Condo as colonialism redux – again

Whalley, BC - historical photo

Here’s yet another condo development framed as a modern repeat of Canada’s 19th C colonial pioneer era. It’s called “Venue” and it’s in Whalley, a small town centre within Surrey, a large, racially mixed Vancouver suburb mostly known for farming. Of all the marketing means at their disposal, Venue has decided to frame its target market as “adventurers and entrepreneurs” and it makes an explicit link between these potential buyers and prior white “adventurers” who apparently “settled” Whalley. Never mind the fact that that land was already “settled” by its original First Nations inhabitants or that the province’s colonial infrastructure was built by Chinese labour. Never let history get in the way of historical romance! So colony, much pioneer.

Venue Surrey - condos sold to "adventurers and entrepreneurs"

What’s different about this particular instance of pioneer romance is that Venue’s marketing company has—possibly preemptively?—acknowledged the preexistence of First Nations on the land (see slide below). But it puts this history under the telling title “Land Rich in Resources” then jumps abruptly to a cheery late 19th C pioneer romance under the title “Home to a Hardy Few.” That’s a myth that most of us, having lived through ten years of urban male heritage hipsterism, are probably all too familiar with. Where did the native inhabitants go? I suppose a “hardy few” white pioneers and “adventurers” just showed up on a suddenly depopulated Terra Nullius and started building.

Venue Surrey - reference to the people who first occupied the land

So, one has to ask who is the “we” in Venue’s writing of this history? White people whose predecessors “settled” land occupied by Halqemeylem-speaking aboriginal peoples? And who is the “we” that is now the target market for these condo ads? The sheer level of assumption behind the use of the “we” pronoun is disturbing. It’s certainly not a “we” that includes First Nations buyers, who by the way now make up about 2.5% of Surrey’s population, nor does it seem to address the Indo-Canadians who make up over 30%.

Whatever it is, it seems to be a marketing gambit that works for white buyers. Is that conscious? I almost hope this approach and its whitewashing of history is just down to obliviousness because if they’re conscious of what they’re doing… well it’s hard to say if that would be worse or better.

Venue Surrey - condos in the town colonized by "the hardy few"

More generally I’m fascinated that this marketing trope never seems to go away, despite First Nations issues being so much in the news, from discussion of deplorable conditions in FN communities during the recent Canadian federal election, to the long Truth and Reconciliation Commission process which recently culminated in its highly publicized  and damning report.

It’s not as if there’s no pushback. Heritage hipsterism has finally started to encounter resistance, and not just from me. Think of Saffron Colonial, the controversial  colonial-themed Portland restaurant that was recently forced to change its name in the face of public outrage (by the way the new name isn’t much of an improvement, hardly surprising considering the owners called protesters the c-word).

I ran the Venue marketing past my friend Elee, who immediately emailed Venue (and BCC’d me) suggesting that they maybe take the TRC Challenge and actually read the Truth and Reconciliation report, after which they could maybe amend their writing of Whalley’s history.

Why do I keep getting so het up about these condo ads?  Because I’m so tired of this particular distortion of Canadian history. It is so abundant in real estate marketing that it makes the word ubiquitous seem like an understatement. It’s abundant enough in our media environment that it is being unconsciously absorbed by tens of thousands of people. I consider these ads a form of counter-education. They’re profoundly ideological, there’s a shedload of money behind them, they’re everywhere, and they just keep coming.

If you want to write Venue and tell them what you think, the email address is on their site. Not surprisingly, they only have Facebook and Instagram. If they had Twitter I’d have been mocking them already and I suspect I wouldn’t be alone.

If you want to see my original article on this heritage hipster thing, it’s here.

As usual, my question is this: evil, or group stupidity? Or are those more or less the same thing?

Venue Surrey - Brownsville pioneers

PS It occurs to me that either the marketers, or the target audience, or both, might be women, since we seem to have left behind images of the bearded plaid-clad lumberjack and have replaced them with more civic-style images. Though most of the figures are still largely male and conservative, there are images of kids. Is this a new mutation of heritage hipsterism?

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