This mural celebrates the surrounding land for its capacity to produce food. Following the retreat of the glaciers the people of the Interior Plateau Region of BC (the  Okanagan and Secwepemc) lived here for ten thousand years. Everything they did was rooted in their geography. They managed the health of the land by selective burning to create grazing areas for game and to promote hundreds of preferred edible plants. The knowledge of exactly when and exactly where to harvest  from the valley bottom to the mountain tops was passed down from generation to generation. As Eric Mitchell (Okanagan Nation) says, “[we] never quit harvesting our food even when hunting and fishing regulations were put in place.” The four food chiefs of the Okanagan: Skmxist (BEAR), Ntytyix (SPRING SALMON), Spitlem (BITTER-ROOT) and  Siya? (SASKATOON BERRY) frame this mural.

Shirley Bird, Robin LeDrew and Julianna Alexander at the grand opening

With colonization, settlers pre-empted and fenced both range and valley bottom land. Finding the glacial soil rich, they planted grain and hay. Farming these crops, they utilized the latest technology from horse drawn plows through steam driven combines to gasoline powered swathers. Hay stacks, hay barns, square bales and round; silos and silage pits: each method has been adapted and refined and in turn each type of farming has defined the seasonal lives of local farming families.

Hunting, fishing and animal husbandry have always contributed to the local diet. Before the arrival of Europeans, the land was a rich larder of game: fur, feather and fin. Some once-common game animals have disappeared, others have acclimatized to settlement. While cattle-ranching has predominated, farmers have raised pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens, even ostriches. Hunting and fishing remain valuable sources of food for many families. In the future, we are told, there may be grasshopper farms.

The kitchen garden and vegetable field crops provided a rich cornucopia of vegetables for home and market. Some crops persisted like potatoes; others were experimental such as ginseng. Berries and tree fruits have been grown successfully with records of apple trees being established in the late 1800’s .

Eric Mitchell visiting the mural and some of the artists

Human ingenuity has produced an extraordinary range of technology for nurturing, harvesting, processing and utilizing the bounty of the land. From elegant fishing spears, hooks and weirs for catching salmon through mortar and pestle for processing roots; berry picking and cooking baskets made from cedar root to elegantly designed longbows and points, the Okanagan and Secwepemc people had fashioned highly specialized tools that maximized the capacity to feed the local population while maintaining a balance with the natural ecosystems.

Settlement brought all the innovations of the industrial revolution: artificial light from oil lamps to electricity extended working hours and increased labour capacity. Inventions such as the cream separator, the wood cook stove, bell canning jars and the wooden bee hive could be found on many farms. Immigrant families brought specialised tools and a taste for a variety of fruits and vegetables. By building greenhouses, producers can now experiment with vegetables that appeal to multicultural influences in our diet: Chinese cabbage and bok choy, hot habanero peppers and jalapenos; eggplant and tomatoes.

  The rising popularity of eating locally is marked by the growth of farmer’s markets, farm gate sales and good food box programs as well as greenhouses. An agricultural drone in the mural hints at the potential for technology to push the boundaries of food production into the future. However, technology without cultural grounding will not secure food systems. The whole mural is regarded by BEAR, who reminds us that it is ultimately through the generosity of the natural world that we are nourished.

“We are nothing without the land, water, air and fire. These four elements demand the greatest respect which must be practised with great diligence.” Julianna Alexander 

In honour of the traditional territories of the Secwepemc and Okanagan People we say thank you to the land that feeds us.