pre-emption law” that designated lands in the region for the military and the native population, and allowed white males to stake off 160 acres of vacant land. Non-indigenous settlers began moving onto the land by 1862. Over the past 150 years, properties along the Fraser River have been developed for industrial and residential use.

The parcel of land transferred to the Musqueam is part of the Marpole Midden, a site that was declared in 1933 by the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to be a national historic site. The site is located at the southern tip of Granville Street.

A midden is a collection of bones, shells, shards and other artifacts associated with previous human occupation.

The Marpole Midden is the remains of a winter village and late period Musqueam house site cluster founded at the mouth of the Fraser River. Human remains and artefacts from the winter village were unearthed as early as 1884.  A cairn marking the Marpole Midden identifies the site as “one of the largest prehistoric middens on the Pacific Coast of Canada.” The midden, bound by Bentley Street to the west, Hudson Street to the east, Southwest Marine Drive and the Fraser River,  extends over 11 acres, with a depth at some spots of up to 15 feet. The Fraser Arms Hotel was built on the site in 1950.


Last Revised: Thursday, December 6, 2018