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New West’s new aquatic and community centre gets Indigenous name meaning “Sea Otter House”

təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre approved as facility’s new name
təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre is the name of the city's new pool and community centre, which is now under construction. It's a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ word for “Sea Otter House.”

The City of New Westminster’s future aquatic and community centre is named after an animal that often conjures up images of playfulness and joyfulness.

At Monday night’s council meeting, Qayqayt First Nation Chief Rhonda Larrabee announced the new facility would be named təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, a hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ word for “Sea Otter House.”

According to the city, təməsew̓txʷ is a combination of two words: “təməs” which means sea otter; and “ew̓txʷ” which means house. You can hear it pronounced here.

The name was selected by a naming advisory panel, whose members included representatives from the Spirit of the Children Society and the Qayqayt, q̓ʷa:̩n̓ƛən̓ (Kwantlen First Nation), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation).

Larrabee said Indigenous cultural organizations and local First nations worked together, sharing their personal histories of the area.

“The name that the panel has chosen represents the spirit of playfulness, joyfulness and relates to the fun, laughter and happiness that the residents will find at the new aquatic community centre,” she said. “It is the name of a mammal that can be seen on the Fraser River. I have seen videos of them frolicking on the log booms. I’m also reminded of the cheekiness of one who was feasting on the koi fish at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver. Yes, it is the otter.”

Steve Kellock, the city’s senior manager of recreation services, said it’s been nearly two years since city council directed staff to begin a process to engage with urban Indigenous peoples and First Nations to develop a proposed name for the new facility. He noted previous feedback had suggested that building language into the future facility would be a meaningful way to help the city on some of our goals for reconciliation.

Larrabee said the group is proud of the name that’s been selected for the facility, which will replace the Canada Games pool and Centennial Community Centre. She hopes it helps the community learn that Indigenous people had their our own languages, customs and values, which served them well for thousands of years. 

Council supports name

Mayor Jonathan Cote believes the city has landed on a good name for the new facility and feels it’s a name the community will support.

“As you mention Chief Larrabee, there are generations and generations of past languages on these lands that sadly over the last couple of hundred years have been displaced. Here we have an opportunity with a beautiful new facility in the community that will serve residents and many people outside of the community, to not only connect with the facility but also the indigenous language behind the name,” he said. “When I heard about the Sea Otter House, I couldn’t have thought of something more fitting for the aquatic centre because no doubt this is going to be a centre for play, community and activity. To me, a better name couldn’t’ be found.”

Even though the facility is being named after an animal that’s known for its playfulness, there was a very somber, thoughtful and respectful consideration of the facility’s new name, said Coun. Chinu Das, council’s liaison to the naming advisory panel.

“When the name was suggested, otter, I couldn’t have smiled wider if I could,” she said. “Because otters have this image of this naughty little animal which we have all seen frolicking in the water, doing their turns, flipping about. They put up a show. They are fun-loving, mischievous.”

Like the otters, who, as Larrabee described, frolic on log booms, Coun. Mary Trentadue said families will be able to frolic in the new pool

“What a great name,” agreed Coun. Chuck Puchmayr. “Otter, I see them often in the Fraser River. They follow the food up the river. They are all over our coast, but they are very common to New West, so it was a brilliant choice.”

According to a press release from the City of New Westminster, the naming advisory panel identified the sea otter as representing the playfulness and joyfulness that will be reflective of the new space. Oral history confirms that the sea otter used to inhabit these waters where the freshwater of the river meets the saltwater of the sea. The sea otter is also a social animal that symbolizes a connection amongst communities and people.

"We are excited that New Westminster city council approved the name təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre for the new facility. Having the facility name be in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ provides an opportunity for us all to be language learners in a time of Indigenous language revival and for communities and families to come together around shared values of learning, physical activity, inclusivity and joy,” the naming advisory panel said in the press release. “təməs is a playful and social creature reflecting some of the important stories that we heard from New Westminster residents. We hope that təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre will be a welcoming, safe and inviting place for many generations to come.”

Cote thanked local First Nations and urban Indigenous representatives for their knowledge, insights and guidance in leading the city through the facility naming process.

“Actively and meaningfully working with local First Nations and the Indigenous community is a significant part of the City of New Westminster’s reconciliation efforts,” he said. “Choosing an Indigenous name for the new aquatic and community centre acknowledges the importance of the history of this land and the peoples that have long lived here.”

Now under construction, the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre is scheduled to open in late 2023, with demolition of the current facilities and completion of the outdoor spaces anticipated to be complete for summer 2024. 

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus