Art and social enterprise


Dear Artist,

My hometown of Vancouver serves as a gateway to some of the  remote hearts of Canada’s First Nations communities. The city could be seen as merely a pass-through for purpose-driven travellers, artists and historians en route to the islands and forests of her ancestral peoples. Vancouver’s neighbourhoods-in-transition seem to be invisible. For urban dwellers, the contributions and struggles of many First Nations are noticeable most often in the form of polished, re-contextualized objects of art sold on Gallery Row or can be seen as breathtaking exhibits on the other side of town in the Museum of Anthropology.


Skwachays Lodge, Poem Suite #501 (Art detail),
drawing and poetry
by Clifton Fred, Tlingit artist

Last week Peter and I went to sleep in an Old Victorian downtown — a once derelict, single room occupancy at the edge of the untouchable alleys, now gutted and re-imagined as a golden façade in the spring sunshine and retrofitted at the roof with a traditional longhouse and totem pole. From the street, a sign in the window read, “Authentic Aboriginal Art Hotel.” Operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, it’s the love labour of the Society’s CEO David Eddy, who had the idea to create a profit-making boutique hotel and gallery in the heart of one of Vancouver’s transitioning neighbourhoods — one that could support Aboriginal artists.


Skwachays Lodge
Longhouse Suite #603,
back-lit triptych headboard
by Sabina Hill

Part gallery, part hotel and part live-work studios, Skwatchàys Lodge is a social enterprise, applying commercial strategies to enrich people’s lives by connecting real needs with real value. Cozy in our room, we slept beneath Nancy A. Luis’ giant dream catcher — a salmon-scooping spirit bear. In the morning, on the roof, behind the longhouse façade, a smudging ceremony with an elder or a healing ritual in the in-house sweat lodge is offered — for renewal, for participation, for art.



Eric Parnell, Haida artist, working on a 20-foot table of his own design, part of the official VNHS logo. This table is now the centrepiece of a welcome room at the lodge.



PS: “The universe is transformation; our life is what our thoughts make it.” (Marcus Aurelius)

Esoterica: Perhaps artists have always understood the needs-value exchange of social enterprise and the deepening of experience that accompanies the making and sharing of art. At Skwatchàys, guests mingle with the artists and get to share in the magic. Artists are part of a fair-trade gallery, and revenues support social housing that would otherwise struggle to maintain sustainability. Inspired by Skwatchàys, cities in Australia and the UK are dreaming up ways to create their own art hotels. “People go nuts over it. In reviews, they talk about the great staff, the beautiful art, the unusualness, the authenticity and the social enterprise.” (David Eddy, CEO of the Vancouver Native Housing Society)


Rooftop Longhouse

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“It’s unbelievable; it’s beyond our wildest dreams. This model can be pan-Canadian. It can actually be worldwide in any urban centre with a large indigenous population.” (David Eddy)



  1. What an inspirational post. This method of reintegrating disenfranchised cultures into modern commercial life could be used anywhere. Thanks for showing this example.

  2. Alexandra Vance on

    Thank you for this inspiring writing. Your letters are richer and even more wonderful each week. Thank you for taking the time to share with so many.

    • Thank you Sara,we live in Florida and have many Canadians that come for the winter months some are Native and my husband and I are Native as well.So good to see this innovative approach to sharing art,housing and culture,blessings,Mary Gayle

  3. Valaida D'Alessio on

    Thank you Sara! I enjoy all your posts. Keeps me connected in Maui. Loved the Egon Schiel post.

  4. Your post is welcome, as usual. We have traveled through the Northwest and into Alaska a couple of times and enjoyed the native art. We have plans for another visit and may look into this establishment.

  5. Such a beautiful place! Thank You for posting this precious jewel! Am adding this destination to my bucket list to check out in the very near future. Also thank you for the quote from Marcus Aurelius, one of my favorite philosophers.
    Indeed, “…our life IS what our thoughts make it.” Appreciate this reminder.

  6. carlene lagrou on

    Loved this letter and the one on Egon Schiel, taught a workshop this week and read them your post. It was so inspiring and written perfectly. Last summer I traveled to Alaska and so enjoyed the culture and scenery. Sitka and the totem park was a favorite, Seeing some of the totems Emily Carr painted and the Russian influence on the architecture was so enjoyable. Thanks for your posts.

  7. So glad that our native communities are finding ways of making a living while sharing their great wealth of talent and knowledge. I just had the great pleasure of visiting BC, the source of so much inspiration and my thoughts while there returned inevitably to our first nations and the land.

  8. Hi Sara I would just like to say how much I look forward to and devour each and every letter of yours and your late Dad’s! Thank you so much for sharing unconditionally across the globe and the inspiration and joy you are giving!! From
    This Paradise which is Plett!
    Plettenberg Bay Western Cape South Africa

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