Category Archives: archives

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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Newsflash: Facebook is Good for Something

Lolota, the son of Zickchuse, - Snoqualmie - 1890

I’m a bit of a reluctant user of “facebook”, mostly because of their user-hostile and byzantine privacy policies.  However, increasingly people are using its easy interface to create really useful web pages, many of which you don’t need to be a member of facebook or logged in to enjoy.  There are some quite specific archaeology ones relevant to the Northwest Coast which I will review some other time.  Today, I want to focus on a remarkable compendium of historic photos of North American indigenous people.  There are almost 200 separate galleries, many with more than fifty pictures in them (do the math), under the auspices of the group administrator Jonathan Holmes, who takes an active role in the discussions and comments.  This is an enormous investment of time and effort, especially as many of the pictures have notes (hover your mouse over the picture) and in a remarkable number the identity of the subject is named and contextualized.  This is not a mere link dump for pictures – the over 20,000 comments reflect many positive reviews from Tribal and First Nations members (e.g., Tahltan) and members of the general public, (as well as some cranky comments from six year olds and racists). Continue reading

Tongass Timeline

Detail of diorama of Paleomarine Period, Southeast Alaska. Source: Tongass NF

The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska has a lot of interesting stuff online.  I’ve just found they have a cool set of dioramas illustrating different time periods from the last 10,000 years of human history (scroll to the bottom of this page).  These start with the palaeomarine period, about 10,000 years, a section of which is seen above.  Some of it is conjectural of course and I am not going to go to the wall defending its veracity, but I do appreciate the National Forest making an effort to present the past in an accessible way.

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Images from the Likeness House

Cover of Dan Savard's new book. The RBCM caption reads: "This man has been variously identified as a chief from four different areas of BC’s interior, including possibly Tyee Jim from the central interior (tyee means “chief” in Chinook, a trade language). John Wallace Jones or Thomas McNabb Jones photograph, about 1897." Source of this photo: Amazon.ca

There is an exciting new book in the pipeline on early photography and First Nations of the historic period.  The author, Dan Savard, is senior collections manager of the Royal BC Museum’s anthropology audio and visual collection.  The promotional blurb reads:

On a winter’s day in 1889, Tsimshian Chief Arthur Wellington Clah visited Hannah and Richard Maynard’s photography studio in Victoria to have his portrait taken. “Rebekah ask if I going likeness house,” Chief Clah wrote in his diary, “So I go, to give myself likeness. Rebekah stand longside me.” In Images from the Likeness House, Dan Savard explores the relationship between First Peoples in British Columbia, Alaska and Washington and the photographers who made images of them from the late 1850s to the 1920s.

I won’t be here (have some bottom sampling to attend to in Haida Gwaii), but Dan is giving a free public lecture and will sign copies of his book next week at the RBCM.

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Basket Conservation at the Langley Centennial Museum

N'laka'pamux Basket undergoing conservation treatment. Source: LangleyMueum.org

I know I occasionally grumble about how regional, publicly funded museums in B.C. are almost devoid of archaeological and aboriginal substance, especially on the web.  A happy exception to this is the Langley Centennial Museum near Vancouver, which has an unusual and interesting virtual exhibit of N’laka’pamux basketry.  The museum is in the possession of a large collection of these baskets, made by an interesting historical figure from the Yale-Lytton area of the Fraser River: one Kathleen Pearson. The exhibit consists of a number of pages, including a short essay (5 pages) which is strangely not clearly linked, based around Boas et al.’s 1928 Bureau of American Ethnology Publication.  The museum goes beyond the historical frame by discussing recent named weavers such as Mary Ann James, and the continuing tradition of N’laka’pamux basket making.

It is really great to see a relatively small museum explicitly recognizing that the world didn’t begin in 1846 and going beyond the story of white settlers as if they were a self contained pod of culture beamed down from Queen Victoria’s forehead.  The other thing  I particularly like about this small web exhibit is that the museum highlights the activities of another group of unsung heroes in the world of heritage conservation: the conservators who restore, stabilize and protect the artifacts entrusted to museums.

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Aboriginal Bridges of Northwestern B.C.

Bridge at Hagwilget, 1881. Source: B.C. Archives.

I don’t know that much about the “Living Landscapes” program, which includes a series of small web exhibits.  While related to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, and covered by their insane legal language (see below), they seem to have outsourced the actual expertise to non-RBCM people.  Not that surprising, really, since they have hardly any in-house expertise left after decades of cuts!  But all credit to them for their role in the informative series, even if the program is now (2006) finished with nothing for Vancouver Island.

I’ll probably review a few of these pages, but for now the exhibit which caught my eye, mainly because of its cool illustrations, is the one of Aboriginal Bridges of Northwestern B.C. The author, Brenda Guernsey, has put together a great set of images from various public archives to illustrate these amazing features.

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Historic Maps and Dioramas of Victoria and Environs

Detail of Capt. Vancouver's 1792 chart showing the "supposed strait of Juan de Fuca". Source: viHistory

vihistory is a web site designed to aid in historical research of Vancouver Island, at which it succeeds admirably.  You should poke around and have fun with their census data and the other worthy, if dreary, pursuits it affords the serious scholar.

One feature which is not immediately clear on first glance, perhaps deliberately as has entertainment potential, is a large selection of very high-resolution maps and images which you can download from this page. The file sizes are large, of course, but increasingly that is less of an obstacle in the past.  The maps are mostly of historic Victoria, but there are some regional maps such as telegraph and lighthouse maps of British Columbia, and a couple of maps of Nanaimo.  As usual, I have surfed through the maps so you don’t have to – and some of them are remarkably fun, and informative.

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