Tag Archives: Duncan

Geist: Memory and the Valley Photo Essay

Sxwòyeqs (The Place that Everyone Died) | Stave Lake. Source: Geist Magazine.

A while ago I linked to a beautiful photo-essay from Geist Magazine on decaying towns on the BC coast.  I see they have another excellent photo essay, this one on the subject of the superposition of Euro-Canadian towns and spaces onto Aboriginal archaeological sites and significant places.  The text by Sandra Shields and David Campion is sensitive and evocative and the photographs are well taken — in some ways they are banal – an overpass, and access road – yet knowing what lies underneath triggers emotional reactions. UVIC’s own Duncan McLaren is featured as well so it must be a good article – Stave Lake (above) has two of the oldest archaeological sites in Canada (each more than 12,000 years old), parts of which miraculously survived the reservoir inundation.

The Geist authors are interviewed here, which is also well worth reading:

Interviewer: it’s not only peo­ple that are miss­ing in “Memory and the Valley”; you touch on the dis­ap­pear­ing salmon, the white pine, the waters drained away. There’s def­i­nitely that tone of loss through­out the whole work.

Campion: That is why we’re hav­ing the exhibit here in the old city hall in Chilliwack, with a wall of the orig­i­nal pio­neers look­ing down on the work. It’s because you strug­gle with these two nar­ra­tives. One says: When Canada started, we came to a land that had no peo­ple in it and we strug­gled really hard and made a won­der­ful life for our­selves and a future for our chil­dren. Whereas, for abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, it’s a story of huge pain and suf­fer­ing, and a huge loss of peo­ple to dis­ease, even before con­tact. Then res­i­den­tial schools, cul­tural mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and so on.

So you’ve got this prob­lem at the base of Canadian soci­ety. For soci­ety as a whole to move for­ward, we need to find a way to acknowl­edge that loss, not just to have it mean some­thing in that on/off, negative/positive sense. As non-Natives, we need to find a way to absorb the real­i­ties of our com­ing here into our national narrative.

The notion of a “palimpsest” in archaeology is common, borrowed from manuscript studies: parchments would be scraped clean and re-used, yet, the older writing can still be seen and read, a ghostly precursor image.  Writing over writing, material culture over material culture, names over names and the living over the dead.  Every time you walk across the concrete apron in front of the MacPherson Library at UVIC you walk across an archaeological site.  Every time you leave the Elliot Lecture hall you walk across a site.  The Legislature is on a site, the Fraser Arms Hotel, the Willows Beach Tea House, all superimposed, a collective blotting.  Our feet tread the scraped parchment of the dead.

Leq’á:mél | Nicomen Island

Somenos Creek: Update 2

CHEK-TV video clip on the Somenos Creek archaeological situation. Click to play.

Someone passed along this CHEK-TV news item showing George Schmidt of TimberCrest Estates, Ltd., the development company wishing to put houses on top of a major archaeological site in the Cowichan Valley at Somenos Creek, which I’ve written about before: 1, 2.

Listen to the favourable treatment he gets from the newscaster. Loaded language like “In limbo”. “Pony Up”.

Hey, CHEK-TV, since you’re the voice of the people now and all that and also “journalists”, how about you dig around in the zoning history of the land before you just repeat the mantra “government must pay”.  Did the developer buy this land already zoned for residential development?  How much did he pay in 1972?  Does he deserve compensation for having a risk turn out the wrong way for him?  Does he have the right to destroy a cemetery?  Is he, in fact, losing anything that he already had, or is he losing a perceived entitlement?  He took a risk, he has gained mightily, and now he wants a slice of the First Nation’s pie as well.

I’d seriously suggest CHEK-TV also looks into the $500,000 amount he claims to have spent on archaeology at Somenos Creek.  From what little I know of the site, I am very skeptical about that figure.

Truly, there needs to be a mechanism by which true hardship cases of conflict between development and archaeology, or where the impact assessment process has failed, can be resolved.  That, indeed, may mean some government financial input.  But these should be reserved for instances where other options have run out and where there is demonstrable financial hardship.  This case does not pass the smell test – vast profits have assuredly been made and now legal and moral constrains are drawing a line under this development.

I say this company should stop going cap in hand to the government and just give the land up as a heritage park in return for a tax receipt.  Unless I am mistaken, most entrepreneurs are not socialists, and I  am sure the last thing the typical developer would want is to be perceived as a corporate welfare bum.

Somenos Creek: Update

Somenos Creek site. Picture this with 20 houses on it. Photo credit: anonymous.

Further to my post below, here is another news item on the Somenos Creek (Cowichan Valley) situation.  It mostly rehashes the Times-Colonist piece but does have new comments from Eric and from the developer, notably:

Schmidt, who has tried but failed to have the six-acre site, known as Lot B, rezoned for development, said it would be worth up to $3 million if it weren’t for the presence of the artifacts and burial site.

Timbercrest has built about 300 homes on the land so far and would like to put up another 20 on Lot B.

So, lets see 20/300 = 6.7% of the 100 acres.  The 100 acres was bought in the 1970s.  I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that much less than 1 million was paid for the 100 acres back then.  The current valuation of these six acres would value the entire parcel at 45 million.  Let’s halve that:m 22 million.

So this developer has turned a one million dollar piece of land into a 20 million dollar piece of land.  A 2000% return.  And he wants financial consideration and compensation from the public because he happens to have a legally-protected (and morally protected, I might add) site of the highest archaeological significance on the residual piece?

This is the 21st century: Greed is no longer good, Timbercrest Estates Ltd.  Give the land up, get a tax writeoff, and count your blessings you live in a country that is so extremely friendly to rampant development of land, enabling fortunes to to be made.

Fieldwork Picture of the Day 3

Profiling the south wall of the Richardson Island site 2002

Profiling the south wall of the Richardson Island site 2002

The Richardson Island site (map) is a deeply stratified raised beach site.  In this picture, Duncan’s feet are at about 9300 14C years ago, while the top of the gulch is about 8400 14C years ago.  The horizontal 2 X 4 more or less demarcates the lower “Kinggi Complex” from the “Early Moresby Tradition” – the latter being marked by the introduction of bifacial technology to the stone toolkit, but also characterized by continuity between the two in many other regards.  There are some 20 major depositional units in that span, and more than 100 separable layers.  We think the site formation process is of a supra-tidal marine berm which was “pushed uphill” during a period of rising sea level — people lived on top of this berm but would periodically come to the site and find a fresh dump of finely-sorted pea gravels.   Although high-energy, the berm formation was also surprisingly gentle, allowing for numerous features such as hearths and post-moulds to preserve, not to mention pristine flakes which, in some cases could be refit one to another.  The thick reddish band just above Duncan’s head is a major berm deposit which was dumped as a single event, or several shortly-spaced events, around 9200 14C years ago.   Digging this site was a challenge – some of the layers were concreted together like iron and required some chiseling, and colour differences between some layers were often very slight.  Indeed, it became a full body experience as the texture and looseness of the gravels was very important, and on occasion, it was noted that some layers smelled differently than others.

Fieldwork Picture of the Day

Duncan with his feet in a 12,000 year old bog

Duncan with his feet in a 12,000 year old bog

While doing the Anthro 449 site, I’m finding a lot of pictures I haven’t seen lately, so I might as well post some of them here.  This one shows Duncan digging at Kilgii Gwaay (map) in 2002.  This was an unusual project, working in the intertidal zone between tidal windows — so about 6 hours per day of frenzied activity (read: poor napping) until the unit flooded again.  In this instance, the unit was 4 foot by 4 foot to accomodate the dimensions of plywood shoring.  There wasn’t a lot down in this unit, at least not archaeologically, but we do have a huge sample of woody bits from the organic deposits at the bottom.  In essence, the unit was placed on the edge of an ancient pond that formed post-glacially and  then lived a quiet life in the anonymous southern forests of Haida Gwaii – only to be rudely interrupted around 9450 14C years ago by rising sea levels, which made it attractive for a brief window of human occupation.  So – from a small pond in the forest, to a busy camp site, to a beach, all in a span of about 50 years.  And now, with falling sea levels, back to a beach.  The archaeological site is eroding somewhat, but nonetheless there are patches of intact shell midden and as it shows here, a large amount of terrestrial freshwater-saturated pond splooges under this beach.