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​ Musqueam and VSB rename Sir Mathew Begbie Elementary – a new seismically safe school

| Categories: Media Release & Advisories

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Today, Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary was gifted with a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ name at a special renaming ceremony hosted by the Musqueam Indian Band. The school welcomed students, staff, delegates and rightsholders to celebrate the new name and completion of the first seismically safe school in B.C. built with Canadian mass timber. 

The new school name is wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm, which in English means “the sun rising over the horizon”. The name was selected in collaboration with the Musqueam Language and Culture Department in recognition of Vancouver’s Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood where the school is located, and, like a sunrise, the new beginning for this school community.

“hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ is the language our ancestors spoke for thousands of years, which was systematically taken from us to the point that there are no longer any fluent hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speakers in Musqueam,” said Chief yəχʷyaχʷələq (Wayne Sparrow). “Being asked to share our language with partners, and provide hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ names to replace names associated with colonization, is an important step toward rights recognition, reconciliation and hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ revitalization. Musqueam looks forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship with VSB and schools throughout our territory.”

“Asking Musqueam to gift the school a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ name is one way the District is showing its commitment to continuing our reconciliation journey,” says Helen McGregor, VSB superintendent. “It increases the knowledge, awareness, appreciation of and respect for Musqueam history, language, tradition, culture and contributions.”

The new, seismically safe school is a leader in sustainable construction, completely built with Canadian mass timber, a new type of engineered wood that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, uses innovative technologies, sustainable and local materials. Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, the school is constructed with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, a type of mass timber that is lightweight and has superior acoustic, seismic and thermal performance when compared to concrete and steel.

“The efficient manufacturing process of CLT uses less energy inputs to produce while delivering a strong and more durable product than traditional lumber,” says Steve Synder, the VSB project manager who played an integral part in securing CLT for the project. “By using mass timber, wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm is part of the movement to revolutionize the production and construction of seismically safe schools and acts as a prototype for future new schools across Canada.”

As part of the Seismic Mitigation Program, $22.4 million was allocated to fully replace the school. Funding for the project was primarily provided by the Ministry of Education and Child Care.  Supplemental funding was provided by Natural Resources Canada’s Green Construction through Wood (GCWood) Program, which encourages the use of wood in non-traditional construction projects.

“I’m proud of the investments our government has made to support families in Vancouver with safer learning environments,” says Rachna Singh, Minister of Education and Child Care. “It’s exciting that the new wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm school was built using mass timber which will help meet our government’s commitment to low carbon construction, while also delivering a vibrant and engaging space for students and teachers to enjoy for many years to come.”

"It remains a priority of the Board to ensure all students attend seismically safe schools as quickly as possible," says Victoria Jung, VSB Board Chair. "We are delighted that students of wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm are now enjoying their new school that will serve generations to come, allowing students to thrive in seismically safe and modern learning environments."

The replacement school incorporates 21st century design to optimize flexible learning spaces and maximize student collaboration. It also includes a state-of-the-art facility built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard and supports B.C.’s new curriculum with modern and open learning spaces.

Additional Quotes

“The collaboration between the Musqueam Indian Band and the Vancouver School District’s Indigenous Education Department on selecting the new name is an important example of supporting reconciliation in our schools,” says Niki Sharma, MLA for Vancouver-Hastings. “I’m looking forward to seeing how the new facility and name will support families and shape the wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm school community in the years to come.”

“On behalf of our staff, students and families we would like to sincerely thank the Musqueam Indian Band for gifting the school our new name,” says John Cortens, principal of wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary. “We receive it with gratitude and humility as we mark this bright, new chapter.”

"Our community is so excited about the new, accessible and beautiful building! We are honoured to have been gifted the new name and do our part in the much-needed reconciliation efforts being made by the District," says Lauren Asperin, wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm PAC Executive Co-Chair.

Quick facts:

  • The new name of the school, wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm, was created in collaboration with the Musqueam Language and Culture Department and the District’s Indigenous Education Department. District stakeholders were consulted in November 2021 who supported the new name, which was subsequently unanimously approved by the Vancouver School Board.
  • The full name, wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary, should be used during formal discussion or documents. Click here to hear how Musqeuam Elder, Larry Grant pronounces wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm.
  • In every day speech, the shortened wək̓ʷan̓əs Elementary, “sun rising”, is grammatically correct and a remains a respectful interpretation of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ name.
  • The original Begbie Elementary was constructed 100 years ago, in 1922.
  • The new two-story school features open-learning spaces, a neighborhood learning centre and a 110-piece rooftop solar panel.
  • Construction of the new school began in April 2020 and was completed in October 2022.
  • There are approximately 330 students enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 7 currently at wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm.
  • Click here to see the students first reaction to their new seismically safe school, wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary.

A note regarding hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓

hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ uses the North American Phonetic Alphabet, which differs from the Latin alphabet used for English. The name wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm should only be published online or in print if each character is correct. 

About Musqueam Indian Band

hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) people have lived in the Fraser River estuary since time immemorial. We are a proud and culturally-resilient First Nation of more than 1,300 members. About half of our members live in a small portion of our territory known as Musqueam Reserve, located south of Marine Drive in Vancouver. Many of the remaining members live throughout Musqueam’s territory, now called Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Delta, North Vancouver, West Vancouver and New Westminster. Our lands and waters continue to support our cultural and economic practices, while serving as a source of knowledge and memory, encoded with our teachings and laws.


For more information or interview requests, contact: 

VSB Communications 

Musqueam Indian Band

Odette Wilson

Communications Officer

Office: 604-269-3448

Cell: 236-885-7335

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