Category Archives: archives

Coast Salish Mausolea, Victoria, 1859

 Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake.  Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum.  I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice)  Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake.  They’re pretty interesting paintings  from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.

The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area.  Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go  As near as I can make out, the back reads:

This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________  — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .

It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint.  I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures.  Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.

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Alaskan Fish Weir Photos

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946.  Click to see video.  Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946. Click to see video. Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

So, still rustling around the weird world of weirs.  The online Alaskan archives have quite a few interesting examples – and, kind of remarkably, a video showing the construction of a weir near Atka, which is on the Aleutian Islands.   The trap in the video is pretty similar to a couple of other Aleutian ones in the collection, which I’ll talk about below. It’s really cool to not only see a more-or-less traditional trap being built (look at the rocks being casually dropped down by the wooden fence!) but the photos also show weirs actually in use. There’s probably a lot to learn from these pictures – as any introductory textbook in archaeology will tell you, the more we know about the behavioural context of a given site type, the more we can reliably infer the cultural context when presented only with the archaeological remains.

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Interior of a Coast Salish Longhouse, 1864

Interior of a Salish Longhouse, 1864. Watercolour by Edward Mallott Richardson.  Locale uknown. Source: Canadian Archives.  Click to enlarge.

Interior of a Salish Longhouse, 1864. Watercolour by Edward Mallott Richardson. Locale uknown. Source: Canadian Archives. Click to enlarge.

Following on from the post about the Salish mausoleum, here is a companion painting by Edward Mallott Richardson from the same year, depicting the interior of a house.  It’s a curious painting, seemingly devoid of close detail.  Where are all the drying fish?!  But at the same time it shows some features of interest which may be worth discussing.  Note the fellow with the gun has a powderhorn, for example, and the basket behind him looks like one of those rectangular coiled ones, only with a tumpline, as shown by the woman entering on the left.  On the far right is a semi-conical object that might be a hat, sitting on a platform within a small compartment.

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A Coast Salish Mausoleum, 1864

A Salish Grave, 1864. Watercolour by Edward M. Richardson. No specific locale given. Source: CollectionsCanada.gc.ca

A Salish Grave, 1864. Watercolour by Edward M. Richardson. No specific locale given. Source: CollectionsCanada.gc.ca  Click to enlarge slightly.

“Grave House” is one of those archaeological terms which render slightly creepy a feature that is more or less an everyday experience: the mausoleum, a house for the dead, filled with coffins.

This is a fascinating image I hadn’t come across before: a very early image of a Coast Salish mausoleum.  It highlights the artistry and vividness of these features better than the few sketches or early photographs do. The accompanying text at the Canadian Archives is:

Subject depicts grave boxes in a grave house with guardian figures. The grave house is covered with a roof of wooden planks but has no walls. At the front of the house stands six guardian figures. There are flags to the left and right of the house. On the left hand side of the house a tent is set up and clothes are hanging. A shotgun hangs from the front beam of the house. Item was up for auction in the September 28, 1970 Christie’s sale in Calgary. Lot 31.

The image isn’t very high-resolution but there are still some things to talk about – and there is another Richardson painting I’ll link to in a day or two. (edit: here) Continue reading

Historic Newspaper Archive on Google

Sooke Freight! Vancouver Daily Post, 1865.

Via the Northwest History blog, I recently found that Google has been quietly archiving a large number of  historical newspapers, including many defunct ones from the west.  Old newspapers are a rich source of social history and can fill in some details of everyday life in the early historical period.  For example, it still costs me about 2 & 1/2 cents per pound to get my sorry self from Victoria to Leech River.  Or, see the table below from 1864 recounting the travel time and cost by stage or foot from New Westminster to the Columbia River. That’s better history than some dumb vote of useless politicians.

As Larry Cebula at Northwest History points out, Google has buried this feature somewhat.  There is a master list of all newspapers here, though, and you can work your way through that.  Many of the newspaper names are cryptic, though, and since I usually do the grunt work for you, here are some of the historic, often defunct, newspapers of particular interest to readers of this blog:

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Victoria’s history through cartoons

"Progressive Victoria" about to run over the Songhees. Was there ever a Songhees man with feathers in his hair, fringed buckskin, and a peace pipe? Source: Vincent's Victoria.

I mentioned it in a comment the other day so you may have seen it already, but there are a couple of great posts at the blog “Vincent’s Victoria“.  The first post is the already-mentioned review of John Lutz’s talk “Getting the Indians Out of Town: Race and Space in Victoria’s History” – Victoria, British Columbia, that is, better known as World Headquarters to this blog.   In Vincent’s post we find out about the slow process by which First Nations had their presence in the city core steadily reduced, mainly by moving the reserves, but through other means too.  The post then discusses the “Signs of Lekwungen” project which I posted on before. it’s really a shame I didn’t hear about John’s talk until after he had given it – there are other talks in the series but his would have been the most interesting to regular readers here.

The second post is extremely interesting, as it uses editorial cartoons from the Victoria Daily Times newspaper to tell the story of the movement of the Songhees reserve in 1910.

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“BC Studies” is now mostly free

Haida Gwaii microblade cores. Source: Fladmark 1970. BC Studies.

The journal BC Studies is a respected, peer-reviewed publication that focuses on, well, studies of BC, but particularly on historical topics it seems.  It has long been an awkwardly circulated journal, in that it appears in few indexing databases and no PDFs were available, even via subscription or through paywalls such as university databases. These days, going to the library to photocopy is considered a hardship.   It is therefore extremely welcome to see that BC Studies has put almost its entire series of back issues online, open access, free. Wow.  You can download any article from inception in 1969 through the  Summer of 2008.  Interestingly, a number of the articles are also available as mp3 sound files, so you could listen to these on your daily commute.  Naturally you can browse it yourself but you won’t, so let me point out some of the highlights, with an eye on archaeology, ethnohistory and historical geography.

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