Working as a First Nations Access Coordinator, Jillian Stephens has her hands full when it comes to running cultural programs and supporting students at Coast Mountain College.
But when the opportunity came up to help curate a theme for the interior aesthetic of the new student accommodation building on the Terrace campus, she just couldn’t say no. For her, this new building is an opportunity for the College to make the right impression on its students and visitors.
“The general theme for the building is based on Indigenous functions, we’re answering the call to action to build student capacity with intercultural understanding and mutual respect,” she explains.
“Being the school of choice for place-based experiences, we wanted that feeling to be imbedded from the start for a student with housing, by creating that home away from home feeling and building that connection.”
Located at the corner of McConnell Ave. and Highway 113, it’s hard to miss the sprawling construction of the three-story building. As the College continues to grow with both domestic and international students, the need for better student accommodation can no longer be put aside.
The new student accommodation building will replace the 40-year-old-buildings on campus following an $18.7 million investment from the province, announced September 2019. Once completed this fall, it will house a large cultural space, 108 student rooms, two hotel suites, an elder suite, two shared kitchens, two collaboration areas, a computer lab, an Esports room, two shared kitchens and bike storage.
“It looks just as big as it sounds. I went in there recently for a site visit and the building is massive. It's beautiful, spacious and it's already welcoming — I can only imagine what it's going to feel like once we start filling it,” Stephens says.
After many months of planning, Stephens and the housing team will finally start bringing the building to life. Their theme draws on the beauty of the rugged landscape of the Northwest and the distinct cultural aspects of the surrounding First Nations territories.
"We thought about how we can combine different types of people coming together in one space. From those who grew up here to those who just immigrated into Canada,” she says.
“We know how difficult it is for First Nations students leaving their community, so we wanted to have aspects of their home here to lower their anxieties... but we also wanted it to be an experiential piece for international students so they can still experience the North even when they can’t be outside all the time.”
Stephens says overall, the incredible mountains here are what attract us and make this place home. Embarking from that frame of reference, each floor and wing is to illustrate a different aspect of the trail-walking experience outdoors.
“We wanted our first floor to be the root of where we are, which is the grounding aspects of nature and the foundation of ourselves,” she says, adding that details of leaves and water will be found throughout that level to reflect growth. The two cultural spaces and elder suite have been intentionally placed there to represent community and wisdom.
The second floor is intended to be an “eye-level experience”, where Stephens says allusions to local wildlife, such as animals and flora, will be the main way to express “sharing the land”.
“The second floor is where we create things together. We focused on the harvesting, creating and the sharing of our region, and what would be happening here through the dining and collaboration areas.”
As for the third floor, Stephen says the theme will be the “bird’s eye view of it all” where the scenic mountains and lakes are ingrained into this level. Throughout the entire building, accents of red and traditional neutral colours will be entrenched amongst wooden cedar panels and a variety of artwork.
“We are working with 10 artists from across the Northwest region, from talented people who focus on traditional form lines, contemporary digital art to photography. We will fill these themes with their pictures and prints so with whatever they create, we want students walking through to see and feel their perspective of the region,” she says.
With so much heart already invested into the project, Stephens says she’s most excited about the Elders suite. This mountain-view room includes a kitchen, a living room and a private bedroom.
Many post-secondary schools offer in-residence programs and Stephens is hopeful that this will entice Elders with comfortable accommodation so they can help facilitate cultural activities on campus.
“Elders are such valuable sources of traditional knowledge and cultural support since time immemorial… we also want to offer counseling with Elders or a drop-in with Elders' breakfast. We're hoping that we can offer more cross-cultural opportunities by them being directly in housing.”
With the new student accommodation building’s completion in sight, housing applications have increased significantly for this upcoming school year as many are eager to live on campus now. Stephens says she’s excited for future students to create good memories through transformative experiences in this new space.
“We didn't want students to just have a pillow and a bed to sleep on between their studies, we wanted them to have a home,” she says.
“And creating all of this is so important because we're not only investing into their education, we're investing into their lives.”