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Returning to the River

The Legacy of qəyqə́yt Village by Drew & Phyllis Atkins

Artists: Drew and Phyllis Atkins
Location: 12155 Musqueam Drive
Category: Private collection
Owner: Lehigh Hanson Materials Ltd.
Year Installed: 2016

About Returning to the River

Returning to the River is a sculpture that marks the site of a former seasonal fishing village (qəyqə́yt village), now home to an Ocean Concrete plant. The name “qəyqə́yt” translates to “resting place” in the language of the Coast Salish People. First Nations fishers and traders—from as far away as Nanaimo, Lummi Washington, and Squamish—shared qəyqə́yt village to camp, harvest, and process fish during the abundant summer months. It is said that the river was so thick with salmon that you could walk on their backs.

Husband-wife artist team Drew and Phyllis Atkins used shapes of red steel to create the outline of a salmon, mounted on a concrete backdrop that represents a woven cedar basket. Their sculpture celebrates the long history of this site and honours the spring salmon.

The artwork was commissioned as an initiative of the Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group to share the culture and history of the Coast Salish Peoples with current residents. It was sponsored by Lehigh Hanson Materials Ltd.

More on qəyqə́yt village

About the Artists

Drew Atkins was born in Victoria, BC in 1962. He started carving long before he ever touched a knife to wood. As a young boy he spent many afternoons watching some of the early Masters carve at the Royal History Museum’s Totem Pole Park in Victoria, planting a seed that would take root much later in life. He apprenticed under renowned Master Carver Xwa-lack-tun (Rick Harry) for eight years, working on many projects together. Drew owns and operates K'wy'i'y'e Spring Salmon Studio & Gallery with his wife Phyllis Atkins.

Phyllis (Qwoy’tic’a) Atkins is an artist of the Kwantlen First Nation whose name means “I wear the clouds like a blanket” or “Shrouded in clouds.” Her name comes from the Nɬeʔkepmx language and it was given to her by her maternal grandfather Hereditary Chief Anthony Joe of the Shakan Band (Thompson River People). The artist is also part Sto:lo (People of the river). Atkins has taken oil painting lessons from Barbara Boldt and hand-carved silver jewelry lessons by Master Carver Derek Wilson. She is a renowned painter and jeweler at their home on Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley.

Her other public artworks for the City of Surrey are Paddling through the Waves of Change and We Are All Connected to This Land.