I recently have started following a wonderful new blog called Burnt Embers. It’s mostly a photo blog of the author’s surroundings – which appear to be deepest south Oak Bay, which is a municipality adjacent to Victoria, B.C. It’s a wealthy municipality not really known for being sensitive to archaeological concerns or First Nations history: for example, it’s the locale of the rather messy Esplanade controversy I documented last year (1, 2, 3).
Anyway, the blogger at Burnt Embers, one “ehpem”, has recently done a great service by bringing to light a series of attractive cairns, emblazoned with art by Tsartlip artist Charles Elliot (Temoseng), which pay tribute to Songhees and Straits Salish places, history, and names. As ehpem points out, Oak Bay Council has erected these cairns but provides no other information about them, whether on their website or anywhere else. They’ve been sort of bolted onto the Oak Bay landscape. No matter: ehpem has photographed them beautifully and assembled a great series of pages documenting each one and also created a google map which is really handy for getting around from cairn to cairn. The cairns are, in the order which ehpem documents them:
Sahsima – a transformer stone near the Chinese Cemetery. Sahsima, meaning “harpoon”, was the original name identified by Songhees elder James Fraser for the point where the Chinese Cemetery is located: Hayls the Transformer, with spirit companions, Raven and Mink, came by in his canoe, frightening away the seal the harpooner had been stalking. The harpooner rebuked them, Hayls turned him to stone as he stood there poised to throw the harpoon, saying “You’ll be the boss for seals … from Sooke to Nanaimo.”
Chikawich – “McNeil Bay” (same blog post as above): To the east (left) lies McNeill Bay, called Chikawich, meaning “big hips”, where an early indigenous village was located.
Tliwaynung – “Kitty Islet” : the site of a Songhees camp that was associated with the main village site of Chikawich located further west in the bay. (ehpem asks for information on the archaeological content of this cairn – all I know is it was the site of a small excavation about 1980 under the general direction of Don Mitchell – and – to this day the introductory archaeology field trips at UVic make a visit here.)
Spewhung “Turkey Head”: included on the plaque are names for Chatham Island (Stsnaang) and Discovery Island (Tlchess).
Sitchanalth “Willows Beach”: The indigenous people called Willows Beach Sitchanalth, which according to Songhees elder Ned Williams referred to the drift logs and trees lodged in the sand. ehpem notes the proximity of this cairn to the property at the centre of the Esplanade controversy I mention above.
Sungayka “Loon Bay”: Cadboro Bay was called Sungayka, meaning “patches of snow.” A village existed here in Loon Bay for at least parts of the last 1500 years. Qoqwialls, a game similar to lacrosse, was played on its shores, and berries were picked nearby.
Thaywun “Bowker Creek”: ehpem notes, “Bowker Creek and it’s salmon run are marked by a cairn on Cadboro Bay Road where Bowker Creek passes beneath it and Foul Bay Road. The cairn is crowded by a narrow sidewalk, businesses and parked cars. It, like Bowker Creek, is walled in and controlled by a modern world in a rush towards prosperity. In some ways this seems like appropriate symbolism for the Songhees First Nation way of life that has been heavily constrained by the settlement of their lands.”
Anderson Hill: People once sat here making stone tools, perhaps while watching for approaching enemies during warfare, or locating groups of sea mammals needed for food. Bulbs of blue camas, valued for food and trade, were gathered in nearby lowlands.
Clicking on any of the links above takes you to a short piece about each cairn, with photos and the text of the inscription included. As I noted, there is also an excellent Google Map which shows each cairn’s location – and clicking on the map symbol reveals a picture and a link to the Burnt Embers page. This is a great portal to the cairns: ehpem has done a great service to Oak Bay by consolidating and documenting this excellent commemorative project, making it navigable to locals and accessible to the global community interested in the rich history and contemporary expression of Songhees and Straits Salish culture. The blogging, in fact, is almost as impressive as the cairn project – which itself is one of the few such projects of explicit recognition of First Nations culture in the Victoria area. (See these posts of mine, for example, 1, 2).
The rest of the blog is also good value, containing some evocative pictures of local events such as Moss Street Market and, as advertised, the author’s surroundings including his blue gate and a complex construction of chain mail, using beer can pull-tabs. It’s a diverse blog and well worth checking out for local history and beautiful photos.