Grand Chief Bernard Robert Charles Memorial Plaza has officially been named, with the unveiling of City of White Rock signage at the East Beach landmark on Wednesday (May 11).
Around 100 spectators, including Semiahmoo First Nation members council members and elders, White Rock city councillors and staff and White Rock RCMP members were welcomed by SFN Chief Harley Chappell as they gathered on the unceded traditional territories of the Semiahmoo First Nation and the broader territory of the Coast Salish Nation to commemorate the naming.
The plaza has been on a long journey to being officially recognized, Chappell and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker noted in remarks to the crowd – which included Charles’ sisters Mabel and Barb, son Shane and grandchildren Tyler and Curtis Whitley and Raven and Ariel Charles.
The plaza area was known previously as Lions Lookout Park, and then as Totem Plaza, following the installation of a Haida totem and a Coast Salish house pole, carved by Robert Davidson and Leonard and Leslie Wells, as part of ‘The Gift” – a gesture of reconciliation sponsored by the RCMP on its 125th anniversary in 1999.
Charles, who served as elected Grand Chief for 33 years, was a beloved leader of not only the SFN, but also of White Rock, Chappell and Walker recalled, which is why the plaza was dedicated to him after his passing in 2008.
But it was subsequently discovered by the current council in 2019 that there were some lingering questions about whether the dedication had officially changed the name of the landmark.
“We didn’t, quite frankly, do a darn thing about it and we are here today to rectify that,” Walker said, noting that the official naming was part of the city’s commitment to reconciliation and building a close ongoing relationship between SFN and the city.
“We have been a part of the problem, now it’s time for us to be a part of the solution… This is the next step, not the last step.”
Chief Harley Chappell expressed gratitude for being able to come together with the descendants of Charles and with the City of White Rock to reveal the new sign of the plaza.
Chappell and former Mayor, MLA and MP Gordon Hogg – a close personal friend of Charles – noted that Charles had been an early champion of the principle of reconciliation.
“You go a lot further together, rather than fighting,” Chappell quoted Charles as saying.
Before the unveiling of the sign, SFN members conducted a blanket ceremony, wrapping relatives of Chief Bernard in orange-and-black blankets.
It’s “a symbol of love and healing, it is a symbol of an embrace or a hug,” Chappell explained.
The plaza was always a place that reminded them of Charles, he said, and to have the sign unveiled after all these years is very emotional for the family.
“They don’t have tears in their eyes for their grandfather anymore, but they have love, celebration and joy.”
With files from Alex Browne