Tag Archives: history

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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Photos of Victoria and Esquimalt, 1859

Victoria 1859. Source: LOC

In 1846, the Oregon Treaty established the boundary between British and American territory west of the Rockies (and unintentionally established the benchmark date for whether archaeological sites are automatically protected under the Heritage Conservation Act, but that’s another story).  Vancouver Island was to remain in British hands in its entirety, but otherwise the 49th parallel was to be the boundary on land.  The ocean boundary through the Salish Sea was resolved later, after the armed standoff on San Juan Island known as the “Pig War“.   An International Boundary Commission was struck, with the mandate of surveying the 49th parallel and one of its base camp headquarters in 1858 and 1859 was Esquimalt.  At this time, a series of photographs of the young Fort Victoria and surrounding buildings were taken, some of the earliest photographs from British Columbia I know of – including some remarkable pictures of First Nations people.

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Vanishing Eulachon

Eulachon. Source: Sitnews.net

I often use eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus, a small, anadramous smelt) as an example of “archaeologically-invisible” food. They are also known as “candlefish”, on account of being so oily that a wick jammed down their throat will burn like a candle.

These small fish run by the millions up rivers to spawn, where they could be intercepted.   Traditionally, many or most eulachon would be processed into eulachon oil, or grease: a highly nutritious, calorie-dense substance that preserved very well and could also be used to preserve other foods such as berries.  The means of processing was to put them into a large container, perhaps an old canoe, known colloquially as a “stink box”, let them “rest” there for a week, and then heat them up, enabling the oil to rise and then be skimmed off, or pressed out.  The residue (bones, guts, brains, etc.) would then be returned to the river and few or no bones would make it away from the processing site.  In this way, eulachon provided a staple food, a nutritional supplement, a means of preservation, and an extremely valuable trade item – when Alexander Mackenzie arrived near Bella Coola in 1793, “Over Land, From Canada”, he did so on one of the well-worn grease trails that linked coast to interior. Since the fish arrive in the early Spring, they were hailed as starvation busters in lean years.  Nonetheless, archaeologically they are almost invisible, relative to their importance.

Haisla eulachon catch from the Kemano River. Source: living landscapes.

It is therefore sobering to read that U.S. President Obama has listed the Columbia River eulachon as an endangered species: eulachon are becoming almost invisible relative to the real world now, it seems.

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Webber’s House Interior: Original Watercolour

1778 Watercolour by John Webber of the interior of a house in Nootka Sound. Source: State Library of New South Wales. Click for original.

A few days ago I posted a beautiful watercolour of Nootka Sound by John Webber, artist on Cook’s third voyage.  In the ensuing discussion, it was brought up how nice it would be to see the original watercolours of more of his paintings, which often formed the basis for the  numerous engraved reproductions which are what one normally sees.  The loss of information in moving from the original to the engraving is something of an unknown quantity, and I for one had never seen the watercolours.  Until yesterday!

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Historic Pamphlets and Booklets on First Nations Topics

Skeena River pole ca. 1920s: On back: ""Named Waum Gana'o 14' high / erected 1845 / 4 Bottom figure, is of the big hog, upside down." Source: USASK."

The University of Saskatchewan has a comprehensive Indigenous Studies portal, with links to a massive corpus of published and unpublished documents – some of which are available online, free of institutional restriction.  One section which I found interesting was the large collection of pamphlets and booklets.  I know this web site isn’t always 100% archaeological – but you can’t separate the practice of archaeology from the social context in which it occurs. Among these pamphlets are:

  • CBC Radio and Department of Indian Affairs 1939: The Indians Speak to Canada (transcript of a remarkable series of 1939 CBC radio broadcasts in which aboriginal people address the nation; Haida representative Rev. Peter Kelly starts on page 28; White Man’s Burden is found in the closing remarks by the Minister of Mines and Resources)

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A Portal to Online Graduate Theses and Dissertations

If you look up you should see two more links have been added along the header of this page, just above the banner picture.

ARCHAEOLOGY THESES is a page of links to freely-available, online PDF copies of graduate dissertations and theses on Northwest Archaeology subjects (with a few palaeo-environment theses thrown in for fun).

OTHER THESES is a similar page, but where the focus is on Northwest Anthropology, First Nations Studies, History and related disciplines.

I am planning another page which will be for online archaeological, ethnographic and historic documents of note, in particular “classic” ethnographic works and major site reports which have been intentionally posted in online contexts.  Probably this will be a few weeks yet.

The impetus for these pages is that I have often said the M.A. thesis in particular is a significant backbone of B.C. Archaeology, and the dissertation even more so.  For years these substantial works languished on library shelves.  Now, libraries are increasingly making them available online, free to the public and the academy alike – that is, not behind password protection.

However, you have to know how to look, and where to look, and often you need to know in advance what you are looking for, in order to find this stuff.  I thought it would be useful to have a very simple portal for these graduate works.  Not only does this make them browsable by the more hardcore of my blog readers, but it will get them some google-love!

Not all theses ever written are available online (mine isn’t!):  as it notes on the pages, there are programs in place at UVIC and UBC to digitize their back-catalogue of theses and dissertations.  It would be great if institutions like Calgary, Toronto and McMaster could get their dSpaces full, and open. Unless, of course, they are ashamed of the quality of their graduate student work 😉

So, these pages will be updated periodically. I am not vouching for the quality of any of the ones I linked — indeed a few of them are exceptionally poorly reasoned,  naive, unsupported, badly written, or long-winded efforts -and  in at least one case, all of the above!  Most are very solid though, in my estimation, and a few are truly excellent.  If you know of useful and relevant graduate work that is freely available and not yet linked, let me know in a comment below, or send me an email qmackie [at] gmail.com.  In the meantime, happy browsing.

Ucluelet, 1859

"Euclueliat village, Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, N.W. Coast. H.M.S. Satellite" pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, click through for large size.

The above is a rendering of Ucluelet Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, made in 1859.  You can clearly see the aboriginal village to the right. Artfully, the artist has caught a whale hunt at the exact moment of harpooning in the foreground.   I’ve zoomed in on the village below.

Detail of Ucluelet Inlet village.

Interestingly, the next picture in this folio from Yale University is labelled as a “Songhee” Village (below), yet rather than a Victoria area settlement, it fairly clearly shows what I think is another Ucluelet-area village, with the distinctive saddle-shaped hill to the east side of the inlet.  (The trees are different which makes me think it is a different one than above) Anyway, nothing earth-shaking but I had never seen these historic drawings before.

Songhee? Village. North West Coast Vancouver Island. Barclay Sound. H.M.S. Satellite." pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, then click through for large size.

Historic Sketchbook of Heywood W. Seton-Karr

Portrait of Kilipoodken by Heywood Seton-Karr, ca. 1890. Source: Alaska Digital Archives.

I’ve just come across a remarkable sketchbook in the Alaskan digital archives.  It covers the wide-ranging travels of one Heywood W. Seton-Karr, a British Army officer, big game hunter, amateur archaeologist, and talented artist (about whom, more below).  While I could probably fill 10 blog posts from this sketchbook, (and may do so!) a very interesting find is the portrait sketch above.  The caption reads,

Kilipoodken. Ind. [Cheif]  of La Fontaine Libooet. H.W.S-K. B.C.90.

This certainly refers to the Xaxli’p First Nation, also known as the Fountain First Nation, one of the Lillooet (not Libooet!) Tribal Council from the central Fraser River region of British Columbia.  Since googling for “Kilipoodken” only returns the Alaska Digital archives source, it seems to me possible that this mislabelled portrait is unknown to the Xaxli’p Nation, where it is more than likely some of this Chief’s descendants still live.   I hope they find this portrait.

Otherwise, there is much of interest in these sketchbooks. Continue reading

Northwest Coast in New Zealand

Masset, ca. 1924. Source: University of Canterbury, NZ.

I found myself poking around in a New Zealand archive at the University of Canterbury the other day and found some nice historic pictures from the NW Coast.  These are assigned to the collection of John Macmillan Brown, an early New Zealand academic and, in retirement, an amateur anthropologist.  I am guessing these pictures were taken by him in retirement.  Most are undated; one carries a date of 1924.  The subjects are familiar yet the views are new – the more we can catalogue the world’s pictures of the NW Coast, the better we can understand the processes of transformation which continue to unfold.

Update: fixed links, sort of.  Note to web types: you should always provide stable URLs, none of this “your search has expired” junk.  If you want your collections used, and you do, because you put them on the web, you need to make it so the results can be bookmarked and shared.  Gosh.

Skidegate ca. 1924. Are those oarlocks on that canoe? Source: University of Canterbury.

Samuel Hancock witnesses smallpox among the Makah, 1852-53

Front page of Samuel Hancock's memoirs.

Samuel Hancock’s reminiscences were published in 1927 as a very small print run, and contain one of very few contemporary eyewitness accounts of the effects of smallpox on a Northwest Coast people, in this case the Makah Tribe of the Olympic Peninsula. So far as I know, these memoirs are not available anywhere online and are hard to find in libraries.  My brother Al Mackie (I told you only my family reads this thing) sent me a scan of parts of Hancock’s narrative relating to the smallpox epidemic, and so this is in essence his guest contribution.

The  excerpt  is a powerful and distressing account that hints at the social and cultural turmoil which arises from catastrophic depopulation and the witnessing of mass death, as noted elsewhere:

A smallpox epidemic in 1852 decimated the Makah population and caused one of the five ancient villages, Biheda, to be abandoned. This loss was not the only problem. The extreme number of fatalities further disrupted the line of authority in most families. In addition, knowledge of the critical components of some ceremonies and rituals were suddenly lost. People also died without transmitting ceremonial rights or privileges through a potlatch. The complicated social and ritual life that had existed for thousands of years began to fall apart.

The part of Hancock’s book quoted below is on pages 181-183 (PDF).  Such stories must have been passed down in Makah circles as well, much like the smallpox account of Skidegate Haida elder Solomon Wilson.  More detail on the author and source is given below the excerpt.

“Soon after this, a brig commanded by Capt. Fouber arrived here from San Francisco, having on board two natives who lived here, and also a white man with smallpox; the two natives left the brig, and went on shore among their friends, but in a few days were prostrate with the same disease, contracted on the vessel; one soon died and the other recovered, but the disease spread among the natives, proving very disastrous, for in a majority of instances it was fatal. After resorting to every means in their power to arrest its progress and fatality in vain, for their friends were dying in vast numbers daily, those who had escaped became almost frantic with grief and fear, and conceived the idea of crossing the Strait and going to the Nitanat tribe living on Vancouver’s Island. They crossed over to this place, carrying the infection with them, and soon nearly all those who fled from Neaah Bay, besides a great many of the native tribe, became victims to the epidemic.

“It was truly shocking to witness the ravages of this disease here at Neaah Bay. The natives after a time became so much alarmed that when any of their friends were attacked, all of the other occupants who lived in the house would at once leave it and the sick person with a piece of dried salmon and some water, laying all their personal effects by the sick persons, not intending to ever approach them again; sometimes the retreating ones would lie down anywhere on the beach till they died. I have, in walking along, encountered them lying in this situation when they would beg in the most supplicating manner for medicine or something to relieve them, promising to serve me as slaves all their lives should they recover, if I would contribute in some way to their recovery, while I did not have it in my power to do anything to ameliorate the sufferings of the poor creatures other than by furnishing them food or water if needed. Continue reading