Category Archives: history

Coast Salish “Woolly Dogs,” ca. 1946

Side view of a 14 year old dog which was shorn each year for its hair. Source: Ian McTaggart-Cowan fonds, UVIC.

Side view of a 14 year old dog which was shorn each year for its hair. Source: Ian McTaggart-Cowan fonds, UVIC.

The Coast Salish “wool dog” is an interesting example of selective breeding of dogs for a useful trait, in this case, their long, fair hair which could be cut or plucked for weaving. Susan Crockford, in her comprehensive account of Wool Dogs (downloadable!) quotes Captain Vancouver:

The dogs belonging to this tribe of Indians were numerous, and much resembled those of Pomerania, though in general somewhat larger. They were all shorn as close to the skin as sheep are in England; and so compact were their fleeces, that large portions could be lifted up by a corner without causing any separation”

While Crockford writes that the wool dog was extinct as a separate breed by 1858 (it’s raison d’etre replaced by Hudson Bay blankets), it is still interesting to see a couple of pictures dating to ca. World War 2 showing two dogs on the Saanich Peninsula with strong echoes of the Spitz-genre wool dog phenotype – indeed, caption above explicitly notes this dog was “shorn each year.”  (See also this poster (PDF) summarizing some wool dog research)

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Haida Gwaii, 1787

Dixon's 1787 map showing Haida Gwaii as an Island

Dixon’s 1787 map showing Haida Gwaii as an Island. Source: Library of Congress

Old Maps are Cool.  Enough said.  Or maybe not quite enough. Continue reading

Tree Cache

Salmon cache in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Salmon cache boxes in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Last post we (the Royal We, always, please) looked at some salmon mass harvesting technology from north central BC.  But what do you do with all those fish?  They need to be processed into a stable form for storage, and then cached somewhere, somehow. While there are lots of ways to skin a coho, I’m going to focus on some extraordinary photos from the Yale area on the lower Fraser River, late 1860s.The above shows four large box-like structures, identified as a salmon cache, high in a tree presumably to help protect them from scavengers.  I say “presumably” because there may be another reason to do so.  Continue reading

Jarring Finds

Tom Beasley with olive jar from seafloor near Langara Island. Source: Northword Magazine.

Tom Beasley with Spanish olive jar from seafloor near Langara Island. Source: Northword Magazine.

One great thing about not keeping up with a blog is so much stuff accumulates like lint in the internavel that it is easy pickings to get material to post . . . . for example, the not very well known discovery by a fisherman of a Spanish colonial olive jar fragment in the waters off northern Haida Gwaii.  There is a nice summary by Jane Stevenson of the find in a 2012 issue of Northword Magazine, and much more information in an open access 1992 article in BC Studies.

The latter article by Hector Williams et al. has some interesting tit-bits, such as that the jar has a nippled bottom. But I digress….. Continue reading

The Rough Guide to the B.C. Gold Rushes

Anderson's map Kamloops area 1858. Note R. aux Chapeaux (Hat Creek) and R. de la Cache (Cache Creek to west; Shushwap Lake (Kamloops Lake) and the North Branch (of the Thompson River).

Anderson’s map of the Kamloops area 1858. Note R. aux Chapeaux (Hat Creek) and R. de la Cache (Cache Creek) to west; Shushwap Lake (Kamloops Lake) and the North Branch (of the Thompson River). Kumcheen / Little Fork, just upstream of Spence’s Bridge at the Nicola – Thompson confluence, lower left.

There were a lot of ways to make money from the B.C. Gold rushes which started in the mid 1850s. One of these was to publish a guide book to help prospecters enter the Gold Fields from starting points at The Dalles on the lower Columbia River or at Fort Langley, east of present-day Vancouver. Few were better prepared to write such a guide book (price: $1.50) than Alexander Caulfield Anderson, who had at least a decade of experience surveying for accessible routes into the interior of BC, especially Brigade Trails along which horse trains could pass.

The Gold Rush was, of course, one the of the main spearheads of colonialism and instigated or continued a lot of painful dispossession of Interior First Nations.  Anderson’s guide, available online (lower resolution 20 meg PDF direct download) can be read in many ways, but it is a valuable document of a slice of time (it is dated May 3rd, 1858, a watershed year in the history of B.C.), just as the middle Fraser Gold Rush was gaining steam but before the Cariboo Rush of the 1860s. It’s a pragmatic guide that gives landmarks, travel times, names of First Nations’ villages, where to catch sturgeon, how to hire a canoe, and other practical information and, of course, it includes an interesting map on the last pages, showing overland routes into and around the Interior.

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These Outer Shores: A special edition of BC Studies

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.47.48 PMThe regional journal BC Studies has a new special issue out focused on local archaeology. Entitled These Outer Shores, the edition is available for a reasonable price (20$) and two of the articles plus the forward are already open access, with the rest to follow in a couple of years.  The publisher’s blurb gives a good sense of the edition:

Guest Edited by Alan D. McMillan and Iain McKechnie, These Outer Shores presents recent archaeological research along the outer coast, from southeast Alaska to the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. The authors challenge the long-held perception of the western edge of British Columbia as “peripheral” or “remote,” removed from major cultural developments emanating from more interior locations. Instead, recent fieldwork and analyses document a lengthy and persistent occupation of the outer shores over the past 13,000 years. Using a variety of modern approaches and techniques, the authors examine such topics as changing sea levels, human settlement history, fish and shellfish harvesting, whaling, and the integration of Indigenous oral history with archaeology.

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The survivor camp of the Russian frigate Neva

Cache of early 18th century Russian Axe Heads. Source: Dave McMahon via NSF.

Cache of early 19th century Russian Axe Heads, on Kruzof Island, Alaska. Source: Dave McMahan via NSF.

In late 1812 or early 1813, the London-built, Russian-owned frigate Neva foundered on rocks somewhere near Sitka Sound, in Tlingit territory on Baranof or Kruzof Islands,  SE Alaska, (map).  The Neva was a prominent ship of Russian colonial Alaska having, for example, taken part in the 1804 Battle of Sitka as well as making multiple round trips during the maritime fur trade hauling sea otter pelts to Chinese and Russian ports. The actual wreck site has never been found.  However, in 2012 archaeologists led by Dave McMahon and the Sitka Historical Society found a small historical-era site which they thought might be where the 28 survivors of the wreck sheltered for a month before being rescued in January 1813.  An intriguing and suggestive find in 2012 was an apparent cache of Russian made axeheads (above), suggesting further work was called for.  In 2015, a fuller excavation took place finding a remarkable assemblage “focused on survival”, not at all typical of early historic settlement sites.  So, while there is no smoking gun yet, such as crockery with the Neva’s monogram, there are plenty of indicators that this site is where the survivors sheltered in the not-entirely benign Alaskan winter while awaiting a rescue that might never come.

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