Buy Your Piece of BC Archaeological History

Sisiutl for Sale

I was browsing to price out some used skiffs, and look what I found – a custom built archaeological research vessel — only $99,000.  (I wonder what she cost to build?) The listing is here, with a PDF backup for posterity here.

I don’t have any memories of the Sisiutl —  never stepped on board — but I know she is close to the hearts of many SFU faculty and former students.

First custom built archaeology research vessel in North America: The Sisiutl.

The picture above is from the journal American Antiquity, which had a short piece on the Sisiutl back in 1973, which includes the following (vol 48(3) p. 495):

BRITISH COLUMBIA. March of 1972 saw the launching of Simon Fraser University’s 40 ft archae- ological research vessel, the Sisiutl (Fig. 1). The diesel-powered boat is of welded aluminum construction. The vessel’s plan includes berths for 12, galley, and shower as well as areas for specimen processing and storage. There is full electronic navigational safety equipment including depth sounder, radio, and radar. The boat can serve as a floating field camp and laboratory for a small excavation or for a survey. In addition, it can transport larger crews or some 4 tons of equipment and supplies to tent camp projects in remote locations. Apparently the Sisiutl is the first boat of its size in North America to be designed and built exclusively for archaeological research.

The boat came up once before on this blog, when I found some early (acerbic) 1970s commentary on coastal archaeology from a First Nations perspective, including this jab at the Sisiutl:

There is money to fund a boat to take archaeology students up and down our coastline to dig up the bones of our grandfathers and sift, sort, and label sacred objects from our burial grounds, but no money for us to treat our heritage with the dignity it. deserves?

The university divested itself of this boat sometime about, I suppose 7 or 8 years ago.  It appears to be listed for sale from somewhere on central Vancouver Island.  I made an image of all the pictures from the listing, showing the interior and exterior of the craft — you can view that here, with some selections below.

As I said, I don’t have any memories of this boat myself, but she served SFU well for decades of estimable central coast research, and it’s sad to think of her being put to any other use.  I thought it would be nice that, if you do have recollections of your time aboard, fond or otherwise, to leave them in the comments section below, and we can make a little informal online book of memories for the Sisiutl. Needless to say, if you have any amusing pics you’d like to share, send them (or a link) along and I can post them too.

Bow of the Sisiutl at dock, from the sellers listing.

Bow of the Sisiutl (they mis-spelled “SeaSlug”) at dock, from the sellers listing.

Sisiutl's bridge.

The Sisiutl’s bridge. I can imagine Roy and Phil up here, drinking coffee or liquid whatever, and scheming their schemish schemes.

Sisiutl Miscellaneous Pics

Equally I can also imagine generations of students with their heads down the head, wishing they had opted into Prairie Archaeology.

18 responses to “Buy Your Piece of BC Archaeological History

  1. Lets start a public campaign to see if we can buy it!


  2. Waaah! I can’t believe it’s for sale! Loved my time on it – cooking clams in garlic and wine, checking out hotsprings in Douglas Channel, seeing my first orcas in their natural habitat. Lots of great memories on that boat!


  3. spent a summer on the Sisiutl…a shower that was never used, except for food storage (and mostly Spam – of the pseudo-meat kind); toilet paper out the porthole; powering through dense fog with students at the controls; stinging nettle soup; firing a 22 off the bow; clams in hot butter; blanket falling off a female student sleeping in the nude.


  4. I remember Phil Hobler saying that he put in the request for a 40 ft research vessel as kind of a lark. He really wanted a typewriter. So, he put in a request for a typewriter and the boat, thinking it might provide a laugh and he could get the typewriter for his effort. When he got the call from Purchasing to say that his request was approved and they needed the specs, he started giving them the specs for a typewriter, before they interrupted him and told him it was for the boat. At least that is the story Phil told me.


  5. Ron – yeah, every blog needs a research vessel! For this one, it’d be an old scow rotting at the dock though.
    Diana – sounds like a holiday. How unserious can SFU be?
    Bob — you and Diana both mentioned clams, did you just roll the dice with red tide? Pretty sure nowadays I’d have to fill in a biohazard form and wear a hazmat suit before putting students and clams together. The typewriter story is hilarious, and in that rapid-growth era of universities, who knows? It might even be true.


  6. many cheers to Phil for his excellent storytelling! Is this the boat that went down the west side of Haida Gwaii?


  7. I wonder if anyone has comparative photos of DHMitchell’s [UVic’s] personal pleasureboat that went north (of Namu) during the same era – Millbanke Sound, Southern Pitt Island, etc.


  8. I agree with Ron, everyone throw in ten bucks and see where we get!… What useful vessel to have on the central coast, a necessity if one wants to undertake large scale research. I’m sure Farid at UNBC can appreciate the need for large boat to carry students and gear, thanks to Eric at Hakai for moving us all about these last two years, would not have been possible without at least one large craft. While I never set foot on board the Sisiutl , the boats image does remind me of an apt quote about some of the surveys on the central coast…

    “…for future investigators there remains some uncertainty as to specifically which stretches of shoreline were actually walked out, which were investigated close-up from an outboard boat, and which may only have been scrutinized at a distance by binoculars through a misty boat cabin window on a rainy day” (Gaye Burton 1987, in Maxwell et al 1997).

    (edit: sorry this got into the SPAM queue somehow — QM)


    • jim — welcome back to the blog. That comment reminds me of a site form from the Fraser canyon I used once (Hills Bar site?), where the previous update was based on site inspection using binoculars from the highway on the opposite bank of the river. Better than nothing, I suppose…..


  9. I was going to use that classic ‘misty boat cabin window’ quote Jim, you beat me to it ! 🙂 I first went aboard Sisiutl in 73 or 4, I think it was during a CAA conference hosted by SFU. I was aboard a couple of different times, but never when she was underway with Phil at the helm – . I remember Roy or Phil telling the story of how she was named – the Sisiutl in mythology has impenetrable skin, which they thought was highly appropriate for a boat full of students. There was a followup to this that they found out later that detracted from the appropriateness of the name – I can’t recall that one clearly, maybe someone else can.

    We do now have the Millennia Falcon to continue the proud tradition of BC archaeology vessels. She did rather well working at Lelu Island a couple of weeks back, carried 10 multidisciplinary passengers plus boatman no problem, great dry-feet landings and pickups on shallow flat beaches.


  10. And 12 (15 with the settee down) passengers sleeping on a 42 ft boat???! THat must have been insanely crowded, probably worse than the Fo’cs’l of the HMS Bounty!


  11. I’v got a picture of a guy surfing behind the Sisiutl … so much for the slug part.


  12. Hi, Quentin,
    As I recall, it cost about $100K to build. Ironic. No?


  13. I see the replacement SFU vessel, “Archaeonaut of the Salish Sea” has its own web page. Very practical looking boat, not much scope for hanky-panky, which may be a feature or a bug, depending on your point of view I guess.


  14. If anyone is interested, I have some pictures of the Sisiutl from just a few years ago. After her SFU days, she was relocated to Saanich Inlet, and then Sooke Harbour. Her new owner and friends used her as a pleasure boat for fishing. They extended her hull with a rear deck and swim grid and added a gas BBQ. I was privileged to sail on her for a fishing trip off the west coast of Vancouver Island towards La Perouse Bank. Her owner decided to upsize and bought a seiner, which he also converted into a pleasure boat for fishing trips. But that was another story.


    • Hi John, thanks for your post to my derelict vessel of a blog. If you’d like to share those pictures then you’d be welcome to email them to me at qmackie at gmail and I can put them up here. I am pretty far behind on everything but it’d be fun to see them. Or, put them up yourself to something like flickr or imgur and then share the link….


  15. Oops. one little error, The swim grid was always there. They literally cut the the back off the boat, added a few feet on and then welded the back on again.


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