Unidentified Musqueam Chief as portrayed by Cardero in 1792. Source: Vancouver Sun.
The City of Vancouver had its 125th anniversary yesterday, and the local press was full of reflective pieces on civic leaders, famous visitors, notable crimes and, of course, sports. Well, it would be churlish not to wish Vancouver Happy Birthday! Well done, Vancouverites. But in all the coverage of this momentous event, I only see one single article which acknowledges that people might have lived at the mouth of the Fraser River for a tad longer than 125 years. And a curious article (PDF) it is: Ancient history of Vancouver’s first peoples: The city’s history predates its 1886 founding, with a native midden dating back 9,000 years
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:
Emeryville Shell Mound, San Francisco, and sea level change. Source: Spatial History Project.
If you’re at all a map geek – and most archaeologists have that tendency – then you might enjoy flipping around Stanford’s Spatial History Mapping Project. This project is intended to further creative visual analysis and representation of historical events and phenomena. Luckily for us, they apply their skills to some archaeological problems, such as the relationship between sea level change and shell mound development illustrated above:
Did rising sea levels force native people to raise their shellmounds to stay above the tides? The visualization suggests that no, mound building was unrelated to sea level rise.
You can see that particular page here.
Screenshot of "From the Islander" blog
The Hallmark Society sponsored a nice blog called “From the Islander” through the summer of 2010. This is a retrospective set of commentaries about excerpts from the weekend newspaper insert “The Islander”, which used to be published in the Victoria Daily Colonist and the Victoria Times-Colonist. There’s not any archaeology that I have seen, and surprisingly (or not) there is no coverage of First Nations, but all the same it is an interesting read if you have a shine for Vancouver Island history, and a well-done, informative blog. Apparently the Hallmark Society (or the blogger, who goes by wpbradley and was their summer student intern) has digitized a fair bit of The Islander and indexed it here – though full text is not available for the most part.
"Native American encampment on landfill, circa 1900, south of South Royal Brougham Way and east of First Avenue South." Source: crosscut.com
At the ASBC talk last night it was clear that major industrial development can still leave substantial and highly significant archaeological materials interspersed even within the boundaries of heavy impact – in this case within a few dozen metres of a major hydroelectric dam. This reminded me of a recent story I read about downtown Seattle archaeology. Due mainly to concerns about what would happen in even a moderate earthquake comparable to the Nisqually event of 2001, Seattle is planning to replace the Alaska Way viaduct – that multi-level highway which blocks the city from its own waterfront. You can watch a video of a simulation of the collapse of the viaduct here – I am sure most Seattlers would like to be done with that uncivic monstrosity, but not, perhaps, so suddenly. Ironically, the ASBC talk on Ruskin Dam was also a seismic upgrade project.
Anyway, the current plan in Seattle is to put a cut-and-cover tunnel in its place – similar to some of the tunnels recently built in Vancouver’s new Canada Line LRT. Crosscut.com’s Archaeology-savvy reporter “Mossback” (Knute Berger) has two excellent articles on the problems likely to arise when you dig such a large ditch through dense pre-contact and historic archaeology. The first article ran on May 11th, with the followup article on May 12th. If you are truly dedicated, there is a 200 page overview (6 meg PDF) of cultural resource management for the project, though it largely focuses on historic buildings and it relatively vague.
Posted in Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, history, Northwest Coast, Washington State
Tagged Archaeology, Duwamish, historical archaeology, history, industrial archaeology, Puget Sound, Seattle, Suquamish, Urban archaeology, Washington State
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.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged bridges, british columbia, Bulkley River, Gitksan, Gitxsan, Hagwilget, history, Skeena River, Tahltan
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.
Posted in anthropology, archives, First Nations, history, Miscellaneous, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged Captain Vancouver, cartography, dioramas, Esquimalt, ethnohistory, Fort Victoria, history, maps, Nanaimo, Songhees, Victoria, Victoria BC
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.
Posted in archives, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged Boundary Commission, british columbia, Esquimalt, Fort Victoria, history, Library of Congress, Oregon Treaty, Songhees, Victoria, Victoria BC
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.
Posted in anthropology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Oregon
Tagged aboriginal fisheries, anthropology, eulachon, First Nations, fishery management, fishing, history, Nass River, Northwest Coast, Nuxalk, oolichan, oolikan, Oregon, smelt, traditional use