Tag Archives: rock art

Rock Art on Gabriola Island in 1792

Descanso Bay Rock Art, 1792. Source: U. Washington

From the University of Washington, an unexpected image of a large Gabriola Island rockshelter containing rock art, entititled:

Northwest Coast carvings on cliff near Descanso Bay, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, in engraving made 1792.

Cardero, Jose, b. 1767 or 8

Notes: Photograph of engraving of explorers and indians viewing a carved head and other petroglyphs on the side of a cliff. The caption says it is a view of a natural gallery, one hundred feet long, and ten feet wide near Descanso Bay.

Caption on image: Vista de una galeria natural, ce cien pies de largo y diez de ancho, en la inmediacion del puerto del Descanso, en el estrecho de Juan de Fuca Image from Alessandro Malaspina’s Viaje politico-cientifico alrededor del mundo, 1885, f.p. 200

I presume this is the “Malaspina Galleries” near the ferry terminal – I didn’t know there was rock art there though and maybe there isn’t, anymore.  Perhaps this place, or this one? Or, perhaps the unusual pitted and pocked natural sandstone fooled the Spanish, though it sure looks like there is a large image in the middle of that engraving.   Quick, Gabriolans, trot down there and check it out.

Malaspina Galleries, Gabriola Island. Photo: Kevin Oke.

Stanley Park’s Wandering Petroglyph

Petroglyph Boulder in Stanley Park. Source: Vancouver Public Library

I was intrigued by this 1930s photo of noted Vancouver photographer Philip Timms perched beside a large petroglyph in Stanley Park, not least because it is obviously not from the coast. The caption indicates as much: “rock was brought to Stanley Park from the Cariboo; at the former totem pole site at Lumberman’s Arch.”

A little digging around suggests this boulder was discovered in 1923 in the Lone Cabin Creek area of the middle Fraser River, just south of the Gang Ranch. It was moved to Stanley Park in 1926. As of 2002 at least, it was still there. If anyone knows for sure where it is, let me know.  The complete absence from flickr, for example, suggests to me that the information below sayng it is stashed out of site at the Vancouver Museum may be accurate.  This site has a number of undated pictures of it (not the apparent deterioration from the picture above – it probably doesn’t do well in the rain) and some history and interpretation which I can’t vouch for:

It is thought that this boulder may have been a marker of a Salmon site. Another theory has the stone important in puberty rites. This boulder is probably about 500 years old. This petroglyph was carved in the vicinity of Lone Cabin Creek, north of Lillooet, on the Fraser River. It first gained Euro-Canadian attention in 1923 upon its discovery by H.S. Brown a cariboo prospector. He brought its existance to the attention of William Shelly, the Vancouver Parks Board commissioner of the era. Shelly proposed moving the six-ton rock from its location on the Fraser to a new home in Stanley Park. Three years alter, the move commenced. The rock was first loaded onto a raft to be floated to the nearest railway station. This awkward plan failed as the weight of the boulder caused the raft to sink immediately after loading. The next, more successful attempt involved a team of ten horses and a sled. In the dead of winter, the “Shelly Stone” was dragged to the closest rail line. This whole procedure took over a month and cost Shelly two thousand dollars which was a lot of money at the time. The Shelly Stone arrived safely at Stanley Park. It was set in a foundation of concrete as it was felt this would prevent the enormous rock from being carried off or destroyed. The rock remained at Brockton Pt mislabeled as an Indian Pictograph until moved to the Vancouver Museum basement in June of 1992. During the years in Stanley Park, human contact and urban polution have worn on the petroglyph like sandpaper. It is hoped that the protected environment of the museum will guard its images from further deterioration. Since it is not part of the regular museum exhibition, it currently does not cost to view it.

This boulder must be of the highest spiritual and cultural significance — shouldn’t it be moved back to the Cariboo where it belongs?

Christopher Locke’s modern fossils.

Egosiliqua malusymphonicus

Christopher Locke is an artist whose work includes a number of fun “modern fossils“, like his palaeofuturistic rendering of an iPod (Egosiliqua malusymphonicus), above, or a Nintendo game controller (Dominaludus sexagentaquad) below.  I take the work to be a slightly sarcastic commentary on the work of palaeontologists and archaeologists as well as on the flukey preservation of ephemera – see his specimen notes alongside each piece at his website.

They are also very reasonably priced — tempting!

Dominaludus sexagentaquad.

The Gabriolan

Gabriola Petroglyph. Source: The Gabriolan.ca

Another blog linked to me the other day: The Gabriolan. This is a lovely blog, whose mysterious author has a great eye for the quirky and beautiful things about that Island. I especially like the various pictures of unusual things found in the woods, like antlers on trees. On my quick browse through the site I noted the excellent photograph of a Gabriola Island petroglyph which I am posting above. This is not a petroglyph I am familiar with though I don’t have my books in front of me.  I’ll look it up.  With its double-rendered eyes and protruding ears, it may be Mouse-Woman.  But anyway, anonymous Gabriolan, thanks for the link, and look after those petroglyphs.

Gabriola Petroglyphs at Elaine Seavey’s blog

Anthropomorphic petroglyph on Gabriola Island. Note how the patina of the rock has been disturbed by tracing.

Gabriola Island has some of the most spectacular and important petroglyphs in the world — and unfortunately, they are just as threatened by developers and development pressures, as I have noted before.  Since these sites seem to not always matter as much as I think they should, it is nice to see an awestruck first person account by a person with no vested interest.  Why on earth would those who purport to love and respect Gabriola Island and  Snuneymuxw culture be so intent on diminishing this kind of experience?

Even so, I must comment on the destructive practice of rubbing, not so much through cloth but the scraping of the lines to remove weathering patina and lichen in order to take clearer photographs.  This is a very unfortunate practice which hastens the disintegration of the rock art.

Stephen Hume kicking ass (but whose?)

Desecrated spiritual site: the Big Rock at Campbell River

Stephen Hume has written some great columns on BC archaeology and history over the years and he comes out swinging in this recent piece:

Beside Highway 3 near Keremeos, a large glacial boulder has myths attached that extend far into B.C.’s past. It’s our own Stonehenge but it’s defaced with graffiti. Not far away, somebody jackhammered out of a cliff face one of the most significant ancient rock paintings in North America. Near Campbell River, another cultural site of great significance to first nations — the Big Rock — is also covered with graffiti. On Saltspring Island, effluent filters through a grave site with government approval. Near Qualicum, the bones of persons of great importance were mixed into paving material for a parking lot.

We pay lip service to first nations culture; we trot it out when we’re on the world stage — at the Olympics, for example — but our actions betray our venal hypocrisy. When conflicts arise between private commercial gain and public protection of our now-shared ancient heritage, money seems to trump culture almost every time.

I use the term “our” to describe this heritage because we are all citizens of B.C. together, first nations and settler society, fused by our braided history. We have one shared narrative in this province. It is composed of many stories. They begin not with the recent arrival of European adventurers or Asian monks but in a far more ancient past.

When we permit the desecration of important first nations sites, it’s our shared history that we abuse and our children’s legacies that we steal.

I am not convinced that the private member’s bill to which he is refers is the answer, and in any case it died on the vine – more on that later.  And the BC Archaeology Branch is kept on a short leash through the expedient of under-funding.  But I certainly appreciate Hume’s  take-no-prisoners attitude – we need a few vocal bulldogs on the case.  Incidentally, in a parallel universe to this blog, Hume’s brother is in a UVIC archaeology class right now, so maybe another bulldog can be raised – it seems to run in the family.

Notably,  it looks like there is a move afoot to designate the Big Rock, spearheaded by Frank Assu of Cape Mudge.  Let’s hope this succeeds, and maybe we won’t see it get dressed up again as a pumpkin.

Vandalized Pictograph Boulder near Keremeos.

Erik the Lost

Erik the Lost

More berzerkness up-island

This site contains an inspired argument that Viking Vinland, Markland and Helluland were on the NW Coast. It’s thought-through to a scary degree, in the way that magnificent obsessions often are.  Though as I always say, if something isn’t worth doing, it isn’t worth doing well. And based on my acquaintance with NW Coast Archaeology, I have to say that the theory falls down at a few key junctures.  Worse, it is part of a long-running narrative in which aboriginal people of the Americas have their finest cultural achievements taken and assigned as the work of Europeans.  See, for example, the Vikings in Minnesota theories, which argue that the great mounds of Mississippian Culture were the construction of White Men from the North.   Do the Minnesota proponents have academic arguments with the Vancouver Island proponents?  Were Vikings everywhere?  Is this a racist narrative?   Too bad all this energy is not put into something worthwhile, there is so much serious work to do.

More on the “Legends at Spirit Rock” Development

Glenna Borsuk LinkedIn Profile

Glenna Borsuk LinkedIn Profile

Glenna Borsuk, The President of Centre Stage Holdings, parent company responsible for the “Legends at Spirit Rock” development, which is encroaching on petroglyphs on Gabriola Island, has a profile on LinkedIn — a sort of networking site for business people.  On this web site she unbelievably writes the following:

I am devoted to creating a community of like minded people who recognize the uniqueness of the Gulf Islands and our specific site, not only in terms of its natural beauty but its’ ability to reconnect one with the power of the earth to heal and inspire. The Legends at Spirit Rock property on Gabriola Island has a 3,000 year history of attracting healers and people with a special sense of the importance of the environment , sharing of resources and celebrating the power of now. My role is to attract those persons who are drawn to this like mindedness to expand the network of similarly motivated people to enhance the vision of the project. (screenshot)

This parallels the singularly crass language used at the Legends at Spirit Rock development:

Shaman of these First Nations were drawn to the lands we now call “The Legends at Spirit Rock Estates” and visited annually, for several thousand years, to exchange medical supplies and information as evidenced by the prolific petroglyphs, midden sites and artifacts.


View from the Petroglyph Boulder uphill to cutblock and industrial activity.

View from the Petroglyph Boulder uphill past other petroglyphs, to cutblock and industrial activity.

I’ve been to this petroglyph site.  I’ve seen the encroaching destruction.  It is unfortunate Legends at Spirit Rock development, controlled by Centre Stage Holdings,  attempts to appropriate thousands of years of First Nations spirituality to sell their property development, which itself destroys First Nations’ culture.  They are selling people land that is haunted by ghosts.  The fact that they attempt to do so makes me wonder, are they:

(a) venal
(b) crass
(c) greedy
(d) ignorant
(e) all of the above

dSpace: Lundy on Rock Art

Salmon Petroglyph at Jack Point. From Lundy (1974: 111)

There is a wonderful trend of institutions putting old, grey literature online.  One widely used platform  for doing this is called “dSpace”, though the approach exists under other names.  Some of the best of this material are graduate theses and dissertations.  These are freely available if you walk into the University library, but may be essentially unavailable in any other form.  Unlike a lot of digital initiatives, the majority of these are not limited to students and faculty, but can be accessed by anyone – provided you know they are there.  Consider Doris Lundy’s monumental MA thesis on NW Coast Rock Art, obtained in 1974 from SFU.  Most of this 350+ page thesis was never published in any form.  Now you can download the whole thing from SFU (4 meg PDF). Despite being a rocky scan, the entire text is searchable.  There is some digital protection applied but I found it simple to save a copy to my hard drive.  The image to the left is the famous salmon petroglyph at Jack Point near Nanaimo in Snuneymuxw territory.  This is the petroglyph that would be painted with ochre and adorned with eagle down by ritualists if the salmon runs were late or meagre – one of the only such works which has specific beliefs recorded for it.

Let me know if you have problems downloading this: it works for me on and off campus, so I presume anyone can do it.

Dan Leen’s Petroglyph Page

Heiltsuk Petroglyphs including 2-headed Salmon Spirit

Heiltsuk Petroglyphs including 2-headed "Salmon Spirit"

I was just looking for a picture of a labret and instead found that Dan Leen has a nice page on NW petroglyphs, with lots of superb pictures and action shots of him recording rock art.  I haven’t seen Dan for quite a while, but we spent 10 weeks together on his 30 foot Trimaran “Teredo n.” back in the early 1980s, recording rock art in the Douglas Channel area.  A great trip all around.  I remember spotting this fantastic pictograph near Kemano, before breakfast one day, boat-made bread in one hand, hot coffee in another – I am pretty sure I took the picture since it was just Dan and me on Das Boot for quite some time. Dan is not the most silent guy in the world, and I heard a lot of great stories about his cabin in the Brook’s range of Alaska, his Hobo days, and so forth — so it is extra fun to see pictures of these places and times.  Dan is the most meticulous rock art researcher I have ever worked with, and it is great to see him putting some of his files, and insight online.

Oh yeah, I found the picture of the labret – one of these, almost identical, came out of my unit this afternoon.