DESIGN FEATURE: Inspirational Kwa’lilas Hotel

VANCOUVER ISLAND —The Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw nation have built a modern boutique hotel, called Kwa’lilas, in the unspoiled north of Vancouver Island. Its purpose — to present their cultural stories and artwork to visitors. Kwa’lilas is a traditional word that means “a place to sleep.” The idea is that guests to this northern region of Vancouver Island in British Columbia will find a peaceful rest after a day of exploration.

And the stories they have are at once tragic and inspirational. In 1964, the Gwa’sala-and Nakwaxda’xw nations were relocated from their villages on the coast of B.C. to Tsulquate, a newly-built reserve just outside Port Hardy. With only five homes for over 200 people, the move proved disastrous. 

In 2012, two boats travelled to their original village sites, bringing community members to their ancestral homelands, some for the first ime.

It took 38 years of negotiations, but Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw nations finally received compensation toward the social and cultural damage caused by the 1964 relocation.

“The Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw are a resilient people and the population is now over 1,000 strong and growing,” says the hotel website. “On the reserve, we have our own school and health clinic. Families are once again holding potlatches and our young people are learning to dance and sing and speak their language. In 2014 the k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) was established to create opportunities for our future.”

As one of their business developments following the settlement, they purchased an off site motel and have turned it into a First Nations showpiece. Inside Design was chosen to design the hotel — a balancing act that included modern, boutique elements and cultural aspects.  

“We used traditional colours; grey, black and red in a contemporary way,” said Judy Henderson of Inside Design. “A large copper art installation, depicting village life and the passage of time, was commissioned for the hotel lobby. We designed the lobby with this striking copper piece in mind – making the artwork a focal point for guests.

“In guestrooms, blankets with traditional designs and colours are used to accent crisp white bed sheets. Symmetrical animal carvings are incorporated into headboards, with subtle backlighting.

“The design delivers the comfort and spatial expectations of a modern boutique hotel, set against unique traditional art and sculpture. It tells the story of its location and the history of its native people.”

Huge conference room mural provides a dramatic backdrop for speakers.
Huge conference room mural provides a dramatic backdrop for speakers.