We are fortunate to have six species of attractive native flowering onions in British Columbia. Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is widespread. But Hooker’s onion (Allium acuminatum) or taper-tip onion is uncommon BC but widespread on the continent.
Hooker’s onion of the Lily Family (Liliaceae or more recently Amaryllidaceae) grows as a bulbous perennial. The generally creamy to light brown true bulb has the shape of a slightly flattened globe. It is small, less than the size of a thumb nail on average 1.5 cm (0.6″) across. Wild, bulbs occur in clusters of about the size that would fit easily into the palm of a hand. Each bulb bears two to four channeled leaves which are predominantly grey-green with a reddish base. At first the leaves stand erect, but by the time they reach 15 cm (6″) long they reflex. By onion standards, the leaves seem nearly insignificant reaching a maximum of scarcely half a centimetre across and 30 cm (12″) long or less. Leaves usually dry out and break off by flowering time.
Hooker’s onion flower from bulbs grown in pot by Richard Hebda. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Flowers are borne on a firm rounded stalk which ranges from 10-30 cm (4-12″) tall. Two papery bracts surround the bud which contains five to 30 flowers. The blooms sit upon more or less equally long stalklets (called pedicels by botanists), so that the head forms a loose umbel reaching about 7.5 cm (3″) across. Each flower consists of six perianth segments, three petal-like sepals and three petals. The lance-shaped petal-like sepals reach about 1 cm (0.4″) long. Their tips notably reflex especially with age. Six short anthers surround a slightly crested ovary which bears a clearly visible stigma. Mostly the sepals and petals are pink, but may vary from intense rosy purple to nearly white.
In mild coastal climates the first signs of life appear in early February as leaf tips emerge. In Victoria, this occurs well before the end of winter, and sometimes the snow and frost may freeze back young shoots. During April, leaves continue to get longer and reach their maximum length. By the end of the month the first flower stalks poke out of the ground reaching up to 30 cm (12″) tall in June when flowers open. Capsules split in July to reveal black seeds which are easy to harvest by sharply shaking seed heads into a bag.
By Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA (Allium acuminatum). CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hooker’s onion ranges from southern British Columbia to northern California and eastward to Colorado and Wyoming then southward to Arizona. In BC its distribution includes dry parts of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland extending into the Fraser Canyon. In our region Hooker’s onion clearly favours dry rocky sites, typically growing in pockets of soil on rocky knolls and coastal headlands. Sometimes it survives in only about 5 cm (2″) of mossy crust cover over bedrock, yet it flowers reliably every year. Occasionally this onion thrives under Garry oaks (Quercus garryana), albeit in very shallow stony soil.
These bulbs are little cultivated and rarely available, yet they thrive under appropriate conditions and produce a pleasing display. The site must be in full sun, sharply drained and with a sandy soil. Avoid summer watering. Rock gardens, the front of dry perennial beds and pots of gritty soil suit Hooker’s onion well in the milder parts of southern B.C.
Plant bulbs about 5 cm (2″) deep about 5 – 7.5 cm (2-5″) apart so that the flower heads touch. Divide the clusters every five to ten years in late summer.
Order Hooker’s onions from specialist native plant suppliers or grow them from fall-sown seed. Do not dig this relatively rare plant in the wild.
First Nations of coastal British Columbia savoured various wild onion species including Hooker’s onion. Bulbs were eaten raw or steamed in great pits. In some areas the pits were lined with pine boughs and covered with lichens and alder boughs. Bulbs and shoots have a mild onion flavour and smell.
Hooker’s onion may be hardy to as low as zone 4 in BC, but its natural distribution suggests zone 5 or higher. We have several native onion species in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal B.C. Museum which flower mainly in June
Flowerhead of cow-parsnip showing flat-topped form and typical huge leaf bases. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Many of the vegetables we eat came originally from Europe, Asia and Latin America. The aboriginal peoples of British Columbia were unfamiliar with these food plants, nevertheless they feasted on several indigenous green vegetables. The most widely eaten among these was the cow-parsnip (now called Heracleum maximum, recently known as Heracelum lanatum), also referred to as Indian rhubarb or wild rhubarb.
Cow-parsnip belongs to the Parsley Family (Umbelliferae or Apiaceae) and grows in the form of a gigantic perennial herb. A thick hollow stem stands 1-3 meters (40-120”) tall and bears large broad leaves. Stems are lightly ridged and woolly. Each leaf is divided into three segments with coarse teeth. Leaves occur at the base of the stalk and along it. Sometimes you will see big swollen structures at the leaf bases. These are flower buds just waiting to emerge.
The stem top is crowned by several handsome, flat-topped flower heads. Each head consists of numerous umbrella-like clusters of small white blossoms that vary in diameter from 0.5 to 1 cm (0.2-0.4”) across. There are five creamy-white petals in each flower. The blooms circling the outside of each cluster are usually larger and often slightly irregular in form. Five spindly stamens bearing greenish anthers surround a greenish pistil. Cow-parsnip produces robust flattened seeds which remain on the stalk well into the summer.
Cow-parsnip thrives in rich moist soil along streams and rivers, roadsides and in meadows. You will often find it forming large colonies. It has a wide climatic tolerance, growing from sea level to the alpine zone. The Parsnip River in east central British Columbia is named after this plant. Cow-parsnip may be seen almost anywhere in North America in suitable habitats.
Damp alpine meadow habitat of cow-parsnip on the west side of Hudson Bay Mountain near Smithers, BC. Flower-topped stalks of cow-parsnip are visible in the middle of the image to the right of and above patches of purple lupine blooms. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Almost every First Nations group in British Columbia ate cow-parsnip as a green vegetable. Before the flowers appeared in spring, young stalks and leaf stems (petioles) were peeled and eaten raw. Sometimes they were boiled, steamed or roasted. Bruised cow-parsnip plants emit a strong smell but the stems are sweet and juicy, somewhat like celery. Coastal people ate cow-parsnip with eulachon fish grease.
According to Saanich Elders Violet Williams and Elsie Claxton, the stalks had to be collected for eating before the flower buds opened. Otherwise they were tough to chew and tasted too strong.
Be aware that members of the parsley family, especially water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) contain terribly strong poisons which can kill a human. You must be certain that the plant you intend to eat is a cow-parsnip.
Peeled young cow-parsnip shoots ready for eating. Photo Dr. Nancy Turner and Robert D. Turner. Used with permission.
Cow-parsnip plants can make a bold addition to your garden but you must give them room. They are best raised from seed, collected as soon as it is mature, and planted in a rich moist soil. You may be able to carefully transplant very young seedlings too, but I suspect that this technique is not often successful.
Cow-parsnip has one characteristic you should be wary of. Like its gigantic relative, giant cow-parsnip or hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), cow-parsnip contains chemicals that may cause severe skin inflammation known as dermatitis. The sap of the plant has particularly strong activity. Ultraviolet rays from the sun activate the compound and may cause the skin to redden and even produce permanent discoloration. Not all people are so affected but be warned to handle the plant carefully especially on a hot sunny day.
The plant supposedly obtained its name after the Greek god Heracles (Hercules). The previously-used species name “lanatum” refers to the “woolly” leaves and parts of the stem.
As you see great stretches of cow- parsnip along our province’s highways, think of it not as a roadside weed but as a valuable food of British Columbia’s First Nations. Cow-parsnip is hardy to zones 2-3 in Canada.
Wild nibbles make a pleasant treat while hiking in the bush. Most often the tasty treat consists of berries of one sort or another, but the occasional green provides a refreshing chew. Mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) can spare a leaf or two for the adventurous alpine wanderer.
This delightful hardy herb grows from the top of a tenacious stout tap root. Fleshy, kidney-shaped leaves arise on leaf stalks attached to a short erect stem. Leaf blades range from 1-5 cm (0.4-2”) wide, their stalks 4-8 cm (1.6-3.2”) long. Normally they are coloured bright green but may turn greenish red as the season advances or in really tough sites. There is usually also a single leaf on the stem. The leaves have a sour, but refreshing, acid taste, hence the botanical name Oxyria derived from Greek the word “oxys” which means sharp.
A thriving Mountain sorrel plant showing typical leaves and reddish flowers and fruits. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Like all members of the Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae), mountain sorrel has small hard- to-see flowers. They cluster irregularly along a 10 to 60 cm (4-24”) tall, narrow flower stalk. Each green to reddish flower consists of four tiny “petals” joined at the base. Two of the petals are keeled, the other two are not. Inside the flowers reside six stamens and a two-parted pistil. Flowers appear from June to August according to elevation and latitude. At maturity, the fruit is broadly winged, turning a showy reddish purple. The fruit is mostly translucent and literally shines when the sun’s light passes through it.
Mountain sorrel ranges throughout the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, south to New Mexico and California, and north through Alaska and the Yukon and across the Arctic. It also inhabits most of the mountains of Asia and Europe. In our province, mountain sorrel thrives in alpine scree and rock crevices and can be found in suitable habitats on almost every high mountain, to the elevation where no other plants can survive.
Surprisingly this delightful little mountain nibble will grow in lowland rock gardens. It needs a relatively moist gritty run for its root and full sun. In our coastal lowlands mountain sorrel probably needs to be sheltered from full scorching mid-day heat. Plants are best raised from seed sown carefully in the site where it is to grow. Sow the seeds in very stony and moist, but not rich, soil.
The typical harsh high mountain home of mountain sorrel at Shelagyote Peak north of Smithers BC with pink River beauty (Epilobium latifolium) dotting the slope. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Okanagan First Peoples ate fresh raw leaves, but never too many at a time because the oxalic (sour) acid in the plant can be harmful if taken in large quantity. This sorrel contains abundant Vitamins A and C and was used against scurvy in Europe. Like other wild and cultivated sorrels it was widely cooked as a pot herb. A few leaves add a spritely bite when mixed into a salad.
This amazing plant has an incredible story to tell about the glacial history of our province. Studies of the chloroplast DNA by Royal BC Museum and University of Victoria reveal that the genetic makeup of the alpine herb in BC is surprisingly diverse. Within BC, the high diversity and the occurrence of ancient genetic forms suggest that high elevation mountains in the north escaped the last glaciation, contrary to widely accepted thinking.
Mountain sorrel is hardy to zone 0 in Canada. In fact,it is pretty much the hardiest of all plants in the world.
Highly ornamental flowers of British Columbia’s native thimbleberry. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda. Saanich, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
British Columbia is home to shrubs with many uses. For example our Oregon-grapes (Berberis or Mahonia species) make excellent year-round ornamentals, whose fruits produce tasty jelly. Few of our shrubs however can match the thimbleberry of the Rose Family (Rosaceae) for utility. Not only does it have tasty fruits, but this shrub produces edible shoots, soap from its stems, and is an attractive and widely-adapted subject for gardens.
Thimbleberry forms waist- to head-high thickets of numerous erect stems. The stems are thorn-free, unlike the closely related raspberries and blackberries. The bark is distinctively flaky and especially hairy on new growth. Maple-like leaves, 10-30 cm (4-12″) across occur at the ends of the stems. Each one has seven to nine lobes and a texture like soft sandpaper.
Open flower clusters, containing three to eleven blooms develop at the ends of the branches. Each bright white flower can be as wide as 7-8 cm (3″) across. Five long greenish sepals surround five clear white oval petals. A ring of many stamens encircles a central fleshy dome. This dome is the swollen end of the stem, and attached to its surface are numerous tiny greenish pistils. Once the egg in each pistil is fertilized, the pistil transforms into a tiny red fruit with a hard seed inside. The mass of little fruits forms a shallow “thimble” over the central dome, looking like a thin raspberry. The velvety thimbles are somewhat dry but usually taste very sweet.
Thimbleberry shrub blooms. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda. Saanich, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Thimbleberry grows throughout much of British Columbia except the far north. On the continent you can encounter it from Alaska to northern Mexico and eastward to Ontario and Colorado. Typical haunts include open sites, often at the edge of woods, roadsides and shorelines. Surprisingly thimbleberry inhabits both moist and dry sites and occurs across a wide range of elevations from sea level to the high subalpine zone; a widely-adapted plant. Notably, it is one of the species to colonize early after disturbance particularly along highways.
Thimbleberries are excellent subjects for naturalizing in corners of suburban lots. They seem not to be choosy about soil conditions and will grow on raw unprepared surfaces. In fact, in some places they will appear on their own, presumably inoculated from bird droppings. They will grow in full sun to part shade. These shrubs quickly form thickets, generating wildlife cover and stabilize the soil. Butterflies love the flowers and birds relish the fruit.
Delicious fruit of thimbleberry. Photo by Robert D. Turner. Used with permission.
You can often purchase thimbleberries from the local nursery or garden centre by asking them to order it in. There are several suppliers in British Columbia. This native species has recently become available through mail-order from seed and nursery catalogues. Thimbleberries can be raised from seed sown in place in the garden in the fall for germination in the spring. Rooted offset stems will also transplant in a dormant state.
First Nations of British Columbia used thimbleberry for many purposes. Fruits were eaten fresh by most groups or pressed and dried into cakes for later. People of the west coast of Vancouver Island gathered canoe-loads of sweet and juicy spring shoots, peeled and ate them raw. Okanagan people lined their steam-cooking pits with the large leaves. Shuswap Carrier First Nations used the leaves to separate different types of berries in a picking basket. The Cowlitz of nearby Washington State boiled the bark for soap. Today hikers nibble on the wild fruit during their wanderings.
The technical name “Rubus” is based on an ancient Roman name for a related plant. The species name “parviflorus” means “small-flowered”, hardly appropriate for the large attractive blooms produced by thimbleberry.
Thimbleberry is a widely adapted native shrub for most gardens in the province; fruit, vegetable, ornamental and soil healer all rolled into one. It is hardy to Zone 3 in Canada.
Have you sometimes wondered what the wild ancestors of our highly-bred food plants may have looked like? The wild apples that spring up in hedgerows on Vancouver Island are often as large as our cultivated forms. Our cultivated crab apples, though they may seem closer to the wild than regular apples, are still the result of breeding. British Columbia’s native Pacific crab apple (Malus fusca or Pyrus fusca), however, may look very much as the ancestors of cultivated apples did many thousands of years ago. Bearing scented blooms, edible fruit and growing to a small stature, it has much potential as a garden and landscape plant.
Pacific crab apple, also known as Oregon crab apple, forms shrubs to small trees from 2 to 12 m (6½ to 40 ft.) tall. Plants branch widely and often form extensive thickets. Distinctive, spine-like, short shoots line the branches but are not nearly as vicious as those of black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) or English or common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). The grey bark becomes scaly or deeply fissured with age. Oval and pointed leaves look as if they are a cross between those of the domesticated pear and apple. These weakly-toothed leaves sometimes may be lobed near the base.
Delightful blooms have an apple-blossom scent and appear in flat-topped clusters in the spring. Most flowers are white or creamy, but sometimes they take on a warm pink blush and can be very showy. Each flower is about 2 cm (slightly less than an inch) across. The five petals extend well beyond the cluster of stamens in the centre. As in apples and pears, the ovary is inferior, meaning that it is located below, not on the inside of the petals and sepals. In late summer, bunches of oval to cylinder-shaped fruits dangle from long red stalks. Each fruit is about the size of the end of your little finger. An open-grown tree can be “dripping” in fruit similar to some cultivated crab apples. At first the fruits are green and shiny but within a few weeks they turn yellow, pinkish and sometimes even purplish-red. Ripe fruit clusters, especially those well exposed to sunlight, are very attractive. The fruit tastes pleasantly tart when coloured up. After frost it turns brown and mushy but sweet.
Ripening fruits of Pacific crab apple at Island View Beach, Saanich Peninsula, British Columbia. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Pacific crab apple occurs along the British Columbia coast well up many of the main river systems from Alaska to Vancouver Island and on the adjacent mainland to elevations as high as 800 m (2600 ft.). The full geographic range extends all the way from the Aleutian Islands to northern California. The natural habitat tends to the moist side and includes damp woods, stream sides and coastal bogs. These amazing bog trees resemble large gnarled and twisted “creatures” that seem to hail from some distant prehistoric times. They also occur frequently just inland of the ocean shoreline, especially behind beaches and at the edges of estuaries, which suggests that they tolerate salt spray. On some outer coast islets, exposed to the full influence of the sea, our native crab apples may be the only broad-leaved tree among a mass of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and other conifers.
The hard wood of the Pacific crab apple was widely used along the coast. From it, First Nations people fashioned tool handles, bows, sledgehammers and smaller items, such as spoons and fish hooks. The Nisga’a of northwest B.C. pegged their house boards in place with crab apple wood. The fruit was harvested in early fall and eaten fresh or stored in boxes under water. Apparently, this stored fruit sweetened and softened over time. Medicines, often in combination with other plants, were made from the bark. These medicines were used for a range of internal and external ailments such as stomach problems and skin complaints. The bark and other parts of the tree release hydrogen cyanide, so use only with caution. The flesh of the fruits apparently does not produce much cyanide.
In the garden, Pacific crab apple features best as a specimen tree in an open area. Slow growing, the crown eventually spreads farther than the tree reaches in height. Leaves turn gold and then even red in the fall and combine very attractively with the colours of the ripening fruit. The fruit makes excellent jelly and can be added to other jellies as a natural source of pectin. Wild birds enjoy the ripe fruit, too. Closely planted trees can from a fine dense hedge, and might be good candidates for hedges near the seashore. Plants are best raised from seed sown in the fall in pots and left outside. Seedlings normally take two years to become large enough to plant out.
Up to now the native plant literature has not given much attention to Pacific crab apple, but it has considerable possibilities. The attractive form, flowers and potential for heavy wild fruit production all point to a valuable native species for the garden landscape. Pacific crab apple is hardy to zones 5-6 in Canada.
Details of yarrow flowers, taken along a roadside in Colwood BC in December. The petals of the white ray florets have been twisted by frost. The brownish grey disk florets are visible in the centre of each little flower head. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Numerous plant species release strong scents when brushed. In the past, these smells were taken as a sign that the plant may have medicinal properties. Even today, some popular remedies still depend on aromatic compounds from plants. For example several brands of cough candies contain derivatives of the eucalyptus plant notable for its distinctly flavoured oil. Many strongly-scented plants thrive in British Columbia, including common or white yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a species well known around the world for its healing value.
Yarrow, a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae), grows as a herbaceous perennial with leaves and flowers arising from creeping underground or near-surface root stocks. The aromatic fern- or feather-like leaves are finely divided and feel soft. Leaves cluster mostly at the base of the flowering stalk; these leaves are mainly 10-15 cm (4 – 6 inches) long. Many soft small hairs cover the plant making it appear greyish-green.
Tiny flowers crowd into small flower heads, that are further arranged into flat-topped clusters on stalks up to 100 cm (40 inches) tall. Each small flower head in the cluster consists of three to eight tiny ray flowers with a strap-shaped petal, and disk flowers with only reproductive parts. The flowers are white to pinkish and appear from May to October depending on the local climate. On south Vancouver Island they even bloom as late as December. The flower tops dry and turn brown by the end of summer, producing many one-seeded, smooth and flattened fruits.
Yarrow occurs from low to high elevations and often becomes weedy in disturbed settings. This herb thrives in coastal meadows and the arid sage brush steppe of the interior of BC. We also encounter it often in the lower part of the alpine zone during our studies of BC’s mountain flora. You can find yarrow throughout British Columbia and over much of North America. It also occurs across northern and central Europe and Asia.
Yarrow has been valued as a garden plant for centuries. Various forms are available for you to purchase as plants from garden centres and through mail order. Seeds of many colourful selections, especially red and pink shades, are sold through seed catalogues. Plants are easily raised from seed sown into light seed compost or peat pellets in the fall or spring. Rhizome divisions transplant easily too.
Dwarf varieties thrive in rock gardens. Larger types are suitable for mixed borders, perennial beds and the cutting garden. When mowed regularly, yarrow forms a soft-scented ground cover especially valuable for dry lawns. Yarrow is also an excellent subject for the xeriscape garden. This tough plant has been suggested for erosion control on slopes too.
Finely-divided soft leaves of yarrow photographed in January in Saanich BC. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Many First Nations Elders of the B.C. interior value yarrow as a medicine, especially to treat sores. Ulkatcho people of the west Chilcotin soak the leaves in hot water, then apply them in a poultice to sore muscles. This same poultice can also be used to treat saddle sores on horses. Washed and crushed roots were recommended for toothaches. Various teas and concoctions were prepared for internal problems and as a general tonic. Fresh leaves crushed and rubbed on the skin or put to smoke away in a fire act to repel mosquitoes.
Herbal users should be aware that yarrow is “phototoxic.” Skin exposed to crushed or rubbed yarrow may become irritated when exposed to strong sun.
The name Achillea derives from the Greek hero, Achilles, who well knew the medicinal properties of the plant. The finely divided leaves are responsible for the species name “millefolium” meaning “thousands of leaves”. Yarrow is hardy to zone 2 in Canada.
Traditional garden plants often have substitute native species, often hardier, less invasive and easier to manage. The native tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is an excellent alternative to many cultivated shrubs for mass bedding for example. With a few exceptions, native perennials have yet to replace imports or join the display in more formal settings. Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) is a multi-use native prospect for British Columbia and the west coast of North America.
Woolly sunflower is a spreading fibrous-rooted perennial herb, resembling a restrained version of dusty miller (Artemisia stelleriana). Several hairy stems scramble upwards from the base and bear numerous much-divided silvery leaves. Robust mature plants reach to 60 cm (24”) tall but most often wild specimens rise about 30 cm (12”).
Eriophyllum lanatum (Common woolly sunflower). Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Buttery yellow blooms, 5 cm (2”) wide, face brightly upwards like miniature sunflowers. As is typical of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) the flower is actually a flower head of numerous florets. The rays or outside flowers have narrowly oval petals 1-2 cm (0.4 -0.8”) long. About 8-13 of these frame a disc of tightly-packed inner florets without the showy rays, just as you find in a typical garden marigold. Flowers are borne singly on long stems rising well above the silvery blue foliage. Flowers appear from early May to August, generally in June in southwest BC.
Woolly sunflower populates relatively dry open habitats such as bluffs and rocky slopes, largely being confined to low to mid elevations. In BC, it ranges along the coast southward from Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland, and inland to the Fraser Canyon with a population in the southern Interior. In the United States, the range extends well into California and eastward to Montana and Wyoming. The inland occurrences of woolly sunflower suggest a strong potential for BC interior gardens.
This marvellous plant has several garden uses. First, it thrives in the dry and sunny rock garden, even on poor stony soil. Although it may take a year or two, your plants will become established, persist, and flower from year to year. A patch placed in raw subsoil mixed with gravel has grown for more than 15 years at the Royal BC Museum Native Plant Garden. I have spread it widely along my driveway where it thrives! Woolly sunflower grows well in pots too, as a perennial surrounded by annuals planted freshly year after year. April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo in their excellent book Native Plants in the Coastal Garden recommend woolly sunflower for shoreline plantings, use in repeated drifts, and in containers. They also note its resistance to deer.
Eriophyllum lanatum (Common woolly sunflower). Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Woolly sunflower is grown in many native plant nurseries especially in the western United States and is known even in Europe. You can propagate it by root cuttings in late winter, seeds sown in fall and crown divisions. I multiply my woolly sunflowers by pulling out rooted stems or digging out small plugs at almost any time of the year and replanting. Once in while pull out invading grasses and other weeds from the spreading mats.
The First Nations people of the Thompson River region knew this species as either yellow flower or as “friend or relative” of the much larger and related Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In Washington State, dried flowers were used as love charms and the leaves could be rubbed on one’s face to prevent chapping.
Eriophylllum lanatum is also known as Woolly Eriophyllum and Oregon Sunshine. In Canada it is hardy to Zone 5 meaning it likely will grow in many gardens throughout the south.
Take a chance on the wild side and try growing woolly sunflower in your garden. Experiment with it as a replacement for silvery-leaved ground covers and enjoy the annual display of golden blooms.
Heathers (Calluna species) and heaths (Erica species) are popular ground cover plants worldwide. True heathers and heaths are not native to British Columbia, but many heather relatives and heather-like plants thrive in our province, some under harsh inland climates. Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) (also known as curlew-berry and crake berry) is an excellent, extremely hardy, heather substitute that fulfils the role of ground cover and produces abundant attractive black berries.
Crowberry plants consist of scrambling woody stems rising to 20 cm (8″) tall, and enveloped in wooly hairs and short evergreen leaves. Small roots anchor the stems into the soil. Often a mass of better developed roots associated with a loose crown in the middle of a patch provide a firm grip. Numerous needle-like leaves are arranged in alternate fashion or grouped in fours. These grooved leaves extend 4-8 mm (0.15-0.3”) long and have their margins rolled under.
Tiny purplish flowers appear early in spring, scattered along the stem at the base of the leaves. There are male and female flowers, which sometimes occur on separate plants. Each flower has either one tiny ovary, or three purple stamens, sometimes with up to three purplish petals, all cupped in tiny sepals and bracts.
Unlike the inconspicuous blooms, the shiny black bead-like fruits are easily visible and very attractive. These globe-shaped berries are fleshy and juicy, about half a centimeter (1/5 “) across. On loose leafy plants the berries often occur singly, spaced along the stems. On low growing plants they cluster in bunches and appear to nearly smother the plant. The berries contain large white seeds and are a favourite food of bears.
Ripe crowberry fruits growing on a dense mat of stems and leaves in the high mountains of northern British Columbia. Photo by Richard Hebda.
Crowberries are widespread plants with a most hardy constitution. You can find them almost anywhere in our province in suitable habitats except in the dry lowland climates of the southern interior. Plants have been observed to nearly 2500m (about 7750 feet) above sea-level in BC. Crowberry’s geographical range extends across all of Canada, southward on the west coast to California and around the northern hemisphere. It is largely a plant of full sun environments. At low elevations, especially on the coast, it inhabits bogs and openings in bog forests. Inland you may encounter it in conifer forest openings and almost everywhere in the alpine tundra and subalpine turf as well as on dry rocky mountain knolls. Crowberry favours acid to very acid soils usually with abundant organic debris.
This creeping shrub has great potential as a ground cover species in most BC gardens. It is especially suited to interior gardens in regions with cold harsh climates. On the coast it is better suited to open moist rock gardens or bog gardens where it will grow into a loose luxuriant mass of heather-like stems. Plants are most easily grown from root-bearing stem pieces planted in moist sandy peat soil until well rooted. Nursery material has also been grown from cuttings and fresh seeds sown in the fall. Crowberry is hardy to zone 1 in Canada.
A carpet of pure crowberry stems and leaves richly covered in berries, northern BC. Photo Richard Hebda.
Crowberries were eaten widely throughout British Columbia. Anyone who has munched a crowberry on a wilderness hike knows they tend to be somewhat watery and slightly tart, but pleasant nevertheless. On the coast crowberries were mainly eaten fresh by Haida and Tsimshian peoples in whose lands they can occur in great abundance. Haida Elders thought that eating too many of them might lead to internal bleeding. In the northern interior many First Nations people ate the berries because they are available all winter long under the snow. Some Carrier people mixed the berries with bear grease. Berries were also prepared by mashing them and cooking with heated stones in spruce bark troughs. Dried mash was soaked in water and consumed later. Mixed with sugar the berries can be used for pies and jellies.
Crowberries are an excellent heather-like ground cover for coastal and especially cool interior gardens, despite the absence of showy flowers. And unlike true heathers you can nibble tart fruit in fall and even in winter. So, enjoy this widespread native in the wild and maybe find a spot for it in your garden.
British Columbia forests are renowned for the trees they grow. Within these great forests there are other botanical treasures that live on the forest floor. Among these the bunchberries (Cornusspp.) are among the most widespread.
Bunchberries belong to the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae) along with our provincial floral emblem the western flowering or Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) and red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Bunchberries grow as low, carpeting herb-like shrubs. A root-stem system (rhizome) spreads just below the ground surface and from it arise 5-20 cm (2-8″) tall flexible stems. Each erect stem bears a pair of small highly reduced leaves about halfway up, and a whorl of 2-8 cm (0.8-3.2”) long oval leaves at the top. The leaves are usually dark green and somewhat glossy but may yellow in full sun. The veins appear to be well pressed-into the leaf surface. Tear through the leaf and you will see several thin whitish strands along the torn edges, a characteristic of dogwood leaves.
A flower head develops in late spring to early summer at the top of the stem. Four to six modified leaves called bracts surround the cluster of tiny flowers in the centre. Most people think that these white bracts are the petals but they are not. True flowers huddle cheek-to-jowl in a central clump. Each mini-bloom consists of a tiny toothed tube of greenish sepals which in turn surrounds a tiny funnel of four purplish petals. The pistil hides within the throat of the flower. Four spindly stamens poke out from the mouth. The berry-like fruits mature in late summer and early fall into a bright red bunch (hence the common name). Alaskan bunchberry differs from the common and widespread bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) which has greenish white petals and no well-developed leaves on the stem.
Alaskan bunchberry haunts moist old-growth forests and thickets of British Columbia’s coastal strip. It thrives on acid soils rich in humus, draping over rotting logs and crowding under shrubs at the edges of bogs and in the sub-alpine zone. The geographic range of the species extends both north and south along the coast into Alaska and the northwestern United States. Common bunchberry replaces Alaskan bunchberry east of the Coast Mountains.
Alaskan bunchberries were much savoured by First Nations people of the coast. The berries were eaten raw, with eulachon fish grease and with sugar. Haida occasionally steamed the fruit, mixed it with water and grease and stored it for the winter. Although the berries have a pulpy texture and a large seed, their taste is pleasantly sweet.
Bunchberries make excellent garden subjects especially in moist shaded settings under trees and on the north side of buildings. They combine well with shrubby members of the heather family (Ericaceae) such as rhododendrons or azaleas. They need moist, airy and humus-enriched soil to thrive and do not enjoy warm sunny settings. We have grown bunchberries with tall ferns under a tree in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum but they never seemed to flower the way they do in the wild.
Raise Alaskan bunchberries from seed or buy them from a garden centre or nursery where they are occasionally available. Sow the seed in the fall in a pot of peaty soil and leave over the winter. Plants with a vigorous root system raised in a pot succeed best.
The name “Cornus”, an ancient name for dogwoods, may be derived from “cornu” an old name for horn, because of the very hard wood of some of the tree dogwood species. The species name “unalaschkensis” recalls that the plant was named after Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Islands.
Northern North America is not known as a source of important of fruit crops. Most of our familiar fruits such as apples, plums, and cherries originated elsewhere. Several of our native species, such as coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) have been used in breeding programs. However, Saskatoon (also Saskatoon serviceberry), a showy shrub of the Rose Family (Rosaceae), provides wild fruit and is now grown as a commercial crop.
Saskatoon grows as a medium shrub to small many-stemmed tree reaching to 7 m (23’) high. The smooth stems are reddish brown to dark grey, and young twigs often silky. The 2.5 – 3.0 cm (1-1.2″) long leaves have an oval outline, but may be slightly pointed at the tip and heart-shaped at the base. Small teeth line part, or all the leaf’s margin. Young leaves are bright green but turn bluish green with age.
Bright white flowers occur in leafy clusters toward the ends of the branches. Somewhat hairy sepals form a base for the 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8”) long strap-shaped petals. About 20 stamens choke the throat of each flower, where they surround four to five styles.
The ovary of Saskatoon, like that of the apple or pear, is placed in an inferior position. This means that the sepals and the petals arise from the top of the ovary rather than below it, as is the case in a superior ovary.
The fruit is about 0.5 to 1.0 cm (0.2-0.4”) across, and globe shaped. Its colour ranges from purple to nearly black, often covered by a greyish blue bloom. Good quality fruit is juicy and sweet, however on the coast some of the berries dry out quickly becoming mealy or crunchy with little flavour.
Saskatoons thrive throughout British Columbia. The continental range extends along the coast from Alaska to California, eastward to New Mexico and north through the plains and prairies into Canada’s Northwest Territories. This shrub favours open to lightly shaded sites such as thickets, fence rows, clearings and edges of woods. A well-drained soil is essential.
Mid spring flowers of Saskatoon. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Saskatoons were and are widely picked by First Nations. The Nlaka’pamux (formerly the Thompson) people recognized several types of bushes. Some types were gathered and dried for winter use. Other types were cooked to a jam-like form before being dried. Edible roots of other plants were sometimes soaked in Saskatoon juice to make them more flavourful and sweeter. Dried and rehydrated berries were added to dried vegetables and cooked into soups and puddings.
Many parts of the Saskatoon plant were used. A drink was made from the bark for stomach problems. Bark and twigs were turned into a medicine for recovery after childbirth and, in combination with other plants, to make a contraceptive. The tough hard wood made excellent arrows. Other uses included digging sticks, spear shafts and handles for tools. Saskatoon sticks were used to spread out cleaned salmon for drying, and the branches to construct shelters.
Today many British Columbians eat fresh berries off the bush or bake them in tasty pies. You can buy Saskatoon bushes specially bred for the home garden. These varieties produce bigger and sweeter fruit than most wild plants. In the prairies Saskatoon plantations yield the raw material for a regional specialty, Saskatoon wine.
Growing Saskatoons is an easy matter if you have a sunny well-drained site. In the late winter or early spring, buy a bush from the garden centre or order it through the mail. Plant the sapling in a moderately rich, but not heavily-fertilized, soil and mulch around the base. You may have to water during the first year to help the young plant settle in. Saskatoon shrubs can be used in many parts of the garden; the spring flowers are stunning and the bright yellow to red fall leaves provide a cheerful accent. Plants can be grown from seed and dug up as self-sown seedlings too.
The origin of the name Amelanchier remains unclear. The species name “alnifolia” means alder-leaved.
Saskatoon is an outstanding native shrub widely adapted to B.C.’s varying climates. Not only does it yield tasty fruit, but it serves well as a showy garden subject. To see Saskatoon berries visit the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, B.C.
A scene from the 1947 film shows Dorothy Burritt in her Vancouver apartment. At 1:41 in the clip, she is seen sitting for the portrait while artist Peter Bortkus works at his easel.
This video clip is an excerpt from Suite Two: A Memo to Oscar, an amateur film made in 1947 by Dorothy Burritt and Stanley Fox. They were both members of the National Film Society (Vancouver Branch). Inspired by avant-garde films she had seen at the society’s screenings, Dorothy made some interesting experimental shorts around 1940, collaborating with her future husband, Oscar Burritt. When teenager Stan Fox joined the society in 1946, Dorothy also encouraged his filmmaking efforts.
By 1947, Oscar (1908-1974) had moved to Toronto to work as a director and cinematographer for Shelly Films. Dorothy (1910-1963) stayed behind in Vancouver for a time before joining him there. Suite Two is an offbeat study of light and life at their apartment (#2 – 1960 Robson Street, near Stanley Park), and the circle of artistic friends they entertained there. As Stan Fox recalled in a 1988 interview:
Well, this was really Dorothy’s film. She had thought it up as a memento of her apartment and a present for Oscar — and a recording of those friends, y’know, at that time — and asked me if I would film it. That’s really how it happened . . . . It was her idea to make Suite Two as a kind of a memento of this apartment, which was going to be destroyed. In those days, they were just beginning to destroy the West End; and it was slated to go, to be replaced with an apartment house. And they knew that, so that’s why the film was made. *
Dorothy is seen tidying her home and preparing for a party, where she and her guests listen to music and watch a feature film, followed by refreshments, dancing, and lively conversation. The butler is played by an enigmatic figure in a bird costume, a grotesquely Moderne-styled forerunner of Big Bird. In an interlude before the party, artist Peter Bortkus (1906-1995) is shown painting Dorothy’s portrait. Born in Tallinn, Estonia, Bortkus was active during the years 1930-1947 in Vancouver, where he was befriended and influenced by Frederick H. Varley, a famous member of the Group of Seven. By contrast, Bortkus was a little-known figure; he painted prolifically, especially in field of portraiture, but his work was not exhibited to any significant degree. In 1947, he relocated to Toronto, where he supported his family by working as a commercial artist.
The original Bortkus painting of Dorothy was apparently in the Burritts’ hands until Oscar’s death in 1974; it has since disappeared. If it still exists, the current owner may not be aware of the subject’s name, or of her significance to Canadian film history. In 1990, however, Douglas S. Wilson, a Toronto friend of the Burritts, was able to provide the BC Archives with this colour photo of the painting.
Photo of Peter Bortkus’ 1947 portrait of Dorothy Burritt. Over time, the other dyes in this Anscocolor print have faded to emphasize the magenta. (BC Archives image J-00156)
Dorothy Burritt sitting for the portrait in “Suite Two”. (Digital frame grab [detail] from BC Archives V1989:05/001.01)
Settling in the east, the Burritts were very active in the Toronto Film Society. Oscar went on to work on the film side of CBC Television, and Dorothy later founded the Canadian Federation of Film Societies. Suite Two received honourable mention (amateur category) at the first Canadian Film Awards in 1949. (Click here to read a full description of the film.)
When asked four decades later for his own reaction to Suite Two, Stan Fox replied:
Oh, I like it. I’m surprised. I think it’s a very interesting piece of film, in its way. As you say, the atmosphere is very charming, and seems to have lasted; it says something about the era, you know. I think people here in B.C. are particularly vulnerable to forgetting the past, or else looking at the past as being just a very quaint thing — something that was definitely not as sophisticated as the present. *
He also provided this vivid recollection of Dorothy Burritt and her milieu:
There seemed to be, in Vancouver, a very sophisticated group of people, most of whom knew each other, that seemed to “feed” on each other, and keep each other abreast of what was happening in the rest of the world. . . . Dorothy herself was a very influential person, because she was very involved with the arts and had a very good sense of values about things of an aesthetic nature. And I think that I was really in the middle of almost an “artists’ colony” — although there weren’t a great many practicing artists. There were certainly an awful lot of people who really lived for things artistic, whether it was painting or film or books or whatnot.
She was a very kind person. I had the impression she was very cultured, very well-educated, and seemed to know an awful lot about a lot of things. And she was a very supportive person. I think that was perhaps her strongest characteristic; when she saw something that she felt had some kind of value, someone’s talent, she encouraged it. In terms of music and art and cinema, [Dorothy and Oscar introduced me to] what you’d call “the modern era”; what was happening, and what was important, in those arts. Plus, I think even more than that, it was an attitude to life — a sense of the importance of the arts in life, and making the arts a focus in your life that was much more important than making money. And considering the society they were living in at the time, they were remarkable people.
[Dorothy’s voice was] distinctive; slightly drawling, in a way. It was a soft voice, very feminine voice. I can hear it, quite well, and that perhaps is the best indication of its distinctiveness — that I can hear it in my head, even today, quite well. *
Stan’s perspective on Dorothy was echoed by his childhood friend Allan King (1930-2009), a celebrated director of Canadian documentaries (Skidrow, Warrendale, A Married Couple) and feature films (Who Has Seen the Wind).
[Dorothy was] extraordinarily cultured; Romantic, in the sense of a “Romantic Artist”; absorbed in the life of the artist, all the things that one read books about; a sort of an echo of Bohemia, of a life that was unconventional, not like bourgeois Kerrisdale or lower middle-class Kitsilano. It was a whole world of people apart, people who did Romantic and exciting things. And I should clarify the word “Romantic”. By that, I mean “idealized“, in the sense that it’s not a real perception of what Dorothy was like. I don’t know what Dorothy was like. I knew her then as a person I thought about who represented something; an ideal kind of figure to do with the arts, to do with creativity, to do with things that were really important, not trivial things like delivering groceries or delivering newspapers, or whatever it was that one picked up one’s spare change from.
The other thing that was very important about Dorothy and such people — but [that] I remember particularly with her and about film — was the whole notion of excellence, the whole notion of aspiring to do one’s best, to do extraordinary work. I don’t mean in a pretentious sense, but the notion that what was important was excellence; something that was unique, something that was fresh, something that was original; to try to get at some kind of truth, or something that meant something. Dorothy was very powerful in talking about and advocating original work, and being open to original work is really fundamental to doing good work. It’s fundamental to keeping one’s self vital in any way. That kind of vitality is a hallmark, and something that, for me, made her invaluable. **
∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇
In November 2016, shortly before I retired from the Royal BC Museum, I received a long distance call from the daughter of Peter Bortkus. Through Google and the archives’ online AtoM search engine, she’d found our photograph of the painting, a portrait she’d never seen before. We chatted for quite a while, and I made a few notes, pleased to learn something at last about the artist who painted Dorothy Burritt.
* Stanley Fox, interviewed by D.J. Duffy, Victoria, 20 June 1988: BC Archives sound tape T4349. ** Allan King, interviewed by D.J. Duffy, Vancouver, 13 September 1991: author’s collection.
Dorothy Burritt (second from left) with the cast & crew of the experimental film comedy “Glub”, directed in 1947 by Stanley Fox (far right). (Photo courtesy Stanley Fox)
Figure 1. Viewfield Farm at Macaulay Point, in1854. The farm extended along the southern water front from Saxe Point in Esquimalt, to Lime Bay in Victoria West and across the peninsula to Selkirk Waters.
As Donald Macaulay with his Tsimshian wife Margaret and the first four of their six daughters Mary, Flora, Catherine and Sarah, gazed out at the beautiful ocean view and the fields draped with blue camas, he must have been reminded of his native home on the Scottish Isle of Lewis. It was 1850, and Macaulay was bailiff of the new 600-acre Viewfield Farm owned by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.
Macaulay could hardly have known that this landscape would one day be named after him. Or that it would become a popular military camp in the late 1890’s, where Victoria’s citizens flocked to witness regimental demonstrations.
Macaulay Point was first named Sailor Point in 1847, but the Hudson’s Bay men called it Macaulay Point in 1851 and this was made official by the surveys of Captain Richards in 1859.
With the building of the military base and houses, the Macaulay Plains disappeared. But a visit to Macaulay Point reveals the large defensive structures that were still being used in the Second World War. Less visible are the three ancient archaeological sites in Fleming Bay.
Figure 2. In 1878, based on the belief of a threat from Russia, an Earthwork Battery was built at Fort Macaulay. Later, in 1887, the old earthworks were dismantled and new six-inch disappearing guns were installed. These were used during both world wars. (Robert Kidd photograph, 1959; RBCM, Archaeology Collection.).
Figure 3. Crowds of people witnessed the performances of the British Columbia Provincial Regiment of Garrison Artillery on Macaulay Plains, about 1885. (RBCM A-03131).
First Nations cultural features
Macaulay Point was known as Mukwuks by the Lekwungen First Nations on whose traditional territory it was located. Today the Lekwungen are represented by the Esquimalt and Songees Nations. In 1952, Songhees elder Jimmy Fraser indicated that Mukwuks was once the location of a salmon reef net fishing station. The stone seen here in figure 4 is a net weight or anchor stone found by divers on Macaulay reef.
Divers also found piles of larger, unmodified rocks used as anchors on the reef net. Every year the kelp rope holding these anchors would be cut, and they would be left behind. This shaped rock would have been one that was retrieved after use, but in this case was probably accidentally lost.
Figure 4. This shaped rock was used as a net sinker to hold a reef net down between two canoes. It weighs about 4 kg or 9 lbs (RBCM. DcRu-Y:96).
Figure 5. On reefs where the salmon came close to shore, this type of net was placed in a pathway cut into the kelp beds. When the fish were above the mesh net, it was pulled up by crews in boats on each side. (Re-drawn after Hilary Stewart 1977:94).
The oldest archaeological site in Esquimalt
Between about 5000 and 11,000 years ago, all of the many archaeological sites in bays around Esquimalt, were dry land. As the sea level rose to near its present height about 4,200 years ago, we find evidence of First Nations living at Fleming Bay.
A large shellmidden stretches across the back of the bay, containing shellfish remains, bones, artifacts and other evidence of past human behaviour. It is one of two equally old Archaeological sites in the municipality of Esquimalt. It dates to the same age as a shellmidden under the Tillicum Road Bridge. Much of the site has now been destroyed, but there are still portions intact.
The location was a camp, used at least on a seasonally basis, at various times starting 4200 years ago. On both ends of this large site were two later period shellmiddens identified as aboriginal defensive locations – used in times of warfare.
Defensive sites are often located on a raised peninsula with an intentionally dug trench across the back of the peninsula. The dirt was mounded up on the inside of the trench and wooden palisades placed in the inner rim of the trench.
This peninsula, extending out from the main shellmidden site was occupied at a later time period than the older deposits of the main site. This was a defensive location where about 800 to 1000 years ago a trench was dug across the back end of the peninsula.
A second defensive site was located on the south side of Fleming Beach. Shellmidden deposits once occurred from the tip of the small peninsula that once formed the south side of Fleming Bay and extended eastward along the Bay to the ”Climbing Wall”.
Figure 6. The ancient shellmidden at Fleming Beach once extended west from the high rocks on the east side of the Esquimalt Anglers Association boat ramp. Much of it has been destroyed by the boat ramp and housing development. The “Climbing Wall” is on the far right (Grant Keddie, 2006).
Figure 7. The beach is named after the family of photographers’ Harold and Edgar Fleming, who built their house, Viewfield, here in the 1880s. This 1896 painting shows the house above what is now the boat launch, before three metres of soil and shellmidden were removed. The rocks on the right are now a popular climbing wall. (RBCM; PDP4171).
Fleming Beach shellmidden
The archaeological sites at Fleming Bay were known since the 1890s, but officially recorded by Robert Kidd for the Provincial Museum in 1959. He took a series of photographs at that time which allow us to see the recent changes that have occurred.
Figure 8. Archaeological site DcRu-20. Looking down over the boat ramp at Fleming Beach, toward Kinver Road in the background. (Robert Kidd photograph taken in 1959. RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 9. The raised shellmidden bank can be seen across the back of Fleming Beach. Kinver Road is on the far left and what is now the climbing wall on the far right ( Robert Kidd photograph. 1959. RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 10. The cultural debris that made up the shellmidden at Fleming Beach was once up to two metres deep. (Robert Kidd photograph 1959. RBCM, Archaeology collection).
The western defensive site
Figure 11. Looking across the aboriginal defensive site on the west side of the back of Fleming Beach, in 1901. The present day Esquimalt Angler’s Association ramp is on the distant right next to the exposed climbing Rock. (Charles Newcombe photograph; RBCM, Ethnology Collection, PN139).
Figure 12. Remnants of a defensive trench that once cut across the back of the peninsula of the site, in 1928. The climbing wall can be seen at the centre of the photograph in the far background. (William Newcombe photograph; RBCM, Ethnology Collection, PN169).
Figure 13. Looking across the south end of the defensive site seen in figures 11 and 12. Shellmidden can be seen eroding down the slope. (Robert Kidd photograph; RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 14. The Aboriginal defensive site on the west side of Fleming Bay is on the peninsula at the centre of the photograph (Robert Kidd photograph 1959; RBCM Archaeology collection).
Figure 15. Looking across Fleming Bay to the Aboriginal defensive site at the left of the centre of the photograph, 2006. (Grant Keddie photograph).
The southern defensive site
Figure 16. The location of the second defensive site on the south-western side of Fleming Beach, in 1900. Part of the area in the foreground has been filled in and now forms part of Buxton Green Park. Shellmidden deposits once occurred from the far right to what is now the climbing wall on the left. The photographer is unknown, but it was likely the professional photographer Edgar Fleming who lived at the beach. (Grant Keddie Collection).
Figure 17. The southern aboriginal defensive site (DcRu-21) is seen in 1959 in relation to the peninsula before it was artificially extended in 1965. The stone wall in the foreground is part of the first salt water swimming pool built in greater Victoria. It was built by Canadian soldiers stationed at Work Point Barracks during the Second World War. It was filled in with the creation of Buxton Green Park in 1983 (Robert Kidd photograph; RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Take a walk
Fleming Bay and Macaulay Point are home to one of the oldest First Nation habitations in the region and two types of defensive sites – one from a thousand years ago and one used from 1878 until World War II.
As you walk around the bay you will be able to observe these special features and think of the Macaulay family that walked here before you.
Taking knowledge of the community’s heritage features, the rock underneath your feet, the birds, the plants and the fish in the water below will make your stroll along the waterfront a much more enjoyable experience. It gives the community a sense of place.
Male flowers of June plum. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Spring arrives early in southwestern British Columbia, and many plants waste no time producing flowers. June or Indian Plum, known botanically as Oemleria cerasiformis or not long ago as Osmaronia cerasiformis, is one of the earliest of all shrubs to bloom.
June Plum (also called Oso berry) is a deciduous shrub in the Rose Family (Rosaceae), which grows from 2-5 m (6.5-16.5’) tall. Stems and old branches are grey, but young branches appear dark wine red. The branches form a graceful upswept pattern. Thin, bright green leaves unfold as early as February. Tapered and oblong, they are usually widest above the mid-point. The leaf margin is smooth-edged and the lower surface paler than the upper. Leaves alternate along the branch, often standing erect when young. Crushed leaves smell like cucumber or watermelon rind.
Clusters of flowers dangle from the branch tips as the first leaves appear. A fully open flower cluster may reach 10 cm (4″) long and have six to 12 blooms. Each greenish-white blossom is about 1-1.5 cm (1/4-1/2″) across. Some people describe the flowers as almond-scented, whereas others call them bad smelling! In any case, once you have smelled them, their scent will be forever recognizable.
Five small greenish sepals and five greenish-white rounded petals arise from the edges of a cup-shaped structure, called a hypanthium. The hypanthium is formed from the swollen end of the stalklet bearing the flower. Stamens or pistils reside in the cup of the flower with male and female flowers on separate plants. In the male flower, 15 stamens form three rows at the edge and just inside the cup. Five pistils crowd together in the bottom of the female flower cup.
Early March display of June plum, Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Male plants, perhaps surprisingly, produce the most abundant and showiest flowers. Having male and female flowers on separate bushes reduces the chances of in-breeding. But a great mystery surrounds the question of pollination. At flowering time there are few if any, bees out. Possibly native beetles do the honour, but even after many hours of observation, the responsible party has yet to been seen for sure.
Small fruits appear in spring. At first these are a pleasant peach colour but soon darken to dark blue or nearly black. Like their distant relatives, the true plums, the fruits are covered in a greyish bloom. A prominent groove marks one side of the fruit. Birds especially Cedar Waxwings gobble up ripe fruit and disperse the seed.
Immature bitter fruits of June plum. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
These fully-ripe June plum fruits are far less astringent than peach coloured ones. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
The distribution of June plum, hugs the southwest coast of British Columbia, on south Vancouver Island north to about Campbell River, and on the mainland as far as Yale and Squamish. Moist thickets, open woods and stream banks are its favourite haunts. June plums occur along the Pacific Coast, west of the Cascade Mountains as far south as northern California.
Where the climate permits, June plum makes a fine early spring shrub for the wild or woodland garden. It thrives in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum where it requires little maintenance. The coloured fruits also draw much attention in early summer.
For flower and fruit display you will need one male and one female plant. This shrub is raised from suckers, twig cuttings or seeds. Seeds need a long, cold moist spell followed by a warm interval to germinate, so best plant them in the summer when fruit ripens and leave until the following spring. You may often find seedlings in fence lines and shrubs where birds perch and pass seed.
Generally, the fruit has a bitter choking taste, though I find fully ripe fruit tasty. Nevertheless, First Nations people around the southern Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound ate small quantities of fresh or dried “plums”. The fruit is not poisonous, although at the Royal BC Museum we get calls from concerned parents whose children have tried it. First Nations of the Saanich Peninsula still boil Indian plum bark (sticks) in water and drink the liquid for diarrhea. Bark is also used in a complex mixture to treat several serious ailments.
Oemlaria got its name from an obscure individual called “Oemler”. The species name cerasiformis refers to the cherry-shaped appearance of the fruits.
See June plum in the Native Plant Garden at the Royal BC Museum at any time of the year. It is at its best in the warming days of late February and March when the first flowers open to greet the sun.
Hanging flower clusters of bigleaf maple. Note the protruding stamens. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
We have long recognized the vital role of shade trees in creating a pleasant environment around our homes. Most shade tree species and varieties hail from distant regions and lands. British Columbia is home to one of the noblest, but for some reason little-used shade trees, bigleaf maple.
Bigleaf, broadleaf, common or Oregon maple grows as a tall spreading tree to 30 m (100′) high, casting filtered shade beneath. In undamaged trees, the widely spreading root system supports a short trunk 60-150 cm (2-5′) across, from which reach out great limbs. However many trees have been cut, and hence grow as groups of tall greyish sapling stems. Old branches are bedecked and festooned with colourful mosses, leafy and crusty lichens. Young twigs are coloured an attractive medium green. Fat green buds end the branches during the winter.
Leaves of bigleaf maple are the largest of any tree in British Columbia. Their form is typical for maples; three to five sharply-tipped lobes with deep indentations between them. Spring foliage emerges soft yellow green in the sun’s light and soon expands to full size, some leaves more than 30 cm (12″) across. In fall the foliage mantles each tree in a rich yellow-orange cloak, before the leaves fall to earth to be crunched underfoot.
The 10-15 cm (4-6″) long flower clusters rival any in the genus of maples. They burst forth in early spring revealing often 50 or more small greenish yellow fragrant blooms. Male and female flowers are separate, but occur in the same cluster. Each flower consists of petal-like sepals, and five petals surrounding either a group of long protruding spindly stamens or a two-parted ovary with two stigmas. The clusters magnetically attract pollinating flies until each tree hums softly like a giant machine. The large fruits have the typical form of maple keys consisting of a wing and body. The spiny hairs, which cover the surface of the body, will penetrate and irritate the skin.
Summer leaves of bigleaf maple. Photo by Dr. Ken Marr.
In British Columbia the maple’s natural range includes most of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland coast, extending well up major valleys. Bigleaf maple is reported as far north as Alaska, but the main distribution extends from BC mostly west of the Cascade Mountains south to California with an outlying population in Idaho. Bigleaf maple thrives in rich moist soils especially along rivers, streams and floodplains. Curiously you will also find it on moist rocky slopes often rooted in the rubble at the foot of cliffs. The tree grows well in disturbed settings along roads and fence rows.
Late summer paired maple keys, the fruit of bigleaf maple. Photo by Dr. Ken Marr.
Although some authors consider bigleaf maple of little horticultural value, it makes an outstanding shade tree. The airy canopy produces light, rather than oppressive shade. Once the leaves fall, weak but welcome winter sunlight can penetrate into the home. Because of its size, this maple may not suit refined urban gardens, but it cannot be beat as a huge specimen tree for a large yard, park or street planting. You can easily raise maple trees from seeds planted in ordinary soil. Often, hundreds of seedlings struggle to survive under majestic parent trees. These seedlings transplant easily in the moist coastal winter and spring. You may have a problem growing a traditional flower garden below the thirsty tree. However, native species such as salal (Gaultheria shallon), Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) and sword fern (Polystichum munitum) thrive beneath its umbrella.
Bigleaf maple wood found many uses among British Columbia’s coastal First Nations. From it they made dishes, spoons, rattles, bark shredders, axe handles and numerous other tools. The wood is perhaps best known for the carving of beautiful spindle whorls and canoe paddles. Many aboriginal peoples valued the wood as a fuel, for it burns hot and clean. Bigleaf maple is an excellent fuel tree today too, because it can be cut to harvest the firewood and re-sprout fresh new suckers for future wood production. Well-managed root systems and stumps yield firewood for many decades. Aboriginal people also used the bark to weave ropes and baskets. The large leaves were spread over and under food in steam pits and picking baskets.
Incidentally people have tried to make syrup from spring sap but the sugar concentrations are mostly too low and the day-night temperature changes too slight for a good flow.
The scientific name Acer derives from the classic Latin name for maple. The species name “macrophyllum” celebrates the tree’s most obvious feature, the big (macro) leaves (phyllum). This handsome arboreal giant and other maples were once happily in the Maple family (Aceraceae). Now through the wonders of DNA analysis they have been added to the Horse-chestnut family Sapindaceae.
Looking for a shade tree or an excellent permanent firewood source, try our native bigleaf maple. This under-appreciated native species deserves to be more widely grown. For more information on native species please visit our Native Plant Garden, of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
The introduction of potentially invasive species remains a global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The spatial distribution of introduced species can provide insight into present and historical vectors of invasion. Here, we aim to investigate the influence of environmental, demographic and vector variables on the spatial distribution of non-indigenous species (NIS) in coastal marine ecosystems.
Coastal British Columbia, Canada.
We used subtidal settlement plates to sample NIS richness at 81 sites. Spatial patterns for seventeen environmental, population, and vector variables were created using a Geographic Information System (GIS). We used multiple regression with model selection and spatial autocorrelation to define a statistical model that best explained the spatial distribution of NIS.
Four variables, salinity, human population density, port arrivals and marina propulsiveness (probability of boater travel from home marina), best explained the observed spatial distribution of subtidal NIS. Aquaculture, an original global introduction pathway, did not significantly explain the contemporary distribution of NIS. Results suggest that recreational boating is the most probable pathway of fouling NIS spread in this region, driving their current distribution. Spatial autocorrelation was significant for environmental, demographic, and aquaculture variables. However, marina propulsiveness and attractiveness were not autocorrelated, suggesting that boater behaviour varies on a finer scale.
A simple model using a combination of vector, demographic, and environmental characteristics can explain 43.6% of the variation in the spatial distribution of NIS. Our study provides further evidence that recreational boating is a significant pathway for the contemporary spread of NIS in marine environments. With projected increases in human population, we expect a continued rise in introduction rates and spread in this region and elsewhere in the world.
Here, we report the first records of the non-native amphipod Caprella mutica along the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between 2006 and 2009, we surveyed marine fouling communities across 81 subtidal sites, and sampled hulls and sea-chests from 18 domestically operated commercial vessels. Caprella mutica was present at 33% of the sites and on 22% of the vessels, sometimes at remarkably high densities (>10,000 individuals m-2). Our findings confirm an extensive distribution of C. mutica along the coast of the northeast Pacific, and offer additional evidence in support of hull fouling as an important vector for secondary spread. Key words: caprellid, introduced, northeast Pacific, biofouling, sea-chest, vector, museum records
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS in fouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts. Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
Originally published in What’s inSight Magazine, Winter 2013. Subscribe to What’s inSight by becoming a member here.
Close-up of the damaged and spine of a Dally album, suffering badly from red rot.
Digitization is the big buzz word in archives and museums these days. We can digitize documents, images, sounds, even whole objects and we can share them on the internet, in our galleries, in on-and off-site educational programs and in our reference room. The Royal BC Museum even has a 3D digital printer that uses high-tech laser scans to produce replicas of almost anything.
But is a digital facsimile really an exact replica of the original? Digital copies are created using a finite number of data points. These points represent samples of the surface of the original object. The more data points, the higher the resolution of the digital copy. It is impossible to gather every possible data point, so what you have is actually an approximation of the original, not an exact copy. There are many other reasons why a digital replica is not identical to the original: the colour might be a little different depending upon the calibration of the equipment; the texture can be slightly smoother or rougher, due to the method by which the software fills in missing information; the sound may be a little fuzzier or missing certain registers due to equipment limitations; even whole parts of the original might not be reproduced, by choice or by accident. These copying deficiencies are why it is so important to retain and preserve the original.
This is where the relationship between digitization and conservation comes in. Museums and archives do not seek to replace the original (except in very Conserving Collections in a Digital Age rare circumstances when the original object faces imminent demise), but rather to make copies as accurately as possible, even though they are incomplete.
Preservation copies of original materials may be made to save what is left of a rapidly deteriorating object. An example is magnetic sound recordings, which have a short lifespan. Many videotapes have an expected life of 30 years, less if they have not been stored and used in ideal conditions. Digital copies of videotapes and sound recordings may be the only surviving record in the near future. As you may have read in the previous editions of this magazine, cool storage can prolong the life of magnetic media, but because it cannot be frozen, the deterioration is only delayed, not halted. Adding to this problem is the obsolescence of formats and playback equipment. Who remembers reel-to-reel tape recorders, eight-track music players or vitaphones? Even if the recordings survive, what use will they be if the machines required to play them no longer exist? For these reasons, digitization may represent the only means of saving large segments of our media culture.
Digitally reconstructed animation of a Chinese Freemasons’ lantern as it may once have looked.
The conservator’s role is to facilitate digitization, to help make the collections more accessible. In rare cases an archival record or museum object is not appropriate for digitization. An item may be so large and/or heavy that it cannot be scanned or photographed safely with existing equipment. In the case of books, the text may extend into the gutter of the spine, so that the only way of exposing the information is to remove the binding – something rarely done, especially if it means damaging a historic book. If an item requires significant conservation work, digitization may not proceed until there is sufficient project time and funding to do the work.
Conservation is often the first stop in a digitization project. Before an original record is digitized, a conservator will inspect and assess it to decide if it can go straight to the imaging studio or if it needs some minor repairs or preparation first or requires stabilization treatment before digitization can take place. Simple preparatory work might include surface cleaning to prevent the spread of dirt to other parts of the object during handling or to make details of the surface clearer. Occasionally a complex conservation treatment may be necessary before digitization. Broken bindings should be repaired and leather with red rot requires consolidation. Loose and torn pages must be secured, areas affected by mould should be cleaned and may require repair. Powdery or flaking pigments need consolidation. Rolled documents and textiles may require humidification for flattening before digitization and custom supports are usually a must for three dimensional objects. The conservator may suggest specific support and handling techniques be used during the digitization process. A collection manager or preservation specialist may be required to assist or, in extreme cases, conservators may do all the handling themselves.
Conservation and digitization are related in other ways too. For example, digital facsimiles can be used to analyze and even enhance the original for research and presentation purposes. Conservators have used laser scanning and reflectance transformation imaging to examine and measure minute details of objects, including clues to manufacturing methods and changes due to use and deterioration. As discussed above, 3D printers can also be used to reproduce objects so that they can be shared with more people and in vastly different locations and for different purposes, without compromising the original – an effective preservation strategy.
The Chinese Freemasons’ lantern arrived at the museum and archives in such dilapidated condition that even heroic conservation treatment methods could not restore it to its former glory but could only stabilize what was left. Further restoration would have been based on guesswork, and therefore not appropriate. Fortunately, a digital representation of the lantern as it may have once looked when the moving parts rotated, the coloured lights were illuminated, and the paints and textiles were vibrant, presents the viewer with an amazing likeness of something that no longer exists. Digital imaging has also been used to replicate the unsalvageable decorative plastic film on the lantern, replicating the original pattern on a new, more stable Mylar material. The Chinese Freemasons’ lantern does not sit well on a flat surface, but rather is supported and secured with lead weights. In the future the Royal BC Museum hopes to use laser scanning and printing to build precisely fitting supports to cradle fragile objects on exhibit or to pack them gently inside a shipping crate.
Clearly, conservation and digitization are intrinsically linked in the world of museums and archives. The next challenge facing us is just how we are going to conserve all the digital information we are creating.
Part 1. Introduction and Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum
In order to provide a broader understanding of the earlier history and origins of both historic and pre-contact spindle whorls used in British Columbia, I will provide a description with images of all the spindle whorls in the Archaeology and Ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum.
Figure 1. Examples of small sea mammal bone spindle whorls in the Royal BC Museum ethnology collection.
This will be presented in three Parts: (1) Introduction and Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum. (2) Small Spindle Whorls in the Ethnology Collection of the Royal BC Museum. (3)Large Spindle whorls from speakers of the Salish language family in the Ethnology Collection of the Royal BC Museum.
The archaeological record suggests that significant differences existed in the past. This project will look at the larger picture of all uses of spindle whorls in British Columbia, their age and distribution in earlier and more recent times.
Most of the discussion on this topic to date involves reference to the making of woven capes and blankets of mountain goat, dog hair and other materials using large spindle whorls. However, the majority of small spindle whorls in Museum ethnological collections that derive from the coast of British Columbia are related mainly to the production of fibers, such as stinging nettle, for the production of fishing nets. An overview for understanding this broader topic is presented here.
The Significance of Spindle Whorls in British Columbia
The weaving technology of First Nations of British Columbia is a popular topic. Designs on historic Salish Spindle whorls have had the greatest influence on what is termed modern Salish Art. Over recent decades Salish Artists have copied designs from Spindle whorls in Museum collections and have developed from these a wonderful array of new and creative designs that are a reflection of those early patterns.
The word Salish is, of course, a term used by linguists to refer to a number of different human populations that speak different languages that have a common origin. The common language origin indicates that these groups have interacted with each other to varying degrees at various times in the past, but each has their own history. The history of the use and expression of weaving technology will be different for some of these groups. We know, for example, in the historic period that some Salish speaking groups did not decorate their spindle whorls with designs.
The Interests of Archaeology
There is a desire to know the history and origins of the weaving of clothing, but the role of spindle whorls for other purposes is generally not understood. This project will put the broader role of spindle whorls in the public domain.
For Archaeologists, artifact typologies and where they fit into defined cultural phases play an important role in developing hypothesis about cultural development on the northwest coast.
What artifacts to include and exclude from trait lists defining cultural phases can be a very subjective exercise. Interpreting what the artifact represents in terms of cultural behavior can also be a subjective exercise.
Determining which spindle whorls were used for the production of different products and determining when this behavior began in the past would be crucial in making time specific statements about past human behavior.
Did the spinning of nettle for making nets precede the spinning of materials for clothing or were they both produced at the time of the introduction of spindle whorls?
Spindle whorls are a type of artifact that is not likely to have been independently developed, but rather introduced into the region. This seems to be the more typical pattern in other parts of the world. Knowing the function and timing of the introduction and/or local development of specific types of spindle whorls may help us better understanding the process by which it was introduced into this region and the source of its introduction.
Both internal and external cultural catalysts may underlie the explanation for the introduction of this new form of behavior. Does the introduction of the spindle whorl reflect a change in economy or a new technology for an existing economy? Is it a result of new trade and exchange with, or a borrowed idea from some outside culture?
In comparing the ethnographic record with the archaeological it is important to understand the nature of both. Archaeologists and ethnologists can make incorrect assumptions about the others data when they are not familiar with it. Knowing the specifics of when and where both the ethnographic and archaeological examples of spindles whorls were collected is important in making comparisons between them.
When comparing ethnographic spindle whorls with archaeological examples we need to ask if the ethnographic examples were actually used – or ones made for sale or made as models for collectors or museums. Are the whorls made in the early 20th century the same as those made in the early 19th century?
The biggest factor in the comparison of modern and ancient whorls will be in the nature of the raw materials. Wooden examples will be lost from the archaeological record except in the case of those found in extremely wet or dry conditions.
However, since almost all of the ethnographic examples of small whorls are made of sea mammal bone and stone, these should be found in archaeological sites.
Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum
Figure 2. Examples of the size range of archaeological stone spindle whorls in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Figure 3. Example of size differences in sea mammal bone spindle whorls in the Archaeology collection of the Royal BC Museum.
Identifying archaeological spindle whorls is not something that can always be done with certainty. Some archaeological examples are similar enough to known ethnographic examples. They are often finely made with a lenticular or flat cross-section. The hole for inserting the whorl on the spindle is usually well defined and in proportion to the size of the diameter of the whorl. The hole is usually well centered.
There are other bone and stone objects that seem to be more likely to be spindles whorls than anything else. These come in a variety of sizes. Spindle whorls in other parts of the world show considerable variation in size depending of what kind of material is being spun. A few of the 27 specimens described here deviate from the known historic examples, but are being considered as possible whorls until further research can substantiate or reject them as whorls. There may be some elements of the spinning and weaving industry that are found in earlier times that do not have an historic equivalent. For example, the presence of spinning bowls (Keddie 2003).
In some cases sea mammal bone whorls have a smoother side that is the outer portion of the original bone and a rougher side with a more porous surface. Where this is clear, the smoother side will be considered the upper portion or top against which the fibre being spun accumulates.
The whorls will be described here in regional clusters of my own invention for comparative purposes. This is based on general geographic areas and in part reflects the current state of the collection.
South East End Vancouver Island. Pedder Bay to Nanaimo. (Total 11)
DcRt-Y:41 Cadboro Bay. Flat, rounded, but slightly rectangular, whale vertebrae epiphysis. The smoother top is nearly flat, while the bottom is convex only along a thicker middle portion. 155mm – 123 mm dia. Hole dia. 17mm. It varies in thickness from 12mm near the center to 5-6mm around the outer rim. Records show that this is from the Cadboro Bay archaeological site DcRt-15 [old accession 1932-1]. The porous bottom surface has an incised face on one half composed of two eyes and a mouth. On the top surface is a star-like pattern composed of two rings encircling the center hole with four triangular extensions that have long thin triangles in them, and two thinner arm-
like extensions between the larger triangles extending to each side. Weight: 102 grams (portion missing – estimated original weight 120 grams). Surface collected by T.W.S. Parsons, 1932.
Figure 4. The only large bone whorl with a design. DcRu-25:1555.
DcRt-15:1289. Cadboro Bay, Victoria. Bone whorl blank. Whale vertebrae epiphysis. This was shaped by chopping around the circumference with an adze. Flat with original smooth bone top surface and porous bottom surface. Maximum dia 15.5cm; Max. th. 1.5cm. Weight: 179 grams. (Old number 12650].
Figure 5. Unfinished whalebone whorl.
DcRu-25:1555. Victoria Harbour. Old Songhees Reserve. Portion (about 40%) of round to slightly rectangular whale vertebrae epiphysis. Flat smooth ground top surface and porous, ground, slightly convex bottom surface. Only slight remnant of center hole exists. The outer rim is flat sided with rounded edges. Maximum diameter present (144mm). Estimated original diameter based on continuance of outer rim is about 160mm. The radius from the hole remnant edge is 68mm. If the hole was the same size as the similar DcRt16:158 specimen, the diameter across this portion would be a minimum of 154mm. This whorl is larger from the hole to the edge than DcRt-16:158, and seems to have been slightly rectangular – suggesting that an original diameter of about 160mm is accurate. Thickness ranges from 9.5mm at hole to 6-7mm on the outer edge. Weight:(32.8 grams). Estimate of original weight is about 135 grams. Excavated form disturbed historic debris. This site was occupied from 1844-1911. It is likely that this whorl dates to the earlier period of the mid-19th century.
Figure 6. DcRu-25:1555.
DcRt-16:158. McNeil Bay, Victoria. Whale vertebrae epiphysis. Nearly flat on the ground top – which is the original bone surface. The ground porous bottom is slightly convex. Diameter: 144mm by 132mm. Thickness varies from 4mm-5mm around the edges to 7mm near the centre. Hole diameter: 18mm. No raised area near the spindle hole. Outer bone cortex side more polished with wear patterns. Weight: 123.5 grams. This site has two bottom dates of around 500 years. The oldest (WAT1627, RH86-10; 560-+65) dates the base of the midden to the period around 1390 A.D. to 1455 A.D. A second date covers the period from A.D. 1445 – A.D. 1680.
Oral history refers to this site being occupied by the Chikawich people. It may have been last used in the early 1800s as a more permanent village, but used on a more temporary basis after this. The spindle whorl, therefore dates to a maximum of 500 years, but may be closer to a date of 200 years ago.
Figure 7. Large spindle whorl, Both sides. DcRt-16:158.
DcRt-16:335. McNeil Bay, Victoria. Whale vertebrae epiphysis bone. This small fragment is flat on the original ground bone top surface and convex on the bottom ground porous surface. There is no central whole present but the ground contours are the same as the outer edge of the whorl DcRu-12:1555. Diameter: (51mm). Width: (28mm). Thickness: 6mm on edge to (11mm) inward. Weight: (6.9 grams).
Figure 8. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DcRt-16:335. Obverse and reverse sides.
DcRv-1:733 Pedder Bay. Oval shaped, sea mammal bone vertebral epiphysis. Flat on both surfaces and flattened sides. Diameter: 73mm – 64mm; Thickness varies from 3mm to 5mm; Hole diameter is 7.5mm. Weight: 12 grams.
Figure 9. Obverse and reverse of spindle whorl, DcRv-1:733
DcRu-Y:63. Esquimalt Lagoon area. Small grey siltstone whorl fragment (about 22% present). One side is flat and the other slightly convex. It tappers from a thickness of 4.8mm at the hole to 3mm at the rim. Maximum diameter present (67mm). Original estimated diameter is about (78mm). Original hole diameter about 7mm. Old accession 75-57. Written on artifact: “Seashore Belmont, A. N. Marrion”. Marrion was known to have collected other material from site DcRu2. This is likely the site that it came from. A series of radio-carbon dates places most of this site after 1000 B.P. Weight: 13.9 grams.
Figure 10. Small Siltstone spindle whorl, DcRu-Y:63
DcRu-Y:266. (DcRu-23). Finlayson Point, Victoria. Ground sea mammal bone. Nearly flat on both surfaces. Fragment only. Includes portion of central hole and portion that includes a section of original outer rim. Distance from hole edge to outer rim 55mm. Hole diameter 16mm. Thickness varies from 3.8mm on the outer rim to 5.5mm near the central hole. Original diameter estimated at 126mm. Collected by William A. Newcombe at a shell mound in Beacon Hill Park in 1902. The only site this description would fit at that time is the Finlayson Point site, DcRu-23. Weight: [23.4] grams. Original weight would be about (70 grams). This site dates within the last 1000 years and was likely last occupied in the mid-1700s.
Figure 11. Portion of whalebone spindle whorl, DcRu-23. Obverse and reverse sides.
DeRu-1:2611. Sidney area. Whalebone whorl fragment (about 7/12 present). Flat on more porous bottom surface and slightly convex on top surface. Tapers from 9mm thick at hole to 4mm at rounded outer rim. Original hole dia. c.8mm. 50–52mm from hole edge to outer rim. Original diameter c. 114-118mm. Slightly rectangular. (Old accession 5489; From collection of A. and Francis J. Barrow – #358, from Barrow property). Weight:  grams. Original weight about 120 grams.
Figure 12. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DeRu-1:2611.
DeRv-Y:56. Cowichan region. Possible whorl? Oval shaped siltstone. Slightly bi-conical in cross-section. Bi-conically drilled central hole. Edges ground flat with portions slightly rounded. Diameter ranges from 76mm – 89mm. Outer hole diameter 15mm; Inner hole 9mm. Thickness: 10mm – 13.5mm toward centre. Weight: 148.1 grams. Old accession # 275, donated by E.M. Skinner) On label “Cowichan. Mrs. Skinner, May 1890”. Smooth surface. This may also be a small net weight, but there are no other net weights like it in the region.
Figure 13. Small Stone Spindle whorl, DeRv-Y:56.
DgRx-Y:14. Nanaimo District. Large disc shaped stone with slight 2mm collar (raised rim around the hole edge). Bi-convex cross-section. Diameter: 144mm-164mm. Thickness varies from 25mm at the inner hole to 6mm on the outer edge. Hole diameter: 33mm. Raw material: Andesite. Weight: 623.3 grams. (Originally from the D. Steveson Collection, that became part of the Charles Newcombe Collection. Old accession #10946).
Figure 14. Large Stone spindle Whorl, DgRx-Y:14
Gulf Islands (Total 4)
DfRu-24:749. Galiano Island. Active Pass. Georgeson Bay. Whorl fragment of whale vertebrae centrum epiphysis. Nearly flat top surface and slightly convex bottom surface. Weight :(30.8) grams. This has the characteristics of a whorl but is missing the portion where the central hole would be. Minimum diameter estimated at about 160mm-180mm.
Figure 15. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DfRu-24:749.
DfRu-24:1287. Galiano Island. Possible whorl? Very small round, flat stone with central hole. Edges ground flat. This is much smaller than any known ethnographic examples or any information provided in ethnological accounts in British Columbia, but does fit the size range of whorls in other parts of the world. It could be a decorative button or some other object? Diameter: 25.5mm; Thickness: 3mm; Hole size: 4mm. Weight: 2 grams. Accession 68-19.
Figure 16. Possible small stone spindle whorl?. DfRu-24:1287.
DgRw-4:2740. Gabriola Island. Flat slate whorl. Diameter: 56.8mm to 59mm. Thickness: Varies from 2.5mm to 3.0mm. Hole diameter: 6.5mm. Bi-conically drilled. Weight: 16 grams. Accession 1967.27. Excavation. David Burley 1988. False Narrows III component. Gulf of Georgia Cultural type (“with an approximate age between A.D. 1200 and the historic period”).
Figure 17. Small siltstone spindle whorl, DgRw-4:2740.
DeRt-1:103. Pender Island. Small flat sandstone whorl. Diameter 38-42mm. Even thickness of 7mm with well defined, steep edges. Hole diameter: Inner 6mm; outer cut area 10-12mm. (#94 of Herbert A. Spalding collection). Weight:16.1 grams.
Figure 18. Small stone whorl. DeRt-1:103
Lower Fraser River. (Total 3)
DjRi-Y:134. Yale area. Small disc shaped siltstone whorl. Bi-convex in cross-section. Weight: 31 grams. Diameter: 5.4cm. Thickness: 9.4mm at center and tapering to edges. Hole diameter: 9mm. [old #3134; Accession 1917.27].
Figure 19. Both sides of stone spindle whorl DjRi-Y:134.
DjR1-3:14. North of Yale. Unfinished round whorl. Flat on bottom and nearly flat on top surface. Schist-like material. Unfinished 4mm deep hole drilled at center on one side. Diameter: 45mm by 43mm. Thickness: 4.8mm at center tapering to an average of 4.5mm at outer edges. Weight: 15.9 grams. [Old accession # 12625; 65-48].
Figure 20. Both sides of stone spindle whorl DjR1-3:14
Figure 21. Small stone spindle whorl, DhRlm-Y:1832
North end Vancouver Island/Mainland region (Total 2)
EdSo-Y:1. Lagoon Cove, Cracroft Island. Flat sea mammal vertebral epiphysis bone. Flat ground edges. Diameter: 72.5mm Thickness: 5.5cm. Hole diameter: 11mm; [old #5556; 425]. Surface collected by M. Miles. Became part of collection of A. and F.W. Barrow – #425. Weight: 22 grams.
Figure 22. Obverse and reverse sides of bone spindle whorl EdSo-Y:1.
EaSe-Y:23. Prideaux Haven. Siltstone whorl. Near flat to slightly bi-convex in cross-section. Ground around edges and high area on surfaces. Rough, unground portions on both sides. Diameter: 49mm to 49.9mm. Thickness: 4.7mm near centre and tapering to 3mm at edges. (old accession “5625”; Found by Phil Lavigne in 1938 and given to Francis Barrow. Part (#494) of A. and F.W. Barrow collection donation in 1944). Weight:16.1 grams.
Figure 23. West Coast Vancouver Island. (Total 1)
EdSv-6:20 Quatsino Sound. Sea mammal bone whorl. Bi-convex in cross-section. Diameter: 61.5–64.1mm. Hole diameter: 10.5mm. Thickness varies from 4mm at edge to 10.8mm at hole. Transferred from Ethnology. John Stephenson Collection. A-1985-10. Weight: 37 grams.
Figure 24. Both sides of bone spindle whorl EdSv-6:20
Interior (Total 2)
EbRj-Y:39 Lytton area. Flat circular siltstone. Flattened to rounded edge. Bi-conically drilled hole. Diameter: 100–102mm. Thickness: 8cm. Hole diameter: 9mm [13mm hole depression area].[old catalogue #455, lists this as from “S.Thompson” [South Thompson River] 1892.3, from the collection of F.M. Stevenson of Lytton]. Weight: 147 grams.
Figure 25. Both sides of stone spindle whorl EbRj-Y:39
ER-Y:836. Southern Interior. Flat schist whorl fragment. Radius of piece from edge of hole to rim 41mm. Estimated diameter based on hole at center 90mm. Thickness: 9.3mm; Hole diameter estimate c. 9mm. Design pattern – A groove 3mm in from and around the edge separates a slightly lower area extending to the edge. Inside the grooved circle there is a star-like pattern formed by three 13mm high triangle patterns on the inside of the circular groove. Fire burn marks on one portion. “Interior Salish”. [old acc.66-6] Surface collected by H. Cowden. Weight:  grams (original estimated weight – c.120 grams)
Figure 26. Obverse and reverse sides of stone spindle whorl ER-Y:836.
Central Coast (Total 3)
FcTe-4:458. Price Island. Sea mammal vertebrae epiphysis bone whorl fragment. Diameter: 77mm. Oval shape; only half present; Thickness: 4mm; Diameter of hole: 6mm. [accession #72-362] Weight: 11.2 grams.
Figure 27.Obverse and reverse side of bone spindle whorl FcTe-4:458.
EkSp-13:5293. Owikeno. Sea Mammal bone whorl. Flat. Diameter: 61mm by 60mm. Thickness 6mm. 5.5mm on edges. Hole diameter: 11mm. Weight: 25.8. Excavations 24.7.75. N.E. Quadrant. Likely date 18th to early 19th century.
EkSp-13:5542. Owikeno. Sea Mammal bone whorl. Flat. Diameter: 52mm by 50.5mm. Thickness 8mm. 7.5mm on edges. Hole diameter: 11mm. Weight: 24.8. Excavations 24.7.75. S.W. Quadrant. Likely date 18th to early 19th century.
Figure 28. Obverse and reverse views of bone spindle whorls EkSp-13:5293 and EkSp-13:5542.
B.C. Unknown Location (Total 1)
Y:1879. Stone. Flat surfaces, but with 7mm wide angled facetting around edges on both sides. Edges ground flat. Weight: 67 grams. 6.4-6.5cm dia.; .5-.6cm flat edge; 1cm max. th.; hole .9cm (1.9cm hole depression area).
Figure 29. Both sides of stone spindle whorl from unknown B.C. location.
DhSb-11:31. There is no evidence of a central hole, but other dimensions suggest that this is a whorl.
Figure 30. DhSb-11:31. Possible bone whorl
DdRu-5:85a&b. Unidentified object. This item was originally described as a possible whorl but I matched another piece, DdRu-5:159, which showed that the placing of the ground edges meant this could not be a whorl.
Figure 31. Ground whale bone that is not a whorl.
Dating and context of spindles from other collections
Haida Gwai. A spindle whorl was found on the floor of a habitation rock shelter, FaTt-36:2. The site is located on the south shore of Djitkan Ankun near Cape Freeman, S.W. Coast of Moresby Island (Acheson 1998:188&202). (Dia. 78.2mm; Th. 6.9mm; hole dia. 12mm. Weight not given). Date unknown.
Queen Charlotte Strait. Two sea mammal bone spindle whorls were found at Davies Island Fort site, EeSp-95a, off Fife Sound (Mitchell, 1981:118; Fig. 37p&q) (Dia. abt. 37mm & abt. 63mm (Mitchell, 1981:118 and Mitchell 1988:251, fig.4).
These are only associated with the deposits of a general time period containing what is called the Queen Charlotte Strait Culture Type assemblage which dates from after AD 300 to near the historic period. (Mitchell 1988:251; figure 4i). (Dia. 32mm; Dia. of hole 5.5mm).
A “bone spindle whorl” was found in a shell midden at the head of Echo Bay, site EeSo-1, on the northwest shore of Gilford Island. Known as an historic period Kwicksutaineuk village (Mitchell, 1981:109; fig. 33m).
South-eastern Vancouver Island
DcRw-14:303. 135mm by 125mm; thick 18mm. Private collection of Gordon Crowe. Lower Fraser River
Lower Fraser River
Charles Borden describes a fragment of a spindle whorl from the old Musqueam village of Stselax, site DhRt-2, as a: “Marginal fragment of an elaborately and bifacially engraved spindle whorl fashioned from the epiphysis of a whale vertebra”. This site dates from 1250 AD to late contact times, but Borden suggests that the spindle whorl fragment was among artifacts that were “probably carved and engraved with steel cutting tools during the Historic Period” (Borden 1983:165;Figure 8:34c).
Fraser River Canyon
Charles Borden excavated a small “brown steatite” spindle whorl (DjRi-3L11.142) from the Milliken site in the Fraser River canyon (Diameter: 11.45cm). It has Snake motifs engraving on one side and multiple snake eyes on the other. Borden placed it in the Esilao Phase dating to after 1380 A.D., but then suggested that it is “more likely” to date to the “Historic Period”. He stated that: “On the available evidence it is perhaps best to consider this steatite whorl more of less contemporary with the carefully designed compositions on some of the elaborately carved spindle whorls of the nineteenth century, bearing in mind, however, that future data and deeper insight may eventually justify placing this remarkable artifact into an earlier period” (Borden 1983:161).
Sanger reports two stone spindle whorls from the Texas Creek site. “Steatite spindle whorls are known from the Mile 28 Ranch Site, but to date they have not been found around Kamloops. The proximity of these site (the Texas Creek and the Mile 28 Ranch) to the Coast, where the spinning of mountain goat hair was practiced, may offer a partial explanation for the presence of these artifacts in the western periphery of the Interior plateau” (Sanger 1968:13).
Acheson, Steven. 1998. In the Wake of the ya’aats’xaatgaay [‘Iron People’]: A study of changing settlement strategies among the Kungit Haida. BAR International Series 711.
Barber, Elizabeth J.W. 1991. Prehistoric Textiles. The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special References to the Aegean. Princeton University Press.
Borden, Charles. 1983. Prehistoric Art of the Lower Fraser River Region. Pages 131-165. In: Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast. Edited by Roy Carlson.
Keddie, Grant. 2003. A New Look at Northwest Coast Stone Bowls. In: Archaeology of Coastal British Columbia. Essays in Honour of Professor Phillip M. Hobler, pp. 165-174. Edited by Roy L. Carlson. Publication Number 30, Archaeology Press, Simon Fraser University.
Mitchell, Donald. 1988. Changing Patterns of Resource Use in the Prehistory of Queen Charlotte Strait, British Columbia, Pages 245-290. In: Research in Economic Anthropology. Edited by Barry L. Isaac, Supplement 3. Prehistoric Economies of The Pacific Northwest Coast.
Loughran-Delahunt, Isa. 1996. A Functional Analysis of Northwest Coast Spindle Whorls. Master of Arts. Western Washington University.
Mitchell, Donald. 1981. Test Excavations at Randomly Selected Sites in Eastern Queen Charlotte Strait. Pp. 103-123. In: B.C. Studies. Fragments of the Past: British Columbia Archaeology in the 1970s. No. 48, Winter, 1980-81.
Sanger, David. 1968. The Texas Creek Burial Site Assemblage, British Columbia. Anthropological Papers National Museum of Canada, Number 17, Ottawa.
Understanding how Museum Outreach can Impact the Social Well-being of Seniors Living in Care Facilities in British Columbia
Using a mixed-methods approach, this study compared the effect of two museum outreach programs. A reminiscence themed outreach program (the recollection of life stories prompted by objects) was evaluated against the effect of a new learning theme outreach program (participants work out the purpose and function of mystery objects through observation and discussion). The kits were delivered by trained facilitators from the Royal British Columbia Museum (Royal BC Museum) to six groups at four care homes in the Greater Victoria area. Participants, seniors (65 years and older) living in the care homes, did a pre- and post-test to measure mood, and observations were made during the program using field notes and audio recordings which were later analyzed for evidence of socialization. The results found that both types of programs improve mood and both offer opportunities for socialization, however the success of the reminiscence program is more dependent on the skills of the facilitator.
British Columbia is full of rocks, and rocks are not hospitable places to make a living. One group of plants, the stonecrops (Sedum spp.), have adapted superbly to this often harsh setting. Broad-leaved (also broadleaf) stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is an exceptionally attractive and abundant stonecrop reveling in the stony outcrops on the coast of our province.
Broad-leaved stonecrop of the Stonecrop Family (Crassulaceae), forms low, spreading mats in patches of densely-packed rosettes of flattened leaves. These leaf rosettes arise along a creeping stem called a stolon. Clusters of fibrous roots from the stem cling tenaciously to rocks and shallow soil spreading from crevice to crevice. About 15 leaves form the rosettes which typically reach 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6″) across. The fleshy, greyish-green leaf blades sit almost directly on the stem. Each leaf broadens out wider than the base to a broad tip, hence the common name. Like many plants which survive in harsh dry places, this herb stores water in its thick leaves.
Brilliant yellow flower heads adorn stiff stalks which stand about 10-15 cm (4-6″) tall. Small five-petalled star-like flowers crowd the flower head. The narrow pointed petals surround a cluster of 10 yellow stamens 5 pistils. In British Columbia, the flowers appear mostly from May to July.
Broad-leaved stonecrop grows abundantly on coastal cliffs and dry sites on Vancouver Island and adjacent Gulf Islands but less frequently on the nearby mainland. The range extends southward as far as California. Look for stonecrop along the shore and even well up mountain slopes in dry forest openings.
Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
This stonecrop excels as a garden plant for dry sites. Simply plant a small piece of rooted stem in a little bit of soil. Try it in a rock garden, on a stone wall or next to a stone or gravel path. Even tuck it into a roadside rock face. Can you image what our rocky roadsides might look like covered in brilliant yellow? Once this plant takes hold, it will spread in a most attractive manner plugging cracks between rocks and blanketing rough spots. This species tolerates some shade too, although its form becomes generally looser. Stonecrop needs little attention once established; remove dead stems after flowering if you wish, and keep grasses from rooting in the mat. As the patch expands you will be rewarded with plenty of offsets for new plantings. I have watched a small piece double in size after a month and quadruple after a season. Broad-leaved stonecrop is one of the easier native plants to get because it is occasionally available through garden centres. Indeed, several forms, including some with reddish or purplish leaves, others with a bluish hue, are being sold. A grey-white variety called ‘Cape Blanco’ seems to be widely available. You could create a rock garden of varying hue by planting several different colour forms. Broad-leaved stonecrop is hardy to zones 5-6 in Canada.
First Peoples put stonecrop to some interesting uses. Nlaka’pamux (previously Thompson) People of the Fraser River Canyon boiled the whole plant and used the liquid to soothe cross babies and relieve constipation. Stonecrops, in general, were used to make poultices for treating piles.
The scientific name Sedum apparently was used for stonecrops in ancient times, possibly derived from the Latin “sedeo” which means “I sit” as indeed it does on its favoured stony substrates. Come and see broadleaf stonecrop sitting around on the rocks in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
British Columbia is home to a diverse collection of gorgeous native shrubs. Many of them produce edible wild fruit too. Few are as versatile and adaptable to the home garden as the Oregon-grapes (Mahonia spp.) and of these Tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) has the highest profile.
Tall Oregon-grape forms handsome shrubby clumps of few to many upright greyish canes. Wild clumps normally grow half to one and a half metres (20-60″) tall, but straggly individuals can reach 2.5 m (100″). The inside of the stems and roots is coloured brightly yellow. Shiny, compound evergreen leaves, with 5-9 leaflets crowd toward the ends of stems. Spiny teeth line leaflet edges giving rise to the species name “aquifolium” which is a classical name for holly (Ilex spp). Hollyleaved barberry is another name for the plant and as is the case with the holly the leaves can be painful. In the summer, leaves shine lustrous green, but in the winter they turn an attractive bronze or even red. Delicate new spring growth emerges reddish too.
On the coast many-flowered clusters of brilliant yellow blossoms appear as early as late February and persist into April. Often several clusters throng the end of a stem creating a colourful display. In the blooms of this plant, the petals and sepals are both coloured so that each delicately scented flower has three whorls of three petal-like segments. Glands at the base of the segments produce clear drops of nectar. Inside a ring of seven yellowish stamens, each with peculiar projecting “ears”, squats a greenish pistil. Grape-like bunches of small blue berries replace the flowers in late spring and summer. The stunning display of abundant fruits is so appealing that you might be tempted to stuff them into your mouth. Avoid that temptation because the berries are mouth-pucker sour and contain large seeds.
Mahonia aquifolium fruit. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
In British Columbia this shrub occurs from Prince George southward in the interior and to the north end of Vancouver Island on the coast. The range extends southward into Oregon and eastward to Idaho. The natural habitat includes open woodland, edges of meadows and, in the interior, sagebrush covered hills.
Tall Oregon-grape was introduced to European gardens in the early 1800s. Generally it is a co-operative horticultural shrub especially for partly-shaded to open well-drained sites. Once planted it may need occasional pruning immediately after flowering to keep a neat form. Cold, drying winter winds kill exposed foliage. Try tall Oregon-grape in a shrub border, hedge, or naturalized thickets along with Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) and snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.). Landscapers use it widely around institutional buildings on south Vancouver Island. A dense hedge of it may keep out nosy intruders.
Tall Oregon-grape plants are easily obtained from garden centres and nurseries on the west coast. They can be grown from seed too. Sow ripe seed in the fall and transplant young seedlings the following fall into nursery beds. At the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum tall Oregon-grape spreads widely by seed into adjacent herbaceous beds. Thickets spread outward underground so prepare to keep them in check.
First Peoples knew tall Oregon-grape well. They ate the fresh berries and, on south Vancouver Island, used them as an antidote to shellfish poisoning. Nlaka’pamux (previously Thompson) People of the Fraser River Canyon boiled the outer bark of the roots to make a bright yellow dye for baskets. Liquid from the bark of boiled woody stems helped treat red itchy eyes.
The blue berries make an excellent wild jelly. Use lots of sugar to moderate the tartness, and screen out the large and bitter seeds.
Our Oregon-grapes have been known botanically by two names: Mahonia and Berberis. Mahonia, honours an 18-19th century American horticulturalist Bernard M’Mahon. The name Berberis (barberry in English) originates in a similar Arabic name for barberry fruit.
Tall Oregon-grape is a wonderful coastal landscape shrub. It is attractive all year round and produces edible berries. Look for it and its berries in the wild and come and see masses of it at the Native Plant Garden of the Museum in Victoria.
There isn’t a month of the year where European Wall Lizards are completely torpid here on Vancouver Island. We are nearing the solstice, and lizards are still out and about.
I went out with my wife and daughter to Crumsby’s this weekend, and later, we had plans to do some shopping – and groceries – the usual weekend activities.
But the weather was nice – 7 degrees Celsius and sunny – so I suggested we divert to the Moss Rocks area for a few minutes and see if we could find a European Wall Lizard. My wife now accepts such requests as normal – we may be talking about christmas shopping and trying to entertain our daughter, but she knows I am looking for lizards if it is sunny. At least lizards in a cup, tub, or zip-lock bag don’t smell as bad as some of the road-kill we have collected.
I saw – or more accurately heard – the first lizard just as I stepped out of the car. Within seconds I had evidence of lizards active in December. They were high up on the bedrock wall along May Street. A patient wait of a few more minutes was rewarded by sight of three lizards which crawled out of a cold crevice, and lined up to absorb as much heat as possible from the sun.
Farther along the street was a concrete wall covered in roots – an easy place to ambush a lizard. There were at least 8 lizards on that small concrete wall – I caught these three in two minutes. They now are preserved a cataloged as 2127 in the Royal BC Museum’s herpetology collection as evidence of the winter activity of an invasive lizard.
Interesting tidbit of information was that the lizards were warm to the touch – they must find really effective basking sites to warm themselves that much above the ambient air temperature. The rocks themselves were not that warm.
Generations of people have grown up at the Royal BC Museum. This includes the babies that come in strollers with their parents, the multitudes of youth that visit with their school groups, college students who find summer employment as camp leaders, tourists, parents and grandparents. Museums attract them all. Museums also attract insects. Vast collections of furs, feathers and textiles – on exhibit and in storage – provide a tempting food source for young larvae.
The adult insects arrive on the clothes of staff and visitors, through cracks in the walls and under door sweeps. Occasionally, these opportunistic interlopers find their way to collections, where they settle down to raise their families. Their needs are basic; a quiet place in the dark that is free of predators, a nice stable climate and an ample source of food. A bear skin rug, woolen uniform, or a cozy moccasin is move-in ready.
After they take possession of their lovely new home, the eggs are laid and not long after, the larvae hatch. The larvae create their very own receiving blanket, a sort of cocoon made of extruded silken material mixed with fibres stolen from the artifact around them. Larvae are hungry little beasts and waste no time beginning to feed … on their own home of all things! This is where the story gets scary. Those furs, feathers and textiles can be digested at lightning speed, leaving nothing behind but frass, or tiny fecal pellets. The damage is done, and often it is devastating.
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Kendrick L. Marr1, Geraldine A. Allen and Richard J. Hebda
Aim Late Pleistocene ice sheets are thought to have covered most of western Canada, including all of British Columbia (BC). We examine patterns of genetic variation in an Arctic–alpine plant to evaluate the possibility of full glacial refugia within the area covered by the Cordilleran ice sheet (CIS) and to uncover post-glacial migration routes.
Location Western North America.
Methods We sampled 1030 individuals of the Arctic–alpine plant Oxyria digyna from 117 populations distributed over much of its range in western and northern North America. DNA haplotypes were identified using restriction site analysis of two chloroplast DNA intergene spacer regions, psbA-trnH and trnT-L. We examined the geographical distribution of haplotype diversity in relation to latitude, and also compared various indices of diversity in putatively glaciated and unglaciated regions. Patterns of migration were inferred using nested clade analysis.
Results We detected a total of 20 haplotypes. High haplotype diversity was found in Beringia, in unglaciated western USA, and in northern BC at 57–59° N, well within the accepted limits of the CIS. Ancestral haplotypes were also centred in northern BC.
Main conclusions High genetic diversity of Oxyria digyna is expected in unglaciated regions, but unexpected in northern BC if British Columbia was entirely covered by ice during the late Pleistocene. Our observations suggest the presence of unglaciated areas providing late Pleistocene refugia in northern BC. Such refugia would have important implications for the origins and migrations of many plant and animal species in north-western North America.
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Allen, GA, Marr, KL, McCormick LJ, Hebda RJ
The ranges of arctic-alpine species have shifted extensively with Pleistocene climate changes and glaciations. Using sequence data from the trnH-psbA and trnT-trnL chloroplast DNA spacer regions, we investigated the phylogeography of the widespread, ancient (>3 million years) arctic-alpine plant Oxyria digyna (Polygonaceae). We identified 45 haplotypes and six highly divergent major lineages; estimated ages of these lineages (time to most recent common ancestor, T(MRCA)) ranged from ∼0.5 to 2.5 million years. One lineage is widespread in the arctic, a second is restricted to the southern Rocky Mountains of the western United States, and a third was found only in the Himalayan and Altai regions of Asia. Three other lineages are widespread in western North America, where they overlap extensively. The high genetic diversity and the presence of divergent major cpDNA lineages within Oxyria digyna reflect its age and suggest that it was widespread during much of its history. The distributions of individual lineages indicate repeated spread of Oxyria digyna through North America over multiple glacial cycles. During the Last Glacial Maximum it persisted in multiple refugia in western North America, including Beringia, south of the continental ice, and within the northern limits of the Cordilleran ice sheet. Our data contribute to a growing body of evidence that arctic-alpine species have migrated from different source regions over multiple glacial cycles and that cryptic refugia contributed to persistence through the Last Glacial Maximum.
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Wang, Q, Liu J, Allen GA, Ma Y, Yue W, Marr KL, Abbott RJ
Many plant species comprising the present-day Arctic flora are thought to have originated in the high mountains of North America and Eurasia, migrated northwards as global temperatures fell during the late Tertiary period, and thereafter attained a circumarctic distribution. However, supporting evidence for this hypothesis that provides a temporal framework for the origin, spread and initial attainment of a circumarctic distribution by an arctic plant is currently lacking. Here we examined the origin and initial formation of a circumarctic distribution of the arctic mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) by conducting a phylogeographic analysis of plastid and nuclear gene DNA variation. We provide evidence for an origin of this species in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of southwestern China, followed by migration into Russia c. 11 million yr ago (Ma), eastwards into North America by c. 4 Ma, and westwards into Western Europe by c. 1.96 Ma. Thereafter, the species attained a circumarctic distribution by colonizing Greenland from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Following the arrival of the species in North America and Europe, population sizes appear to have increased and then stabilized there over the last 1 million yr. However, in Greenland a marked reduction followed by an expansion in population size is indicated to have occurred during the Pleistocene.
ancestral location; arctic flora; circumarctic distribution; migration; species origin
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Kendrick L. Marr, Geraldine Allen, Richard J. Hebda and L. J. McCormick
We investigated genetic variation in Bistorta vivipara, a widespread Northern Hemisphere tundra species, to infer patterns of migration and where it may have survived during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).
Samples came primarily from western North America, with a few from the Arctic and Eurasia.
We sequenced two chloroplast DNA spacer regions, trnH–psbA and trnS–G, in individuals from 199 populations and mapped haplotype distributions and their relationships using a haplotype network. We calculated genetic and molecular diversity statistics for the seven geographical regions from which we obtained samples.
Fifteen haplotypes were detected, with very little divergence among them. The haplotypes are separated into two main groups by the presence or absence of a 22 bp tandem duplication. Four haplotypes are common, widespread and with substantial range overlap; 11 are rare and mostly unique to one region. Two rare haplotypes were found only in British Columbia (BC). Western North America and Asia have the highest levels of genetic and molecular diversity. Northern and southern BC have different haplotype complements.
Bistorta vivipara has relatively low genetic diversity, with much less genetic structure than we expected for such a widespread species. We expected significant geographical structure due to the combined effects of genetic drift and geographical isolation. The asexual reproductive mode of B. vivipara may facilitate relatively rapid population establishment and spread compared with sexual reproduction by seed. Bistorta vivipara probably originated in Asia and spread to North America and Europe prior to the LGM. In western North America it spread to its modern distribution from Beringia and the western USA following the LGM. Populations in northern and southern BC may have different histories, possibly related to the timing and extent of glaciation. The occurrence of two unique haplotypes within BC suggests that some individuals may have survived in full glacial refugia within BC.
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Geraldine A. Allen, Kendrick L. Marr, Laurie J. McCormick and Richard J. Hebda
Many plants, especially at high latitudes, have both widespread and highly discontinuous geographical distributions. To increase understanding of how such patterns originate, we examine genetic patterns in the arctic–alpine plant Sibbaldia procumbens. We evaluate the contributions of refugia and the role of long-distance dispersal in shaping the current range of this species.
Northern Hemisphere, especially North America.
We sampled Sibbaldia from 176 localities, including 168 for S. pro-cumbens. We analysed sequence variation in three plastid DNA non-coding regions (the atpI–atpH and trnL–trnF intergenic spacers and the trnL intron), performed Bayesian phylogenetic analyses and statistical parsimony analyses on the combined sequences, and analysed the geographical patterns of haplotype distribution and genetic diversity using data from all populations.
Sibbaldia procumbens probably originated in the mountains of South and East Asia. We identified highly distinct clades in Europe and North America, which overlapped on oceanic islands of the North Atlantic indicating long-distance dispersal capability. The North American clade included two lineages, one in California and the other widely distributed across the continent and North Atlantic. Haplotype diversity in the latter lineage was markedly higher to the south, suggesting mid–late Pleistocene southward displacement of North American populations with subsequent migration northwards into previously glaciated regions. In Europe, disjunct geographical regions generally harboured distinct haplotypes.
Multiple Pleistocene refugia for S. procumbens occurred in both North America and Europe. North American refugia existed in California and in the southern Rocky Mountains, but in contrast with most widespread arctic–alpine species we found no evidence for a Beringian refugium. Cryptic refugia may have existed within the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Episodes of range expansion and contraction and long-distance dispersal have all contributed to the genetic structure and widespread but fragmented distribution of this species.
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Galina Gussarova, Geraldine A. Allen, Yulia Mikhaylova, Laurie J. McCormick, Virginia Mirré, Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda and Christian Brochmann
PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Many arctic-alpine species have vast geographic ranges, but these may encompass substantial gaps whose origins are poorly understood. Here we address the phylogeographic history of Silene acaulis, a perennial cushion plant with a circumpolar distribution except for a large gap in Siberia.
METHODS: We assessed genetic variation in a range-wide sample of 103 populations using plastid DNA (pDNA) sequences and AFLPs (amplified fragment length polymorphisms). We constructed a haplotype network and performed Bayesian phylogenetic analyses based on plastid sequences. We visualized AFLP patterns using principal coordinate analysis, identified genetic groups using the program structure, and estimated genetic diversity and rarity indices by geographic region.
KEY RESULTS: The history of the main pDNA lineages was estimated to span several glaciations. AFLP data revealed a distinct division between Beringia/North America and Europe/East Greenland. These two regions shared only one of 17 pDNA haplotypes. Populations on opposite sides of the Siberian range gap (Ural Mountains and Chukotka) were genetically distinct and appear to have resulted from postglacial leading-edge colonizations. We inferred two refugia in North America (Beringia and the southern Rocky Mountains) and two in Europe (central-southern Europe and northern Europe/East Greenland). Patterns in the East Atlantic region suggested transoceanic long-distance dispersal events.
CONCLUSIONS: Silene acaulis has a highly dynamic history characterized by vicariance, regional extinction, and recolonization, with persistence in at least four refugia. Long-distance dispersal explains patterns across the Atlantic Ocean, but we found no evidence of dispersal across the Siberian range gap.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda
We used PCA of morphological characters to confirm the presence of an undescribed Calamagrostis species in Washington and Oregon that has historically been attributed to Calamagrostis vaseyi. We propose to name this grass Calamagrostis tacomensis. It is most similar to C. foliosa although it has often been confused with C. purpurascens and C. sesquiflora all of which have similar lemma awn characteristics (i.e., the awn relatively long, exserted, and bent). Calamagrostis tacomensis has been collected at high elevations (490–2170 m) in the Washington Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula and the Steens Mountains of Oregon. The name C. vaseyi has been misapplied to our new species. The description of C. vaseyi is similar to C. rubescens. We have studied the specimen that has been attributed to be the type of C. vaseyi and it is C. purpurascens. We lectotypify C. vaseyi.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda, and Elizabeth Anne Zamluk
The taxonomically difficult and ecologically and phytogeographically important genus, Calamagrostis, was examined for British Columbia (BC). Morphological characters were analyzed by Principal Components Analysis (PCA) to characterize taxa and to aid in the development of a new key. Eight native species (Calamagrostis canadensis, C. lapponica, C. montanensis, C. nutkaensis, C. purpurascens, C. rubescens, C. sesquiflora, and C. stricta) are confirmed to occur in British Columbia, of which C. montanensis, C. nutkaensis, C. purpurascens, C. rubescens, and C. sesquiflora are reliably distinguishable. Comparison of species distribution to regional climatic and vegetation history suggests that Calamagrostis nutkaensis and C. sesquiflora likely survived in coastal refugia during late Wisconsin glaciations. Calamagrostis purpurascens likely persisted beyond the glacial limits or within nunataks and then spread into previously glaciated sites. Two interior continental species, C. montanensis and C. rubescens, probably spread north and west from the unglaciated zone south of the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. Calamagrostis lapponica likely persisted north of the ice sheets, and then spread southward into high-elevation sites in northern and eastern BC. Calamagrostis canadensis and C. stricta probably survived south and north of the ice sheets, and then spread into the previously glaciated terrain.
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KENDRICK L. MARR, RICHARD J. HEBDA, and WILLIAM H. MACKENZIE
Between 2002 and 2011, we collected vascular plants from alpine areas of northern British Columbia (B.C.). We have found one species that has not previously been collected in the province: Phippsia algida. Collections of an additional three species represent significant range extensions of species already known to occur in the province: Aphragmus eschscholtzianus, Papaver alboroseum, and Montia bostockii. Our collections of Delphinium brachycentrum initially appeared to be the first records for the province; however, examination of herbarium specimens at the Royal British Columbia Museum herbarium indicated that this species had been collected prior to our field work but had been misidentified. We indicate the distribution of this species in B.C. for the first time, and we present a corrected distribution map for Tephroseris yukonensis that includes our
Key Words: alpine vascular plants, new records, range extensions, Tephroseris yukonensis, Phippsia algida, Delphinium brachycentrum, Aphragmus eschscholtzianus, Papaver alboroseum, Montia bostockii, British Columbia.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda, William H. MacKenzie
The distribution of northern British Columbia alpine plants is poorly documented. To improve our understanding of the flora of this vast, remote region, we collected more than 11 000 specimens from 65 mountains during 2002–2011. Most of these locations had not been visited by botanists. Of the more than 400 species we have collected, two are new to the province, others represent significant range extensions. Twelve species share elements of a disjunct distribution that has apparently not been previously recognized and consists of three regions: (1) northwestern North America; (2) Beartooth Plateau; and (3) northern Colorado. These 12 species appear to be absent from the extensive areas of suitable habitat that occur in the intervening areas. The most reasonable explanation for this pattern is that these species, adapted to arctic–alpine tundra conditions, migrated throughout western North America during the Pleistocene, a time when suitable habitat was much more widespread than now, and subsequently went extinct in many areas as the climate warmed during the Holocene.
British Columbia’s moist and mild coastal climate provides ideal conditions for ferns to thrive, so much so that several fern species are obvious and characteristic features of the conifer forest floor. Most abundant of all these ferns is the stately and lush sword fern of the Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae).
Sword ferns grow into a large perennial clump of leaves spreading out from a massive crown. This crown consists of a woody mass of rhizomes (root-stems) buried in reddish brown scales and dead leaf bases. Roots explore the soil outward from the rhizome. In a mature well-established clump the crown may stretch half a meter (20”) or more in diameter.
Dark evergreen fronds stand stiffly from the crown. Fronds reach as tall as 1.5 metres (60”) and up to 25 cm (10″) wide. The lower third of the frond consists of a densely scaly brown stalk, called a stipe by botanists. The upper two-thirds of the frond have numerous narrow, pointed and toothed leaflets. Near the tip of the frond the leaflets become progressively shorter. Young unfolding leaves are at first curled like a shepherd’s crook or crozier, then gradually unfurl and expand.
Ferns are not flowering plants; they reproduce by spores which are microscopic pollen-grain like bits of plant tissue. Spores form inside tiny thin-walled sacs called sporangia. The sporangia of sword fern cluster in brown dot-like structures called “sori” (singular “soros”), which line the back of each leaflet of the frond. These many (= “polys” in Greek) lines (= “stichos” in Greek) of sori give rise to the scientific name Polystichum. The species name munitum (“armed”) derives from the numerous pointed teeth along the leaflets.
Lower surface of sword fern leaf showing lines of spore-bearing sori. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Sporangia split open and the spores drift to the ground where they germinate only if it’s moist. The spores grow into small delicate mini-plants called gametophytes with only one set of chromosomes, half of the double set of the much larger and robust parent. Male and female structures develop on the gametophytes and male sperm swim to fertilize the female egg. Once fertilized, the egg develops into a proper leafy fern plant.
In British Columbia sword fern is dominantly a coastal species, occurring more than two-thirds of the way to the Yukon border. The range extends across extreme southern B.C. and adjacent Washington and Idaho in moist climates in the southeast part of the province. The North American range extends along the coast from Alaska almost to the Mexican border. Generally sword fern thrives in the shaded humus of the damp to moist conifer forest floor. In very wet forests you may see it perched on a shady rock face. Sword fern forms a distinctive association with western redcedar (Thuja plicata) on nutrient rich seepage sites. Fern clumps completely cover the forest floor, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a lush tropical jungle. A stiffer narrow-leaved species of sword fern, called imbricate sword fern (Polvstichun imbricans) grows among boulders and in rock crevices in dry, usually open settings.
Aboriginal British Columbians used sword fern for various purposes. In spring rhizomes were dug, cleaned and roasted in open fires or earth pits. Cooked rhizomes were then peeled and eaten usually with grease or salmon eggs. The fronds were used to line pits for cooking root foods and to line boxes and baskets. Fern fronds also provided a decorative motif for basket designs.
Sword fern is among the easiest ferns to grow in the garden. Since this fern is so ubiquitous in coastal lowland sites, many suburban building lots come with their own supply. If possible it’s best to leave the clump where it sits, making sure there is shade. However the plants transplant readily and many can be easily rescued from development projects. Sword fern is one of the more widely available of our native species. So ask the owner of your local garden centre or nursery to order it in if you cannot get it from a friend or rescue site. Spores spread about a moist and shaded site will yield even more fern plants in a few years.
For best results, choose a shaded to partly open damp setting. In the Native Plant Garden at the Royal BC Museum we have used it in a mass planting under trees between two buildings where it suits the poorly lit situation much better than a high care lawn. Sword fern is ideal for a woodland garden, providing a lush verdant framework for the garden’s further development. Once established, the only care the fern needs is the removal of unsightly dry fronds in winter.
Try ferns in your garden: many are well suited for those difficult shaded sites. Ferns also illustrate how less-advanced plants reproduce without flowers. Visit the Native Plant Garden at the museum and see luxuriant clumps of sword fern and other fern species.
The Heather Family (Ericaceae) is well known in Canada for its many shrubby species such as blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), salal (Gaultheria shallon) and Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum; previously Ledum groenlandicum). We in British Columbia are fortunate to have the only tree-sized member of the Heather Family in Canada, the distinctive and handsome arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) also known as Pacific madrone, madrona and strawberry tree.
Arbutus grows into a multi-stemmed shrub or tree with crooked trunks sometimes twisting their way up to 35 m (approximately 120′) tall. The smooth reddish bark stands out from that of all other trees in our province. It flakes off in the late fall, being replaced by young greenish yellow bark from beneath as the trees begin to swell and grow with fall moisture.
Arbutus Bark. Image courtesy of Dr. Richard Hebda.
Leathery, oval evergreen leaves cluster toward the ends of the branches. Above they are shiny green, but below they are pale. Typical leaves range from 5-15 cm (2-6”) long, Young shoots bear finely toothed leaves whereas those of mature shoots have no teeth.
Like bunches of grapes, great clusters of creamy or pinkish white, honey-scented flowers adorn the ends of the branches. Each small flower resembles a tiny white bell, pinched in at the mouth. The tips of the petals form five little teeth, a feature common to many flowers of the Heather Family. Within the flower nestle 10 stamens and a single five-parted pistil.
Brick-red berries form in the late fall and persist well into winter. Each fruit in the cluster is about a centimeter (0.4″) across and covered by tiny little bumps. Birds, especially grouse, feast on these attractive fruits.
The geographic range of arbutus hugs the Pacific Coast of North America from southern British Columbia to California. In our province, arbutus occurs on the southern two-thirds of Vancouver Island, especially the east side, and the adjacent Mainland almost to Knight Inlet. Rocky knolls and cliffs provide the classic hang-out for the species. The tree appears to wrest nutrients from the bare rock itself. Arbutus grows extremely well in open dry Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) woodland and forest, where the soils are deeper. On these sites, trees can reach great girth and height at times forming “magical” groves. In Victoria arbutus trees and shrubs appear in boulevards and on roadside banks “inoculated” so to speak, by perching birds
Once established, arbutus makes a superb, undemanding garden and landscape plant. Evergreen leaves, exquisitely attractive bark, beautiful flowers and brilliant berries are outstanding features. The only drawbacks may be the cleanup of the leaves, particularly in the late summer, and the lack of frost tolerance. There is also a stem canker present in the region which can kill branches.
Arbutus Berries. Image courtesy of Dr. Richard Hebda.
The easiest way to have arbutus on your property is to leave and encourage already established plants. You can raise arbutus with relative ease from seed sown in the fall and covered lightly in a peat-potting soil-sand mixture. If you have a very dry south, or west-facing site, simply spread fruits collected in the fall, and you will be surprised at the rate of successful germination in places where you could never expect to plant a seedling. Arbutus plants larger than 20 cm (8″) tall are almost impossible to transplant and should never be dug up. Move only seedlings from waste sites with loose soils in the wettest part of the winter. Be sure to dig up the entire root and keep as much of the soil attached as possible. Occasionally, potted seedlings are available at garden centres and native plant sales.
Aboriginal peoples put arbutus to assorted uses in technology and medicine. Saanich people used the wood for spoons and gambling sticks. The Sechelt made keels and sterns for small boats from the hard wood. Dye from bark was used to color wooden utensils and camas bulbs in cooking pits. On the Saanich Peninsula, leaves and bark yielded medicines for colds, stomach problems, tuberculosis and birth control.
The dense hard wood is widely used for artistic carving, taking polish very well. It also provides hot slow-burning firewood.
The scientific name Arbutus is the same name as Romans used for a similar and closely-related tree known as the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) The species name, menziesii, honours Archibald Menzies, Royal Navy botanist and surgeon, who collected many plants in our area in the 1780’s and 1790’s.
You can see and learn more about arbutus and many other members of the Heather Family at the Native Plant Garden of The Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, in Victoria, B.C.
The search for strong growing, attractive ground-cover plants is a major focus in the low-care gardening of the modern day. Many widely used ground cover plants are not native to British Columbia region and have the bad habitat of being aggressive invaders into our natural environment. Periwinkle (Vinca) and English ivy (Hedera helix) are good examples, and are now the target of removal efforts.
These non-native garden plants often do not thrive in the drier colder climates of inland British Columbia. Many native species spread widely and establish attractive and tough natural ground covers but are not nearly so invasive grow more vigorously in our inland climates. Rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea) is a widespread BC native species of the Aster Family that offers an alternative ground cover choice.
The pussytoes genus (Antennaria) is not well known to gardeners, yet there are as many as 15 species growing in open and even lightly shaded situations in BC from the hot valley bottoms to the alpine heights. Typically these are low growing plants that hug the ground surface and spread by densely spaced rooting stems called stolons. Rosy pussytoes is typical of this form. It forms a dense interwoven mat with numerous fibrous roots firmly anchoring it to the soil. Numerous spoon-shaped to broadly elongate leaves cover the horizontal stems and persist through the winter. Their gray green hue provides a pleasing textural effect.
Leafy branching stems rise from the matted surface to a height of about 5-40 cm (2-16”) tall. Densely packed wooly hairs cover the stems. Stem leaves are mostly narrow, ranging from 0.5-3.5 cm long and end in a sharp tip.
Half centimeter tall flowerheads occur in tight rounded clusters at the tips of the stems, each flower head soft and firm like a kitten’s toe. The flower head consists of modified leaves called bracts that surround a mass of tightly packed individual flowers. The bracts are very hairy at the base hence the softness. They also provide the colour, in the case of Antennaria rosea varying shades of pink. The whitish, true flowers emerge somewhat from the surrounding bracts in an attractive effect. A close relative and sometimes considered the same species, white pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla) has mostly greenish to white bracts and is also a good garden plant. Males and females are on separate plants and flowers appear from June to August.
Rosy pussytoes is a widely adapted plant growing throughout most of our province except the wet climates of Haida Gwaii and the central and north coast. The geographic range also extends to Alaska, Yukon and eastward to Quebec and southward to New Mexico and California. The natural habitat includes moderately moist to dry slopes, terraces along rivers, openings in forests, grasslands and dry sub-alpine meadows. It grows across a wide range of climates extending from lowland to high mountain elevations. We see rosy pussytoes occasionally during our expeditions to document the plants of BC’s northern mountains, where it appears on south-facing slopes just into the upper part of the subalpine zone.
Antennaria microphylla. Image courtesy of Matt Lavin.
The species is widely adaptable to uses in open garden settings. In the book by Wendy Mee and other authors Waterwise: Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes (Utah State University Press 2003) rosy pussytoes is recommended for rock gardens, small spaces and borders. To this I would add small eroding banks with poor soils and in and around paving stones. It tolerates a modest level of foot traffic. Make sure the soil has good drainage. Plants can be propagated like strawberries from rooted horizontal stems, best in the early spring or fall. Plant on loose gravelly soil to get them started. Propagation from fresh fall sown seed is easy, with seedlings ready to plant out in 4 months after germination. Rosy Pussytoes is hardy to zone 2 and can be grown in most gardens in BC.
BC First Nations people of the southern interior had several uses for the plant. Dried roots were powdered, put into hot coals at winter dances and the smoke was believed to drive away bad spirits and revive passed out dancers. The leaves could also be chewed and swallowed to increase male virility.
Expand your choice of ground covers beyond the common and sometimes invasive foreigners. Try rosy pussy toes as a native alternative.
A Unique photograph in the Collection of the Royal B.C. Museum
19th century photographic images in the Victoria region that show Lekwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations) undertaking traditional food gathering practices are rare. The only example of fishing is a photograph, taken in 1868, by Frederick Dally in Esquimalt harbour at the south entrance to Lang Cove (RBCM PN905). Lang Cove is located south of Skinner’s Cove, both of which are within the larger Constance Cove. This is the location of an ancient shellmidden as demonstrated by the scattered white clam shells seen in the image and later observed by the author at this location.
Figure 1. Herring Fishing Station at Wood’s Landing in Esquimalt Harbour. RBCM PN905.
This image (fig. 1 and close-up fig.2) of a man and woman at a herring fishing site is listed in Frederick Dally’s Miscellaneous Papers, (File 17), as #5 “Indian at Esquimalt, canoes, fish etc.”. A copy of the photograph in the RBCM Archives Dally Album #5 has information along the bottom of the image noting what is in the photograph “herrings drying – rush mat- fish spears – Indian woman cooking – Chinook canoes – Esquimalt Harbour V. Island”.
A copy of this photograph was also in the original photo album of Lieutenant J.C. Eastcott, the surgeon on the ship H.M.S. Reindeer that was on duty at the Esquimalt Royal Naval Dockyard station from 1868-75 (now the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt).
Figure 2. Close-up of Herring fishing camp (RBCM PN905).
Dating and Location of the Photograph
The album, in the possession of A.R. Eastcott, was temporarily loaned to the City of Vancouver Archives in 1958 where the information written on it was recorded by archivist Major James Mattews. This album was also loaned to the Provincial Archives in 1978, and the information copied down by Dan Savard of the RBCM ethnology division on November 23, 1978. They recorded the caption on this image as “Woods Landing, Constance Cove, Esquimalt 1868”. The reference to “Woods Landing” likely refers to the place that Sir Charles Wood, the First Lord of the Admiralty came ashore in 1856. It could also refer to a landing place used by Lieutenant James Wood who surveyed Esquimalt Harbour in 1846 under the supervision of Captain Henry Kellet, but James Wood’s name was not officially given to this location.
Dates placed on photographs long after the image was taken, and by someone other than the photographer, are often subject to error. In this case the date of 1868, is likely correct, and it would have been taken in late February to April of that year during the herring runs. Dally was away from Victoria in the Interior from June of that year and did not return to Victoria until to February 25, 1869.
I was able to identify the location where this photograph was taken by observing the same fishing site location in another photograph of Dally’s (RBCM F-08522), that was undated, but one that must have been taken in 1867 (figure 3). There are five ships in this image. The times they were on duty at the Esquimalt naval station allows us to be specific about the time the image was taken. The ships include the Egmont, Sparrowhawk, Alexandra, Malacca, Shearwater and Grappler. As the Shearwater was only on duty in 1867 the photo must date to that year. The vegetation in this image shows similar growth to that in photograph PN905, suggesting the time separation of a year or less is most probable.
Figure 3. This photograph taken in 1867, by Frederick Dally shows the herring fishing camp in left foreground (RBCM F-08522).
Figure 4. Close-up of photograph (RBCM F-08522) showing the same fishing camp area as seen in figures 1 and 2.
In figure 4, the remnants of many fish drying racks can be seen. Note the large number of upright short posts to the left of the photo and the large framework poles just to the right of centre of the photo at the edge of the bank. The fence-like rails in the background are related to Wood’s Landing and the historic naval wooden buildings to the far left of the photo.
Wooden planks that are held by pegs can be seen at the centre. The planks hold back the midden and create a flat platform for a mat lodge location. Barrels can be seen on both sides of this platform. The large pole framework can be seen in the middle against the back in the same location in image PN905 to the right of the tuli mat shelter.
Note the tiny little Island just on the other side of this point. This is part of what was called “Village Rocks” – as seen in figures 5 and 6.
By knowing what naval construction features were in the adjacent areas and by observing the angle of the two above images and what is in their background, the location can be identified as a small hooked piece of land extending into Lang Cove at its southern entrance.
Image PN905 is looking north-east to the North entrance to Lang Cove. Figure 3 (RBCM F-08522) is looking north, with the Officers Club House on Munroe Head visible on the far right and Ashe Head beyond it. Another image, RBCM F-08538, taken in 1866-67 (based on dates of the presence of the boats) and from higher up shows more of the Bay between Munroe Head and Ashe Head.
The small rock Islet (part of “Village rocks”) off the herring fishing site seen in Figure 3 (RBCM F-08522) can be seen on the far left in RBCM Archives image E-01844 – which also shows the rock formation on the north side of the entrance to Lang Cove as seen in the herring fishing camp image.
Adjacent to Wood’s Landing (on the west side of the hooked piece of land in photograph PN905) is a group of rocks in the harbour called “Village Rocks”. This hooked piece of land with the small bay of the campsite photograph can be seen in the detailed map of Esquimalt Harbour produced by Captain Richards in 1859 (see close-up figure 5). Over the years this area has been drastically altered and is no longer visible. The fact that it was named village Rocks suggests that the survey crew mapping Esquimalt harbour may have observe a group of First Nations camped there – even if it was just a seasonal camp site at the time and not what might be called a more permanent winter village site.
Figure 5. Map showing the small hook of land at Wood’s Landing and Village Rocks. H.M.S. Plumper survey of 1859. Note the larger area called Constance Cove.
The Origin of the name “Village Bay” and “Village Rocks”.
The names of some of the bays and coves changed over time. Several maps produced from 1851 to 1855 show “Village Bay” in Lang Cove or where later maps show Constance Cove.
Figure 6. Small Portion of 1854 “District of Victoria and Esquimalt, Vancouver Island” showing Village Bay at the same location later referred to as Constance Cove. Village Rocks is noted and remains on later maps (Canadian national Archives g.3/96 (N9301).
Figure 7. The name Village Bay is shown here in what later became Lang Cove. Small Portion of Hudson’s Bay Company Archives map T16019 entitled: Peninsula Occupied by the Puget Sound Company. The red marks are naval storage buildings on Thetis Island.
Observations on Photograph Content
Photograph PN905 shows herring fish on wooden drying racks to the left side of the image. A First Nations man, in European style clothes, is standing in front of a tuli (bulrush) mat summer lodge which is located on a built-in flat platform area faced with a board in front. This is the left of the two board faced platforms that can be seen in photograph F-08522. This is an interesting example of the human modification of a shellmidden.
Note the pathway near the right centre that can be seen in both photos. On the right of the mat lodge are poles for fish drying racks. Some of the long ones may be herring rakes (see figures 1 & 2), but the image is not clear enough to identify these. If Dally observed these, his reference to “spears” in his photograph description may have resulted from him seeing the long herring rakes at the site?
Of the three canoes seen in figure 1, the closest one is of a west coast Vancouver Island style, while the outer two canoes with the long pointed bows and sterns are made of the style most common among Salish speaking peoples of the southern Coast of B.C. and northern Washington State. The term “Chinook canoe” used in one caption is now referred to as the “West Coast” style.
Figure 8. Tuli mat temporary lodges. An early 1900, Black and white photograph (private collection) of a Paul Kane painting that was produced during Kane’s visit to the Victoria region between April 8th and June 9th, 1847. The original colour painting is now in the Stark Museum of Art, Orange Texas (cat. 31.78.4).
The Rediscovery of the Shellmidden
In the 1980s, Ernie Colwood of CFB Esquimalt took me to the Wood’s Landing location during construction activities. Here I observed tons of historic debri from previous projects on top of and mixed in with shellmidden.
Figure 9. Buried dense concentrations of Shellmidden. Grant Keddie Photograph.
Figure 10. Ernie Colwood with construction foreman at location of mostly destroyed Herring Fishing camp. Looking N.N.E.
Figure 11. Area of buried shellmidden. Looking North.
A Second herring fishing site in Lang Cove.
In 1851, naval surgeon John Palmer Linton, while visiting on board the HMS Portland, drew a view from the back of Lang Cove (Driver 2013; Driver and Jones 2009). In this image (Figure 12) we can observe, on the far right, a tuli mat shelter with fish drying racks like that in figure 1. This fits the general descriptions of the time about temporary shelters around the edges of Esquimalt Harbour, but no specific mention of this location is in Linton’s writings. We cannot be certain that this imagery was not simply added to enhance the drawing as was a common practice at the time. The added-in drawing of First Nations in canoes near European ships was a common practice among artists.
Figure 12. Drawing by John Palmer Linton in 1851. Constance Cove. Esquimalt Harbour, Vancouver Island. Royal Geographical Society.
Herring and Anchovy Fishing 1843-1878.
In the 19th century, there were both spring and fall runs of herring and anchovy in the Gorge waterway and Esquimalt Harbour. Anchovy bones are common in archaeological sites but overfishing caused their extirpation from this region around the First World War.
In 1865, Frederick Dally described the spring herring fishery in Esquimalt Harbour. During the fishing season: “lodges spring up like mushrooms along the edges of the bays and harbours …When thoroughly dried the fish are packed in bales made of rush mats, each bale weighing about fifty pounds, the bales being tightly lashed with bark-ropes” and carried by horses back to the “winter quarters”. Some of the fish were used “as lamps for lighting their lodges”. The 6 to 8-foot herring rakes had barbs “usually” of bone but “preferably” of nails. They sometimes catch two to three herring on each tooth. (Dally 1865).
Figure 13. This drawing shows the use of the herring rake by Tlingit people near the mouth of the Stikine River in the 1880s (From Elliott 1886:57).
Figure 14. Model of a herring rake in the Ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum.
The first written observation of the Pacific herring in this region was by James Douglas in 1843. He notes that they arrive in April and are “taken in great abundance” in Victoria harbour. In April of 1847, the visiting artist Paul Kane observed:
“The Indians are extremely fond of herring-roe, …Cedar branches are sunk to the bottom of the river in shallow places by placing upon them a few heavy stones, taking care not to cover the green foliage, as the fish prefer spawning on everything green. The branches are all covered by the next morning with the spawn, which is washed off into their waterproof baskets, to the bottom of which it sinks; it is then squeezed by the hand into small balls and dried, and is very palatable.” (Kane 1925:148). A similar description is given by Bayley in 1878. He notes the “immense amount” of herring eggs preserved for winter use. The spawn is deposited on Cedar boughs placed “at low water”, then gathered and taken to camp and “stripped after being dried and put into boxes”.
In 1848, James Wood notes that the most common fish taken in the general area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca were “halibut, flounders, skate, rockcod, sardine [anchovy], salmon, trout, and several varieties of the herring.” Sole and flounder were plentiful in the Royal Roads area off Esquimalt Lagoon where the Songhees “would expose flounders on spits to the sun in order to roast them.” Halibut were once very plentiful on the shallow offshore banks from Victoria harbour to Discovery Island.
The Lekwungen increasingly began gathering resources for others. James Bell described the situation in 1858:
“we are indebted to the Indians for a supply of everything in season …at very reasonable rates; They collect great quantities of Berries,…For a back load of Potatoes they charge one shilling; these they cultivate by simply burying the seed under the green turf; A fine salmon can also be purchased for one shilling; …Cod, Herrings, Flounders &c are always to be had cheap; A large Basket of Oysters one shilling; The market is also supplied with plenty of venison, Deer are quite plentiful, until the arrival of the American Hunters”.
A second seasonal herring run was observed by Captain Wilson in 1858-1859. He noted that during October, and November, “herrings and a species of anchovy appear in great numbers”. In 1867, Edward Bogg describes the fishing technique with the “Herrings and whiting [anchovy]”. A pole (14′ X 3″ X 3/4″) has one edge with “very sharp spikes, made of hard wood, and about two inches long”. The fisherman paddles quickly into a shoal of fish “drops his paddle, picks up his rake”, and “makes a sweep through the shoal” impaling 5 or 6 fish which are dropped into the canoe “by striking the rake forcibly on the gunwale”.
Rev. Owens, after mentioning on September 30, 1869 that the Reserve had been nearly deserted over the past three months, due to the Songhees being away fishing, noted: “The abundance of salmon & anchovies (the latter generally but incorrectly named Sardines) has been extraordinary & unless actually seen would appear incredible”.
The B.C. Guide for 1877-78 says that during the autumn the anchovy “abounds in the harbours and inlets” and is easily taken. Recent studies indicate that the Anchovy may have only been in this area for the last two thousand years. Deep sea drilling in Saanich inlet revealed yearly layers with herring remains over the last 10,000 years, but anchovies only appear in the last 2000 years. Weather this is a pattern that pertains to the larger region, will require further research.
Paul Kane, in 1847, observed many of the temporary tuli mat shelters seen if figure 8. He referred to this image as “Clallum travelling lodges”. Although there were Klallam people from the Port Angeles area visiting the Victoria region during Kane’s stay, he sometimes referred to the local Songhees people in the new village across from Fort Victoria as “Clallum”. Kane may have drawn these tuli reed shelters in Esquimalt harbour, but we cannot be certain if he drew this image at that time of his stay here or later during his stay in what became Washington State. Kane noted in his Landscape log # 74, that “These are only used when they go fishing for a short time” (Harper 1971:314; also see Lister 2010:284-285).It is unfortunate that both Harper (1971) and Lister (2010) miss-identify images of the Village on the Old Songhees Reserve in Victoria Harbour as being in Esquimalt harbour. This was a result of Kane ans others referring to the Victoria West area of Victoria’s inner harbour as being “on the Esquimalt” which was in reference to the Esquimalt Peninsula and not Esquimalt harbour.
Bayley, Charles 1878. Early Life on Vancouver Island. Manuscript prepared for H.H. Bancroft, pp. 28-31. BCARS, E/B/B34.2.
Ireland, Willard (ed). 1948. A Letter from James Bell. In: British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. XII, No.3, July.
Bogg, Edward B. The Fishing Indians of Vancouver’s Island. Memoirs of the Anthropological Society of London, Vol. 3, 1867-8-9, pp. 260-265. Paper Read April 30, 1867.
Douglas, James. 1843. Diary of a Trip to Victoria, March 1 – 2, 1843. RBCM Archives, Ms A/B/40/D75.4.
Driver, Felix 2013, ‘Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition’, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 38: 420–435.
Driver, Felix and Lowri Jones. 2009. Hidden Histories of Exploration: Researching Geographical Collections, Royal Holloway, University of London, and Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London.
Elliott, Henry W. 1886. An Artic Province. Alaska and the Seal Islands. London. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Riverington.
Harper, J. Russell. 1971. Paul Kane’s Frontier. Including Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America by Paul Kane. Edited with a Bibliographical Introduction and a Catalogue Raisonne by J. Russel Harper. Published for the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, by the University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Kane, Paul 1925. Wanderings of An Artist Amoung the Indians of North America. From Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon Throught the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again. The Radisson society of Canada Limited.
Lewis, Adolphus Lee. 1842. Ground Plan of Portion of Vancouvers Island Selected For New Establishment. Taken by James Douglas Esqr. Drawn by A. Lee Lewes L.S. Hudson’s Bay Company archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba G.2/25 (8359).
Lister, Kenneth R. 2010. Paul Kane/The Artist/Wilderness to Studio. Royal Ontario Press.
Owen, H. B. 1868-69. Reports of Rev. H. B. Owen, Missionary at the Indian Reserve, Victoria, to the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 1868 and April 1 to June 30th, 1869, Vol. E26a, pp.833-849 and pp. 851 – 859, Rhodes House Library, Oxford.
Wilson, Captain. 1866. Report on the Indian Tribes Inhabiting the Country in the Vicinity of the Forty-Ninth Parallel of North Latitude. Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, New Series 4:275-332, London.
Wood, James. 1851. Description of Juan de Fuca Strait. The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle. A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected with Maritime Affairs, January, London.
It’s a sunny November 14th, 2016. Halloween is a distant memory. Remembrance Day is still fresh in my mind. And now comes the season where shops compete with dreary songs to get us into the shopping, I mean christmas spirit. I used to hate this time of year – the rustle of dry cattails in my favorite swamps, heavy frost, the puddles with their morning skim of ice, the crisp air, Canada Geese flying off like bomber squadrons over the English Channel… It all meant one thing – snow and cold.
Ah what am I saying, I live in Victoria now, we haven’t had snow in my neighborhood for two years now. Winter here is cool and wet, and on warm, sunny winter days you can still find lizards. Yes, the European Wall Lizard is active in winter as long as it is sunny. On November 14th, there were almost as many Wall Lizards crawling around as in summer. They were intent on basking, and given how warm the bedrock was in the sunlight, thigmothermy must play heavily into their winter behavior. Homeowners along May Street in Victoria say that Wall Lizards poke their heads out of rock walls as soon as the sun comes out in January. Other reptiles here emerge by late February to early March; the amphibians of southwestern BC are active all winter. Elsewhere in Canada amphibians and reptiles hibernate until mid-April at the earliest.
As far as I know, the only month where we haven’t seen wall Lizards is December. Guess what my mission is this year?
Wall Lizards from Moss Rocks Park, collected about 12:40 – November 14, 2016. Cataloged # 2125 in the RBCM Herpetology collection
You guessed it – I am on the hunt for the elusive lézard d’hiver. I hope the solstice is sunny and warm… It’d be really fun to find lizards on the shortest day of the year.
Who doesn’t love Lego™? Lego™ is one of the greatest toys ever imagined by the human brain. Kits range from fantastically complicated, to incredibly simplistic. But the underlying element of completeness is the same. The kit must be complete to be built as the instructions suggest, but that doesn’t mean a Lego™ kit stays in its original configuration.
Sometimes pieces vanish – but you can easily find substitutes. The more changes you make, the more obvious those changes become.
It’s the same with nature. Ecosystems are incredibly complicated (such as the Amazon jungle) while others seem simple (the dune sea of the Sahara). Swat one gnat and you won’t see change in an Amazonian forest, remove a gnat species and you still may not see a change. Each missing species is far more obvious in relatively simple ecosystems. Fortunately, nature is resilient and has recovered from repeated perturbation and mass extinctions (the loss of many pieces (I mean species)) all the way to the present epoch (the Plasticcene ?).
When you replace missing parts in a Lego™ kit, the final product will not be exactly the same, but will look reasonable and will hold together. You can look at the instructions to know what’s missing. You can swap parts from other kits (part 302126 is common to many Lego™ models). You can order replacement parts.
In nature there is no list of parts to identify exactly what’s missing, and once things are lost, there is no mail-order replacement. Once something biological is gone, it is irreplaceable. Given enough time though, nature will fill an ecological void and restructure an ecosystem, but the ecosystem will never be the same. A restructured ecosystem may look unchanged to our eyes, but it is different in both function and species composition. Fortunately for us, change is the only constant in nature. Our origin (and subsequent invention of plastic – and Lego™) and our continued existence on this plastic-polluted-planet, is a direct result of nature’s resilience.
The loss of a Keystone Specieschanges the ecology of a region significantly. There are parts in each Lego™ kit which are critical to the model’s integrity, and in this sense, they parallel Keystone Species. Lose one keystone piece and your model won’t be as structurally sound, but will still hold together if there is built-in redundancy – in nature, this could represent the death of one cell in a phytoplankton bloom. You’ll never notice its absence. Organisms die every day and populations muddle on as nature permits.
In this Lego™ model, there are several hinge parts per wing which keep the entire model together – the model has built in resilience. Imagine how the model changes as one by one, more of these hinge pieces go missing? Bit by bit, the wing joint weakens. Hinges have to interact with other pieces of the model to maintain the integrity of the entire population of Lego™ pieces. If the population of hinge parts is depleted, the wings will fall off.
In recent years, large numbers of dead alcids are not an uncommon sight in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. The warm north Pacific conditions from 2012-2015 have correlated with mass mortalities all along the North American west coast. Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres have washed up right here in the Victoria region – this is not someone else’s problem. This Common Murre was found this summer and was photographed by Allan Eppler. Wings have fallen from our skies.
The fishes that our alcids eat still exist along our coast – so why are marine birds starving? What piece of the ecolegological model is missing? The recent and rapid decline of plankton communities may be to blame. Phytoplankton feeds zooplankton, zooplankton feeds small fishes, and small fishes feed our alcids.These stumpy birds rely on small fishes like sandlance and herring, and in this way, are indirectly connected to phytoplankton (and so are we). Is the decline in phytoplankton populations having a trickle-down effect? Are local zooplankton and fish populations declining in concert with phytoplankton? Perhaps fishes have moved elsewhere (deeper? offshore?) to track phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms? Fishes may only be out of the range of diving birds at an energetically critical time in the bird’s year? Perhaps fishes are now less nutritious with changes in plankton communities? Is this a temporary change? What will be the feedback effect on the marine community if our alcids disappear? And is this the latest ratchet in our environment – a long-term trend in our coastal community creating the “new normal” for our grandchildren? All questions worthy of study.
Temporary and permanent absence of a species has its effect in nature. The long term decline in oceanic phytoplankton communities has gone largely unnoticed by the majority of people – until its impacts rippled up the food chain and hundreds of emaciated birds washed ashore. Dead plankton sinks into the abyss every day – no one raises an eyebrow. But when a beach is littered with dead birds, we sit up and take notice. Each organism, microscopic or not, is a piece in the ecological integrity of our region, and the loss of each piece changes BC forever. Perhaps a Lego™ model is a poor analogy of the complexity of nature, but we failed to notice the loss of countless smaller parts, and only reacted when a continuing number of larger pieces washed up dead on our shores. I have to wonder what BC’s model will look like in 50 years. Have we already become unhinged?
Who has a garden? Many of us do, and many nourish their gardens with manure. Each winter, my wife and I get a heaping truck-load of manure – a mix of sheep, horse and chicken excrement from our friend’s farm up in Central Saanich. Sure our yard is a bit fragrant for a day or two, but the manure matures in winter while our neighbour’s windows are closed. Manure as a source of fertilizer is nothing new.
Watch any nature show on Africa and eventually you see scenes of Hippopotami (Hippopotamusses?) revving their tails to 30,000 RPM to spread their manure in their respective territories. Talk about leaving your mark on a place. But all that manure feeds fishes and is excellent fertilizer to increase productivity in their habitat. Streamside plants grow and the hippos have a convenient salad. Nature wastes nothing – not even waste is wasted.
One of the RBCM’s curators also lives according to nature’s mantra – he wastes nothing. I bet by now you are wondering where this blog post is going.
Every few days Grant Keddie combs through his scientific journals and cuts out articles to distribute to museum staff. This week I received an article from Grant from the journal NewScientist (page 6, 22 October 2016). The photograph tells it all – a Sperm Whale off-loading ballast as it dives, leaving a hazy russet cloud in its wake. The NewScientist article goes on to detail the role of whale feces in pelagic ecology. We rarely think about whale excrement – you know the old saying – out of sight, out of mind. If whales lived on land, we’d probably pay more attention to their gastrointestinal performance.
Nutrients in the intestinal ejecta of cetaceans are a windfall to phytoplankton and perhaps zooplankton. Whale poop fertilizes the sea, boosting phytoplankton and zooplankton populations – I am assuming some crustaceans also are coprophagous (they eat poop particles). Plankton blooms feed krill and fishes, and these of course support a myriad of marine organisms. Krill is now a popular source of Omega-3 oils – hhhmmmm.
We’ve known for ages that most of the deep sea is dependent on a flurry of fecal matter and decaying organisms from near the surface. Only the deep sea hydrothermal vent communities live independent of such gifts from the surface. But it surprises me that we are only recently celebrating our largest neighbors colonic contribution to oceanic ecology.
The authors of the NewScientist article state that phytoplankton blooms supported by whale feces can help fight climate change (phytoplankton sequesters CO2). That seems to be a bit of a stretch, but their other claim that whales can increase local productivity and enhance fisheries certainly is interesting. In some areas of the world today (Norway, Iceland, and Japan), and within my lifetime here in BC, we have killed whales for oil but also to avoid sharing the ocean’s bounty. Yes, we killed whales to limit their impact on our fish harvests. If whale wastes enhance fisheries, removal of whales starved our coastal community.
In John Ford’s handbook of Marine Mammals of BC, he states that 25,460 whales were killed in our waters in the 20th century. I don’t have the global harvest estimates from the 1700s to present day, but whale losses run in the hundreds of thousands. In terrestrial terms, imagine trying to grow a garden without fertilizer? Now think how removal of a significant number of whales impacted the marine phytoplankton community. I have always wondered about the effect of losses of thousands of whales (and hundreds of basking sharks) on planktonic communities in BC, but the ecological joke is on me. I always looked at it from the top down, not the bottom up.
Figure 1. Approximate location of traditional territories of Nuu-chah-nulth tribes to the south of Brooks Peninsula.
Information about First Nation practices on the West Coast of Vancouver Island have been interpreted as possible evidence of a visit by Francis Drake – rather than the well documented voyages of Juan Perez in 1774 or James Cook in 1788. Part of this is based on a tradition among the Che:k’tles7et’h’ (Chicklisaht) people of the west coast of Vancouver Island who had a ceremony which involved providing food to a “traveling chief” from the sea – a tradition different than all the other Nuu-chah-nulth tribes related to the Chicklisaht (sometimes spelt “Chickleset” and “Checleset”). Juan Perez did not land on Vancouver Island but did trade briefly off shore with a few Hesquiaht people in a canoe. James Cook anchored much further south of the Chicklisaht at Resolution Cove, in the territory of the Muchalaht, and interacted mostly with the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ (Kyuquot) people of Yuquot.
The Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/ Che:k’tles7et’h’ are today part of the Maa-nulth Treaty group along with the Toquaht, Uchucklesaht and Ucluelet First Nations who completed a final treaty agreement with Canada and British Columbia under the B.C. treaty process that came into effect April 1, 2011 (see figure 1 and 2).
Figure 2. The combined Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/ Che:k’tles7et’h’ territory recognized in the 2011, treaty settlement. The old village of Upsowis is in the red area at the left entrance to Malksope Inlet above the name Checleset Bay.
The first Europeans to anchor in Chicklisaht territory to the south of the Brooks Peninsula were James Colnett in the ship Prince of Wales and Charles Duncan in the Princess Royal in 1787 (see Galois 2000:69-91 for details). The information of interest here is that reported on June 24, 1791, by John Hoskins, the ship’s clerk on the Columbia Rediviva, which visited the village of “Opswis” [Upsowis] in Chickleset Bay to the south of the Brooks Peninsula. Upsowis is located at the east entrance to Malksope Inlet to the north of the Bunsby Islands. Hoskins describes
how they were seated and fed and: “after this entertainment, we were greeted with two songs; in which was frequently repeated the words “Wakush Tiyee awinna’, or “welcome travelling Chief.” These were sung by a great concourse of natives, who came from all parts of the village to see us, for it is very probable we are the first white people that ever was at their village, and the first many of them saw”
Anthropologist Susan Kenyon noted: “The fact that the first White people in the area went to Chickleset territory (Ououkinish Inlet) is well accepted in the Kyuquot area. The Chickleset people still claim details of these stories as their private property and celebrate them in potlatches and song. Without knowing much of the recorded background history, however, people today claim that this meeting took place “before Captain Cook came” and was with a Spaniard. It is not unlikely that one of the Spanish exploratory voyages from California in the 17th or 18th centuries did get blown off course and met the Chickliset people; the meeting was not repeated (“They promised to come back, but never did,” I was told) and unless details of it are unearthed from a search of the Spanish records, it must remain a mystery.” (Kenyon 1980:42).
In the early 1980s, Peter Webster, an Ahousaht Elder, talked to the author (Grant Keddie) about Sir Francis Drake. Peter went to a lecture on Francis Drake when he was in San Francisco in the 1960s. He told me about the Chicklisaht practice of feeding “the visitor from the sea” during a feast, and thought that tradition might be referring to the visit of Francis Drake. This unique practice of putting food into the sea was also told to the author by Ahousaht Band member, the late Dr. George Louie (February 19, 1912 to July 7, 1995) in 1994. George Louie worked at the Royal B.C. Museum as an affiliate in anthropology in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He worked on transcribing, into English, a backlog of tape recordings of Nuu-chah-nulth elders speaking in their native language. Dr. Louie was also working with linguist Thomas Hess of the University of Victoria in the creation of an Ahousat dictionary. George Louie knew about the story of the Chicklisaht feeding ceremony from stories he heard from elders that had died, and he was aware of the beliefs of other Nuu-chah-nulth, that is Peter Webster and Noah Smith, who were connecting the ceremony with Francis Drake.
Noah Smith was interviewed for an article written by journalist Arthur Mayse in 1982. Mayse notes that: “When I was a boy in Nanaimo, the occasional youthful expedition still shoved off by cabbage-crate boat to dig for ‘Drake’s Treasure’, which was reputed to lie hidden somewhere near the Malaspina Galleries, a series of sea-sculptured indentations in the Gabriola Island bluffs”. Mayse goes on to say: Noah Smith, whose wife, Martha, is a weaver of note, dropped in at out Campbell River museum a while ago. My wife, a museum volunteer, got to talking with Noah. The subject of the old navigators came up. Noah mentioned Drake’s voyages, and even sought help from the British Museum in an attempt to fill in the 68-day gap in Drake’s record of his West Coast cruise” …”Noah Smith’s good friends’ the Chikliset of Queen’s Cove near Zeballos, may hold the key. Quite simply, they believe that for at least some portion of that period, Francis Drake was their honored guest. Like every other Indian band, the Chikliset have a wealth of tales and legends handed down from one generation to the next. One of the oldest of these stories has to do with big, hairy men (the words are Noah Smith’s) who arrived in their cove on an enormous floating house, led by a great chief from beyond the horizon. This countless moons before the arrival of Captain Cook.
Nor is it only in legend that the visit by these bearded men in their floating house is celebrated. The band also has its traditional songs and dances. One of the Chikliset’s oldest songs has to do with the arrival of the visitors and their welcome. There is also a most peculiar potlatch custom, which Noah Smith believes to be unique among this band. It is a tradition of all potlatches up and down the coast that the first gift is given to the most honoured guest. But in the case of the Chikliset, no present guest is awarded their ‘gift of honour’. The gift is carried down with great ceremony to the water’s edge. There it is dedicated to ‘The great chief beyond the horizon’ … a chief whom Noah Smith is utterly convinced was none other than the intrepid sailor who returned to England to become Sir Francis Drake. As I said at the start, the winds of romance blow along this wild and wonderful coast. And who’s to say that matters didn’t fall out in the long ago precisely as Noah Smith and the Chikliset people believe they did?”.
When examining First Nations oral histories, I tend to put more trust in information placed in written form by 19th and early 20th century authors who have at least some understanding of the traditional culture they are recording or preferably by an author who is writing the information down (from a First Nation consultant) in a known linguistic script that is then interpreted in a European language. In the older documented stories it is difficult to tell if a tradition pertains to events that are 200 or 500 years old unless there is some indication in the story as to how many generations back the story goes or if it pertains to known events that are independently documented. More recently written 20th century First Nations stories that have no previous archival history can easily be re-interpreted in light of more recent influences found in reports, books or on television. I am presenting this fragmented information here, so that future readers can incorporate it into their assessment of the stories of early visitors.
Galois, R.M. 2000. Nuu-chah-nulth Encounters: James Colnett’s Expedition of 1787-88. In: Nuu-chah-nulth Voices, Histories, Objects & Journeys, pp. 69-91. Edited by Alan L. Hoover. Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria, B.C. Canada.
Howay, Frederic W. 1990. Voyages of the “Columbia” to the Northwest Coast. 1787-1790 and 1790-1793. Oregon Historical Society Press in cooperation with The Massachusetts Historical Society. (Originally published in 1941 as volume 79 of the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections).
Kenyon, Susan M. 1980. The Kyuquot Way: A Study of a West Coast (Nootkan) Community. National Museum of Man Mercury Series. Canadian Ethnology Service. Paper No. 61. A Diamond Jenness Memorial Volume. National Museums of Canada. Ottawa.
Mayse, Arthur. 1982. Campbell River Upper Islander, February 17, 1982.
Webster, Peter. 1983. As Far As I know: Reminiscences of an Ahousat Elder. Campbell River Museum and Archives, Campbell River, B.C.
Back in the day, the site’s most prominent inhabitant, The Planetarium, was known far and wide to teenagers all over BC’s lower mainland as the place to see the ‘star show’, which entailed some kind of animated replica of galaxies projected onto The Planetarium’s ceiling. The entire experience was accompanied by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
These days, The Planetarium operates quite independently of the museum and has been renamed H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and the Museum of Vancouver stands on its own as an important cultural player in the life of Vancouver, despite people like me who still associate it with Pink Floyd.
But no more. After attending the Summer Institute, I can report that I now associate the site with more than Pink Floyd. I was at the Summer Institute to deepen my understanding of historical thinking concepts, a framework for teaching history and creating learning experiences about history, that we are already applying to programming at the Royal BC Museum.
Historical Thinking Summer Institute participants prioritizing events in Canadian history and exploring the question ‘What is historically significant and who gets to decide?’ Photo credit: Lindsay Gibson
What are historical thinking concepts?
Historical thinking concepts are essentially the framework that historians use to construct history, broken into distinct elements to help students think about the process. Recently retired University of British Columbia professor Peter Seixas and veteran teacher Tom Morton have presented the historian thinking in their aptly named book The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts. The ideas in this book have been widely applied to curricula across Canada and particularly to BC ‘s new social studies curriculum.
The historical thinking concepts are:
Historical significance: What and who should be remembered, researched and taught?
Evidence: Is the evidence credible and adequate to support the conclusions reached?
Continuity and change: How are lives and conditions alike over time and how have they changed?
Cause and consequence: Why did historical events happen the way they did and what are the consequences?
Historical perspective: What does past look like when viewed through lenses of the time?
The Ethical Dimension: Is what happened right and fair?
Scientists use scientific methods to reach their conclusions. Historians use historical thinking concepts to reach theirs. Unlike in science education, in history classes there has been little to no emphasis on how historians work. Using historical thinking concepts shifts the focus from content, the events of history, to instead the process and issues that historians grapple with in their work.
Teaching history from this perspective brings history classes to life in a very practical way. Learning to think like an historian is about learning to think critically. Critical thinking skills are a key part of 21st century learning, the foundation for BC’s new K-12 school curriculum. As one of my classmates put it, historical thinking concepts are life skills.
During the Summer Institute we left the classroom for two enriching field trips. The first was to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site and the second was a walking tour of Vancouver with John Atkin. Both excursions gave us the chance to see historical thinking concepts exemplified. At historic sites and in history tours, just like in creating museum exhibitions, decisions are made about which historical narratives to present. It was useful to experience the fieldtrips with the lens of historical thinking and discuss with classmates while we were deep in our exploration of the concepts.
On the final day of the Historical Thinking Summer Institute, we presented our group projects to each other. It was inspiring to be in a room with all that passion and brain power. One of my classmates, Vancouver teacher Craig Brumwell, posted about the Summer Institute on his blog here.
Back at the museum, there is much relevance to our work in the learning department. Programming ideas are percolating that will complement BC’s school curriculum and enrich online materials on the Learning Portal and for our new Digital Fieldtrips. The Summer Institute confirmed for me that we are on the right track with our Learning Portal and other online resources. Teachers want to use primary sources as historical evidence in the classroom. We already provide these digitally through the Learning Portal, 100 Objects of Interest and Transcribe sites. We will continue to add digitized copies of primary sources such as photographs and letters to these sites. In the Learning department, we will continue to reach out to schools across the province to connect them with the learning materials and experiences they need.
Personally, I will reflect on the the historical thinking concept continuity and change and leave Pink Floyd out of it.
(The Critical Thinking Consortium has a series of short videos to introduce historical thinking concepts to teachers and students here.)
Figure 1. Chief David Latasse photographed on the Tsartlip Reserve in 1922, at age 61-64 (RBCM PN6165).
David Latasse was a Tsartlip (W?JO?E?P) First Nation. They are part of the Saanich (W?SÁNE?) peoples whose territory is centered on the Saanich Peninsula and southern Gulf Islands. Latasse gained notoriety from 1927-1936 as a speaker in his native language at ceremonies, the subject of an early movie maker and as a source of information via translators for newspaper reporters and at least one anthropologist. He was born about 1858-1863 and died May 2, 1936.
For most of his life he lived near his mother’s relatives on the Tartlip Reserve located on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria. We are fortunate to have a letter that was dictated by Latasse himself and addressed to the Department of Indian Affairs on June 25, 1903:
“I now live at Saanich on the Sartlip Reserve and have lived here for the last 25 or 30 years. My father was a Songhees Indian and my Mother was a Saanich women. I was born on the Songhees Reserve and lived there until I was about 15 years old and then came to live at Sartlip Reserve. My Grandfather and two brothers are buried on the Songhees Reserve. My grandfather’s name was Skull pult. I don’t remember the names of my brothers I know where all their graves are.”
David Latasse would, by his own statement, be 40-45 years old at the writing of this letter, which means he was born around 1858-1863 or 15 to 20 years after the building of Fort Victoria. His age later became a subject of controversy but was play-up by newspaper reporters perpetuating the stereotype of Latasse as an “ancient” man with a fountain of all knowledge.
Figure 2. Home of Chief David Latasse on the Tsartlip Reserve in 1922. First house on the waterfront at the left of the photo. (RBCM PN11740).
Figure 2. Home of Chief David Latasse on the Tsartlip Reserve in 1922. First house on the waterfront at the left of the photo. (RBCM PN11740).
In his old age Latasse appeared to change the stories of his earlier life to make it seem that he was much older than his true age and the stories he told of his father’s generation were part of his own experience. But, it is uncertain how much of this was a result of his interpreters and the stereotyping of newspaper reporters. Some newspaper reporters seem to have preferred to exaggerate his age as he got older.
The first published newspaper commentary on Latasse appeared in association with the visit of the governor-general of Canada in 1927. Latasse spoke at a special ceremony held at what is now Kosampson Park on the upper Gorge Waterway. The event was to initiate the governor-general as honourary Chief Rainbow (Keddie 1992).
Figure 3. Canoes of First Nations and government officials in Victoria Harbour heading up the Gorge Waterway on March 30, 1927. David Latasse is in the canoe at centre in the poka-dotted white cape with Chief Alex of the Malahat and Chief Cooper of the Songhees in front of him and the Viscount and Lady Willington behind them (Keddie postcard collection).
Figure 3. Canoes of First Nations and government officials in Victoria Harbour heading up the Gorge Waterway on March 30, 1927. David Latasse is in the canoe at centre in the poka-dotted white cape with Chief Alex of the Malahat and Chief Cooper of the Songhees in front of him and the Viscount and Lady Willington behind them (Keddie postcard collection).
More information about Latasse appeared on March 15, 1931, as part of a sequence of articles titled: Soliloquies in Victoria’s Suburbia by Nancy de Bertrand Lugrin – the wife of the editor of the Victoria Colonist. In speaking about the Tsartlip Reserve Lugrin mentions:
“The present chief is David, a very ancient man, who claims to be more than one hundred and speaks only Chinook. If one goes to see him his wife will do all the talking. His present wife does not look more than forty. Occasionally she will translate a question for him to answer. But he says little, though he is pleased to have visitors. His lodge is a fairly modern house, and the living-room a large one.
The chief will tell you, through his young wife, something of his early days. Particularly he likes to dwell upon the part the Indians used to take in the regatta on May 24 in the years gone by. They would practice for this event during the whole year, going out every night in their racing war canoes, for the rivalry between the various tribes for the honor of winning in these events was very keen. They got good money, too, from eight to ten dollars a paddle. One could have a rather fine celebration on eight or ten dollar, he says. But the present-day members of this reserve take little or no interest in the regattas nowadays. ‘It’s too much work’, says old David, ‘for the amount of money there’s in it, and they won’t pay, as they used to do, whether the boats crew win or not.’”.
On July 12, 1931, Lugrin writes about the burial sites among the Saanich and mentions that:
“Just now Chief David is away ‘in the States, for berry picking.’ He is about eighty years old, but that does not deter him from traveling and working. He goes every year at this time. When he returns we are to learn from him some of the old legends of the Saanich Indians with their place names. Tunen, which is the lovely slope of land which faces the southern side of Mount Newton; Omysuk, which is Mackenzie Bay; and the story of Tlespace, the great bare rock in this vicinity which we are told every fisherman knows; Oluktuts, which is Goldstream, and many another. Only old David has the history of Saanich Indians in his head, and he knows no English. But his Indian is very graphic and complete’”.
This is, of course, a stereotype built around Latasse as the fountain of all traditional knowledge. There were certainly other Saanich elders who were knowledgeable about the past and had personal family histories not known by Latasse. To this day, many Saanich families have contributed to providing traditional place names (see Hudson 1970 and Elliott 1990).
On August 23, 1931, another article appears in which Lugrin talks to Latasse after his return from berry picking:
It is wonderful and a precious thing the saga he sings, for with him it will die, and no one will ever hear its cadences again. Therefore we had with us as interpreters Frank Verdier, who speaks Chinook as well as anyone versed in that coast jargon, and Paul, who might have been chief but he was too young. Then there was Mrs. David to help now and then. Paul knows well the musical Indian language of the Saanich tribes, and it is that medium which Chief David mostly employs, though he is fluent in Chinook and knows a little English as well.”
After talking on about Latasse’s mannerisms of speaking, Lugrin notes: All sorts of stories have been told about the chief’s age. When he was received by His Excellency Lord Willington, the Governor-General of Canada, a few years ago, it was said that he was a centenarian. We believe that is wrong. He thinks he is well over a hundred. But Frank Verdier says he cannot be much more than ninety. He doesn’t look over seventy.” Lugrin then chooses to ignore what she just said and focus on the stories that Latasse was a young man at the time of the founding of Fort Victoria in 1842, which would imply that he was in his late 90s.
Lugrin mentions that they “were anxious to learn what the chief could remember of the stories his own father used to tell him”. Latasse is quoted as saying: “Many stories my father has told me of how every summer the Indians from Cape Mudge, the Yucultas, would come down and fight the Songhees, the Saanich tribes and the Cowichans. They would come in their huge canoes, many warriors, and steal upon the villages by night. ‘Always they came for the same reason, to kill the men and to steal the women and young girls, so they might sell them for slaves and become rich. For blankets they would sell them over across the water on the United States side, for blankets and canoes or any other thing the Indians valued’”. Even today you may see throughout the woods in Saanich great pits which have been dug long ago, and which are not yet filled in, so deep they are. That is where the Indian men would hide their wives and children when the wars were on. There they must always sleep at night, so that no enemy Indian stealing through the tree in the dark could find them”.
On August 8, 1931, Latasse’s story is told about the great battle of Maple Bay, where many local First Nation warriors joined the Cowichan to defeat the northern invaders from the Cape Mudge region. On October 18th, Lugrin provides more information about Saanich place names. When trying find out the name for Saltspring Island she says:
“Chief David’s memory is remarkably good, but he does disappoint one occasionally and may have forgotten this. Here are a few names as near as we could get to the spelling. Tod Inlet was known to the Tsautups [Tsartlips] as ‘Snitqualt,’ but the meaning of this euphonious cognomen he could not tell us. Butchart’s Bay was ‘Humsawhut.’ Meaning Sunshine Bay. The bay at the foot of Verdier Avenue [north end of Brentwood Bay] ‘was named for a man who died. We call him ‘Skahasin’.
Another source for Latasse’s stories appears in the Saanich Peninsula and Gulf Islands Review on March 14, 1932 (p.2), entitled: “Aged Chief Tells of Olden Times”.
“The editor of the Review, through an interpreter, recently interviewed the oldest Indian Chief Latess of the Brentwood Reserve, who claims to be 120 years old”. On the topic of extreme weather Latasse indicated that: “some 130 or 140 years ago, according to the information given by the chief’s father, there was an unusual winter when snow fell to a depth of 14 feet on the level and remained for a considerable length of time. Many Indians starved to death as a result, the snow being too deep to procure wild vegetables from the fields and wild game soon being depleted.”
Maclean’s Magazine and the Creation of a Costume
The notoriety of David Latasse had caught the attention of Maclean’s Magazine. On December 15, 1932 (p22&38) they wrote “Indian Saga” which included Latasse’s story of the “Last Great Battle”. “David La Tasse is the oldest living chief on the North pacific Coast. He claims to be more than 100 years of age, and he can remember ‘Jim” Douglas very well – Sir James Douglas, first governor of British Columbia – also the building of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort, where Victoria stands today”.
It would appear that Maclean’s arranged for Victoria’s Ernest Crocker of Trio Photography to take photographs of Latasse in what was to be a traditional costume. One of, at least three, images that he took appears in the Maclean’s article (Figure 4, RBCM PN117781). Another, (RBCM PN11778, Figure 6), appeared later in the Victoria Daily times on July 14, 1934 and the other (RBCM PN11743, Figure 5) was not used.
Latasse was holding the same spear, but wearing a different outfit than in the 1927 images. The outfits worn are very much like the large woven blankets made in 1927 for a Tipi constructed for the visit of the Governor-General of Canada (see Keddie 1992).
Figure 4. David Latasse in 1932. (RBCM PN11781).
Figure 4. David Latasse in 1932. (RBCM PN11781).
Latasse was interviewed by the well-known Canadian ethnologist, Diamond Jenness between 1934 and 1936. Using less flowery language than the reporters that proceeded him, Jenness recorded that:
“David LaTesse received his 1st name when he was a little child. There was no potlatch and he does not remember what the name was. He received his second name at a potlatch when he was 12 years old. The new name was qalek waltan (no meaning); it was given him by his grandfather and had belonged to some grand uncle. He received his 3rd name when he was 14. His father conferred it on him. It was the name sxa wal
‘whirlwind’ of his great grandfather who had lived at Sooke. This name goes to the oldest son in the family. The name haiel wat (thunder) goes to the eldest daughter. The name talsit (lightning) to the 2nd son. Sxwa wal remained his name till he was about 50. Then, at a potlatch, he gave himself the name steel um (no meaning), after his mother’s father. This name he still bears” (Jenness 1934-36). Jenness gave David’s age as 85, which would place his birth c. 1849-51.
Figure 5. David Latasse in the middle, with Tommy Paul of the Tsartlip Nation on the left and Chief Edward Jim of the Tseycum Nation on the right, in 1922. (PN11743).
Figure 5. David Latasse in the middle, with Tommy Paul of the Tsartlip Nation on the left and Chief Edward Jim of the Tseycum Nation on the right, in 1922. (PN11743).
Reporter Frank Pagett, writing in The Victoria Daily Times on July 14, 1934, made Latasse considerably older with an article entitled: “105 years in Victoria and Saanich. Chief David Recalls White Mans’ Coming”. By Latasse’s original accounts he would be about age 72-77 at this time.
There was often confusion by reporters about whether Latasse was recalling stories from his own observations or from those of his father’s experience. Latesse provided stories for the newspaper about known historic activities that were clearly out of sequence, mixed up versions of events, such as the observation of the first European ships and the first bringing of cattle to Victoria – which did not occur until several years later – or his suggestion that there was a central camp on Mud Bay where the Empress Hotel and the Union club were located – no evidence of an archaeological site has been found in the historic excavations in this area. Pagett noted that Latasse was “mentally keen, although extremely fragile”. He “was looked after by a well-educated wife, half his age, who aided in interpreting the ancients vigorous statements. The principal interpreter of Chief David’s reminiscences was his grand-nephew, Baptiste Paul, professionally known as Baptiste Thomas, a boxer and wrestler, whose prowess has won fame throughout the Pacific Coast”.
Latasse gave the reporter a political statement about being present during the 1852 meeting regarding the Saanich treaties and interprets the treaties not as a purchase of land but of agreements to use parts of the land for annual payments of rent:
“More than eighty years ago I saw James Douglas, at the place now called Beacon Hill, stand before the assembled chiefs of the Saanich Indians with uplifted hand … I heard him give his personal word that, if we agreed to let the white man use parts of our land to grow food, all would be to the satisfaction of the Indian peoples. Blankets and trade were to be paid. We knowing a crop grows each year, looked for gifts each year. What we now call rent. Our chiefs then sold no part of Saanich”.
Figure 6. Chief David Latasse in 1932. (RBCM PN11778).
Figure 6. Chief David Latasse in 1932. (RBCM PN11778).
The above statement is one that parallels the statement given by Latasse in a letter of April 4, 1932 to Commissioner William Ditchburn with a letter of support from five Chiefs identified as Saanich and witnessed by Simon C. Pierre from the Stolo Nation who was referred to as an “Indian Lawyer” (Latasse 1932). On the same Times article page the relevant sections of the Douglas Treaties referred to by Latasse were published under the title: “Saanich Title Deeds Denounced by Chief”. Latasse was successful in getting across his interpretation of the Douglas Treaties.
Here, Latasse tells a different story about his coming to Brentwood Bay than in his earlier letter version:
“When I was seven years of age I went to Brentwood Bay to live, joining aunts who had become wives of members of the Saanich tribe”. He is quoted as saying that he was 14 years old when the First Europeans came to Victoria Harbour, but this is similar to the age he gave in 1903, for when he moved from the old Songhees reserve to the Tsartlip reserve. This statement may have been misinterpreted in the translation to English. One of the photographs taken by Trio Crocker two years earlier appears with this story (RBCM PN11778).
The Colonist newspaper reports on September 4th, 1935 (p.2): “Centenarian Chief of Saanich Tribe Dances for Movies”. Chief David “being 109…donned his ancient tribal garments and did the Sun Dance before a motion picture camera of Hugh A. Matier, public relations representative for the Union Oil Co. of California …in color …Mr. Matier took 2000 feet of film on Vancouver Island, featuring Indians. … Mr. Matier left yesterday afternoon for Seattle. He expects to return to Vancouver Island next April in search of further interesting material for his lectures.”
The Reporting of His Death
David Latasse died the next year on May 2. The Times Newspaper (p.1-2) provides further miss-information on Latasse’s age, social status and the events of his personal experience: “Chief David Dies at 109″ – “Head of Songhees Indians Remembered Founding of Fort Victoria” … died at his home on the west Saanich reserve this morning”.
The Times mentions the events of the previous summer when Latasse “put on his ceremonial dress to dance before the movie camera.” This is a reference to the American producers mentioned above that made a movie of Latasse dancing.
The next day on May 3 (p.1) the Colonist, with the headline: “Centenarian Chief Passes” repeats the statement of the Times that Latasse died “at the age of 109 years”. The romanticized article by reporter and amateur historian Bruce McKelvie is accompanied by a photograph of Chief David with a woven blanket and spear. “He is pictured above, as he appeared not long ago, when he donned his old-time regalia as a warrior chief.” – “Death Takes Chief David” – “On the Indian Reserve at Brentwood Yesterday morning. … Chief David was a fine type of man. His influence for good among his people was extensive, and his example was an inspiration. He was highly respected by whites as well as by his own people. He recalled the attack by Cowichan and Songhees Indians on Fort Victoria, and was present at the great conclave at Beacon Hill when Governor Douglas extinguished the Indian land title by purchase. … and only last Summer donned his picturesque costume and executed some of the ancient dances before the lens of a motion picture camera. …his name will become a legend and his memory an inspiration to his people – Peace to his ashes”.
On May 8 (p.5) the Saanich Peninsula and Gulf Islands Review under the title “Link with Saanich is Severed by Chief’s death”. The editor notes that: “despite his age, which according to different sources is stated to be anywhere from 110 to 122, was surprisingly energetic to the end”.
Not long after, on May 17 (p.6), the Colonist published another article by Nancy de Bertrand Lugrin about the famous battle of Maple Bay entitled: “Chief David’s Saga”. Here he is telling his father’s experiences when referring to the battle of Maple Bay. The story also appears in Maclean’s Magazine on December 15, 1932, (p.38)
The Latasse version of the lead-up to the Maple Bay battle is recorded as follows:
“For many years, all in the bright summer weather, they have come down upon us, those Ukultahs [Lewiltok] of the north. They have killed our men and taken away our women to slavery. Every year they come and nobody knows whose house shall be left desolate with the ending of summer. They are many and strong and their canoes upon the sea are as the salmon in the spawning season at the river’s mouth. We cannot stand against them. We are too few. We are not united as they are. Year after year we wail the loss of our champions, the loss of our wives and children.”
Latasse provided information on some basic economic activities of “long ago”:
“In July the deer are very fat, we dig our pits for them. In August we hunt the elk with bow and arrow in the swamp lands. The clams too, are fat in August. Always in these days the women are very busy, roasting the meat and drying it for winter; roasting and drying the clams. In August also is the big fishing for tyee salmon, which we dry. All these things we store in cedar bark boxes and hang in our houses. …We gather plenty of bark from the fir trees, big pieces of bark and store it under the wide seat which runs all-round the house. There is plenty of wood for all the cold weather. Only bark we burn, nothing else. When winter come, for four months there is good time. Dancing and feasting and making happy. Nobody sad at all. Everybody laughing like children. Everybody giving parties. You come to my house. I give you present. I go to your house you give me present. All the time like that. Very good”.
Sixteen years later in 1952, Lugrin published a series of articles based on early interviews with Latasse. These included: “Memories. Stories Chief David Told Me” in the Sunday Victoria Times Magazine on April 5 (p.5), where Lugrin notes that: “With the late Frank Verdier and Chris Paul to act as interpreters, we went several times to call”. An article on April 12, was titled:
“Chief David’s Stories – No. 2. Indian Tribes Win Vicious. The Battle at Maple Bay”. Lugrin points out here that the battle “happened when David’s father was a young man”. The story was continued with an article on April 19 (p.5): “Chief David’s Stories – No.3. Triumphant Indians Sing Victory Paean”.
David Latasse was respected by his own people. From the time of the visit of Governor General Willington in 1927, to his death in 1936, Latasse was seen by non-First Nation reporters as an icon representing the romanticized version of the history of local First Nations. David Latasse, however, took the opportunity of playing this role in order to tell his version of history as he remembered it.
References not fully cited in text
Elliott, John Sr. 1990. Saltwater People as told by Dave Elliott Sr. Native Education. School District 63 (Saanich). Edited by Janet Poth. Revised edition.
Hudson, Douglas (compiler) 1970. Some Geographical Terms of the Saanich Indians of British Columbia with information from: Mr. Richard Harry, East Saanich; Mr. Ernie Olsen, Brentwood Bay; Mr. Christopher Paul, Brentwood Bay; Mr. Louis Pelke, East Saanich. Manuscript. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.
Jenness, Diamond. 1934-36.Diamond Jenness, Coast Salish Field Notes. Manuscript #1103.6, Ethnology Archives, Canadian Museum of Civilization).
Keddie, Grant. 1992. Installation of a Songhees chief. Discovery. Friends of the Royal British Columbia Quarterly Review. 20:1:1-3.
Latasse, David. 1903. Letter in Department of Indian Affairs Records. RBCM Archives. RG 10, Vol. 1343, Reel B1874, Cowichan Agency.
Latasse, David. 1932. Letter of April 4, 1932 to William E. Ditchburn, Indian Commissioner for British Columbia. RBCM Archives. RG 10, Vol. 11, 303. File 974/1-9.
I arrived at the Royal BC Museum in May, just as Mammoths! Giants of the Ice Age was opening. As I walked among the mammoth ivory, I considered the importance of ivory identification. Elephant ivory is regulated due to the threat of poaching. (For more information, check out the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES). I recalled flow charts, diagnostic tables, and diagrams, but could I identify ivory in practice?
Although most of our work is stabilization, Conservation has a small store of supplies for restoration, including ivory piano key veneers. I compared these with a souvenir piece of mammoth ivory to see if I could differentiate between elephant and mammoth. The mammoth ivory displayed very clear Schreger lines, crisscrossing patterns visible in cross section, which are only present in proboscidean ivory. I thought I would finally be able to use Schreger lines to distinguish between elephant and mammoth. Elephant Schreger lines cross at an angle greater than 115°. Mammoth Schreger lines cross at an angle less than 90°. More information on how to measure Schreger lines can be found in CITES’ Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes found here.
Schreger lines in mammoth ivory
I took five angle measurements from the mammoth ivory and determined a Schreger angle of 92°. This favoured mammoth, as expected, but is technically in a gray zone. Schreger lines are not always conclusive and often not visible on art objects.
There are many ivory substitutes including other animal products and plastics. I found an unidentified piece of “ivory.” It had a different texture and heft and “felt” like plastic to me. I tested my hypothesis using a variety of methods, starting non-destructively.
Ivory has a wide range of fluorescence including bluish white while plastic ivory substitutes fluoresce dull blue. Everything fluoresced bluish, but I couldn’t confidently characterize the colour beyond that. I moved to a static test that I found in Eva Halat’s Contemporary Scrimshaw. I rubbed the ivory samples and unidentified “ivory” with wool and touched them to small polyester fragments. According to Halat, artificial materials retain more static charge than ivory. The unidentified piece picked up and held the fragments … as did the mammoth ivory. Confused, I tried again. Upon closer inspection, I realized the mammoth ivory was coated. The very glossy surface had brush strokes. This may also explain why fluorescence was inconclusive.
I moved to the destructive “hot pin” test in which a red-hot metal pin is held against the sample; this test is NOT for museum objects! The pin produced small dark burn marks on the veneers. In contrast, the pin sank into the mystery sample, melting the surface. This was dramatic confirmation that the sample was plastic.
This testing could not have been performed on museum collections, but it gave me some hands-on experience for the next time I am presented with “ivory.”
Result of the hot pin test on ivory piano key veneers under magnification. The pin created shallow, charred-looking indentations in the surface.
The result of the hot pin test on the mystery sample under magnification. The pin melted a deep recess in the surface with blackened edges.
Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation Program 2016
Prior to each show a one hour U-matic tape began recording for the entire hour. It was swapped out at 10AM for a 30 minute tape. At the end of the show, they were labeled by the date and recording order. If special guests or events occurred during the show they were identified for possible future use.
One such note even used Webster’s famous phrase to identify the cue .
The Royal BC Museum is in the process of digitizing a large portion of these shows. Part of the process involves editing the original one hour and thirty minute videos and combining them into a cohesive whole.
No-one tended to the original recordings while the show was on the air. Because of this, the recording included the off air time as the commercials were airing. In most cases, sound engineers turned off the stage microphones. On occasion they were turned on for a brief time to check sound levels and the like. In other cases, upcoming video segments or title cards were cued up for use in future segments of the show.
The Royal BC Museum maintains digital master copies of the entire recordings as part of the Archiving process. Making these shows available to the public involves an editing process which removes the dead air time (where nothing is recorded on the original video) while ensuring that the on air portion, as well as the material recorded during the commercial breaks, is captured in its entirety.
One example that shows how helpful this can be is in the episode that ended the 1981-1982 broadcast season. The 02 Apr 1982 show begins with an hour long interview with Premier Bill Bennett. The final segment of the interview begins with Jack Webster smiling at something before he takes a telephone call for the premier. The off air recording shows what the cause of the smile was.
This was in preparation for the final part of the show which can be seen here.
Another example where knowing what happened off air is useful occurred during the lead up to Expo 86. As a corporate Sponsor, BCTV was closing each Webster! Show with a “Number of days to go” countdown. It appears the recording of the announcer used for this particular day’s segment was unavailable. This clip shows the preparation and result.
You can now watch an “ever expanding list” of Webster! episodes which includes “never before seen or heard” “behind the scenes” parts of the show. Simply visit the Royal BC Museum YouTube channel and click on the Webster! Playlist.
*Officially donated by Jack Webster Productions Ltd. and British Columbia Television Broadcasting System Ltd. – acquisition notes.
On June 23, 2016, students from the University of Victoria’s department of Education partnered with our Learning Department at the Royal BC Museum for a gentle takeover of the museum galleries. The goal was to look critically at the existing galleries, and ask the questions ‘where do I fit in, and what can I actively do to make for a more inclusive space?’
Sarah Lazin, a Learning Program Facilitator at the Royal BC Museum, came along to see what was going on, and this is her report:
A raggedy bear with no eyes. Two pairs of dancing shoes. A roll of hockey tape.
Items with no obvious value or relationship were carefully grouped together and labelled, resting upon tables that had been turned into makeshift museums. A group of fourth-year education students from UVic circled the displays, adjusting their exhibits and reading out the backstories crafted for each artifact.
They arrived at the museum, slightly confused by their instructions (or lack thereof). Each person had brought with them an item of personal significance – but why would a well-loved teddy bear be of importance to the provincial museum?
After spending time in the galleries, their task became clear. The students were to intervene in the museum’s way of storytelling by adding or taking away from the exhibits. They could use the items they brought to tell new stories, though they weren’t required to. Their interventions revolved around central questions that struck them during an exploration of the Human History floor.
“Where is the science section?” One group asked. “And where are the women?”
Another group noted the lack of music and of people.
“Where do immigrants fit in? Where do Ifit in?”
The museum had long since closed to visitors; these questions reverberated throughout each room. The students broke into groups based on which of these questions resonated with them the most. They dispersed into the gallery, armed with empty photos frames, markers, and curiosity.
Some interventions were bold: one group donned suspenders and caps, and would perform tap and swing dance routines for visitors passing by – adding a human element to the gallery they felt was sorely needed.
Others were subtle: one group decided to offer visitors a choice as to which photograph should replace an out-of-place piece of art. Another group hung photos of the LGBTQ community from each decade from 1900 to the present alongside that decade’s respective fashion display, fighting the systematic erasure of certain groups.
Theodore, the teddy bear, found himself left on the gallery floor, covered by a plexiglass case. The story of a migrant family, written in both English and Spanish, reminded visitors of the exhausting process of leaving everything behind in search of a new home, and everything that was lost or left behind in doing so.
After working on their interventions well into the night, the students headed home. They returned early the next morning, to put the finishing touches on their projects and prepare themselves for the waves of approaching visitors.
The museum opened and so the students waited. Slowly at first, visitors trickled into the gallery, unaware that the students were listening to their conversations and gauging their reactions to the interventions.
Some stood to facilitate their projects: one group dressed as scientists and challenged preconceived notions of gender and ‘appropriate’ work in decades gone by. This group, among others, asked questions to visitors, explaining why they were in the museum and gathering feedback directly.
Other interventions stood alone, posing questions for visitors to think about as they wandered through the gallery.
At 11am, the interventions quietly disappeared. Suspenders and caps were removed, photographs were taken down. The soon-to-be educators left the museum as they had found it, chatting to each other about unconventional storytelling, disrupting hegemonic accounts of the past, and the value of alternative educational spaces.
This paper deals with the definition, categorization and distribution of labrets, or lip plugs, and gives a regional synthesis of their history as known from both archaeological and ethnological studies on the Pacific Rim, from the Gulf of Georgia region in Canada to northern Japan.
Small fragments of woven material were found along with other items in a burial cave site on Gabriola Island in 1971. The Burial remains and associated artifacts were brought to the (then) Provincial Museum to protect the material that was being removed by unknown persons.
Cloth made from the woven seed plume of the Fireweed plant (DhRx-28:13; accession 71-233). (Grant Keddie photo).
Artifacts found in the cave included bracelets of copper and brass, shell pendants, a stone bead, a green glass wire wound Chinese made bead, a woven rattle head and bark matting, in addition to the small fragments of unidentified woven material. This assemblage of material suggested that the woven material likely dated to around the late 18th to early 19th century.
In 2001, the Snuneymuxw First Nations and the Royal B.C. Museum held discussions for the repatriation of their ancestral remains from a number of archaeological sites, as well as 460 boxes of soil samples and faunal material – mostly from the Departure Bay and Duke Point sites. A ceremony was held at the Royal BC Museum and at the final re-burial ceremony at Nanaimo on October 20, 2001.
During the repatriation process, C-tasi:a – Geraldine Manson, of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, brought a group of elders to the Royal BC Museum, to examine the artifacts to be reburied. The elders held discussions among themselves and agreed that they would allow for small fragments of woven material to be kept for future examination to determine what they were made of.
Microscopic view of seed and plume fibres found in the piece of woven cloth (100X). (Grant Keddie photo).
I examined this cloth fragment under a 200X power microscope with the intent of trying to find hair samples that could be identified as either from dog or mountain goat. The latter are well known to have been used in making several types of blankets. But there were no examples of hair to be found.
What I did find was a mass of tiny plant-like fibres and many tiny seeds. Using our Museums comparative plant and seed collection, I was able to identify the seeds as those of the common fireweed plant, Epilobium angustifolium.
Epilobium angustifolium seeds and plume from RBCM herbarium collection (400X). (Grant Keddie photo).
I surmised that the fibres must be from the plume (the fluff) of the fireweed plant. This proved to be the case even though they were of different thicknesses. It turns out that the fibre thickness varies with the amount of water that the plant has during it active growing stage.
Microscopic View of masses of seed plume fibres in the piece of woven cloth (200X). (Grant Keddie photo).
What is significant about this find is that this cloth fragment is the first and only example of clothing made entirely out of the plume of the fireweed and not just a mixture with other raw material in the clothing construction.
Fireweed plants (Grant Keddie photo) The Early
The Early Ethnographic Accounts
In the ethnographic literature it is important to see if statements about plant use are coming from First Nation advisors who have personal experience with the use of fireweed and not just statements by writers repeating the information that previous ethnographers had received.
Myron Eells collected information in the 1870s and 1880s from First Nation advisors who would be knowledgeable about traditional practices, based on their personal observations, from the early 1800s. In speaking about Puget Sound in general and specifically including the Squaxin, Klallam, Skokomish and Twana, Eells notes that: “Fireweed (Epilobium). The cotton-like down from the seed was formerly used in making blankets” (Eells 1985:52). Eells indicates that there are three kinds of blankets: “One was made of dog’s hair, geese or duck down, and the cotton from the fireweed. These were twisted into strings and woven together” (Eells 1985:122).
Edward Curtis, recorded from his First Nation advisors (some of whom were born as early as the 1832 to 1850 period) that the Klallam on the Olympic Peninsula and North Strait Salish speakers on the south end of Vancouver Island “used on special occasions a robe woven from a mixture of down with the hair of goats and dogs and with certain vegetal products. The down of ducks, geese, and gulls, the hair of dogs and mountain goats, and sometimes the cottony fibre of dead fireweed blooms and cattail spikes, were taken in varying proportions and thoroughly mixed by beating and stirring vigorously with a paddle. The resultant fibre was then twisted into loose, fluffy strands, ready for the weaving” (Curtis 1913:44).
Curtis’s statements are confirmed by Erna Gunther’s Quileute and Cowlitz First Nation advisors, in 1924-25, who had never seen a woman weaving a mountain goat blanket, but: “Much more common were blankets made of the fireweed cotton mixed with feathers of seagulls or ducks”. These were pounded together and spun using a spindle whorl (Gunther 1927:221).
It is fascinating to see the ingenuity of the Snuneymuxw First Nations in producing a quality cloth with the very fine seed plume of the fireweed by itself. It is likely that this practice was more wide-spread than previously believed.
Curtis, Edward S. 1913. Salish Tribes of the Coast. The North American Indian. Vol. 9, pp.175, Norwood, Mass.
Eells, Myron. 1985. The Indians of Puget Sound. The Notebook of Myron Eells. Edited with an introduction by George Pierre Castile. Afterword by William W. Elmendorf. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington.
Gunther, Erna. 1927. Klallam Ethnography. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology. 1(5):171-314, University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington.
This was a likely scene around Victoria, British Columbia for a 300 year period between 11,700 and 10,900 years ago when an open parkland environment provided habitat for herds of bison. A subsequent cold period saw their disappearance from Vancouver Island.Grant Keddie photo.
Large animals, such as mammoths, mastodons, horses and camels that roamed North America near the end of the ice age are referred to as mega-fauna. Why these large animals went extinct has been widely debated but answers are beginning to emerge.
New information is showing the answer is more complex than previously thought. Both climate change and human hunting play a role at different times in different places.
This was a likely scene around Victoria, British Columbia for a 300 year period between 11,700 and 10,900 years ago when an open parkland environment provided habitat for herds of bison. A subsequent cold period saw their disappearance from Vancouver Island.
Expanding and Shrinking – Habitat and Genes
Before the appearance of humans on the northern landscapes we see that ecosystem stability for animal species generally persisted over long periods of time. During repeated sudden climate changes over the last few hundred thousand years of the Pleistocene (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) animal populations had the ability to disperse across the landscape to shrinking refugia during harsh times and expand back to increasingly more favourable habits during good times. During cold periods, when the sea level was lower by as much as 150 meters, the Beringian continent was as wide as the Canadian Prairies.
The evidence for shrinking environments is seen in the reduction of genetic diversity in large animals such as mammoth, mastodon and bison. Grass loving animals of the far north were displaced with the expansion of boreal forests during the onset of warm periods. Boreal forest loving mastodons disappeared 70,000 years ago from large regions of the north with the advance of colder climates and the return of an open tundra environment. By the time humans appeared on the scene mastodons only lived much further to the south.
Animal populations were often drastically reduced in numbers, before sub-populations made a comeback. This pattern of population reduction and expansion happened especially during rapid warming periods. The appearance of humans in the region may have destabilized this pattern of population regeneration by restricting the movements of animal populations.
Humans likely interrupted the ability of mega-fauna sub-groups from connecting with each other. This would be especially true if humans were concentrated on regular migration routes between or living on resource rich areas used by the animals. The concentration of large game animals in smaller regions would make them more susceptible to predation from carnivores and humans.
Some mammal species whose ranges straddled the length of Beringia became extinct on one continent, but not the other, with the rise of sea level at the end of the Pleistocene. Examples are the horse (Equus caballus) and Saiga antelope (saiga tatarica) that survived only on what became the Old World side of the Bering Strait.
Humans co-existed for several thousand years in eastern Beringia – the area now including Alaska and the Yukon. During this time mammoths and horses disappeared but muskox, bison and caribou survived.
Further south large animals were faced with rapid environmental change and increasing human and carnivore predation. In the American Southwest mammoths experienced a warm and dry climate that would have made their seasonal movements more predictable and more vulnerable to predation. Large scale predation of mammoths and mastodons is often associated with a culture called Clovis that was only around for a short time period of 300 years from 13,200 to 12,900 years ago. The Clovis culture is recognized by distinct types of spear points. Other cultures before and after the Clovis culture also hunted mammoths, but our knowledge of these cultures is still developing.
The megafauna diversity of North America and Eurasia was considerably reduced around the time of the transition from the ice age to the more recent Holocene period after 11,700 years ago. By this time the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) became extinct in many regions in both North American and the Eurasian continent. The last mammoth survivors on Wrangle Island northwest of the Bering Strait disappeared only 3700 years ago when we see the first evidence of human occupation of the Island.
For a few years now I have known of European Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) along the back of Borden Mercantile here in Victoria. There are adults and yearlings in spring, and by late summer, many newly hatched lizards can be seen running around in old pallets and in the rubble behind the store. My student Kelsey also let me know that European Wall Lizards could be found along rock retaining walls at 1000 McKenzie Avenue in the same general area as Borden Mercantile. The first lizard I saw at Borden Mercantile dates back to 2014.
Obviously I needed to explore and find out whether these were isolated introductions, or part of a larger population at the Quadra-McKenzie intersection. When my wife and I are picking up garden supplies at Borden Mercantile, I don’t get much time to explore for lizards. We have a 3-year-old who keeps us busy. It was hard to find the time to wander around the region at the Quadra Street-McKenzie Avenue intersection to see how far the lizards had spread. Until now.
The Google Earth image below shows the result of an afternoon’s exploration (Monday April 25th, 2016). Yes – I went for a walk and did some “lizard watching”. The original locations I knew about are in GREEN. The RED dots are new.
The Saanich municipal yard is crawling with lizards – so that begs the question – did wall lizards arrive at the municipal yards first, and then spread to Borden Mercantile? It seems likely since the Hartland Landfill and Saanich itself is now infested with these invasive lizards. We’ll never know how the lizards travelled to this area. Perhaps they were stow-aways on trucks that move between the Hartland Landfill and the municipal yards. They could have been dropped there inadvertently by homeowners dumping lizard infested garden waste. Who knows. But the fact is, this area now has a firmly established population. In a short afternoon’s walk I saw juveniles from last year, adult males and females, and plenty of gravid females – so the annual population boom will happen again as this year’s eggs hatch.
The lizards also are easy to find along the isolated rocks and bedrock outcroppings along the Lochside Trail. Perhaps that trail and the ditch that runs through the Saanich municipal yards will serve as dispersal corridors. It is almost a straight line along the Lochside Trail to Swan Lake Nature Center – I wonder how long it will be until that nature reserve is overwhelmed by invasive lizards?
Whenever we receive new specimens at the RBCM, we hope to have enough collection data to make the specimen valuable to science. The bare minimum we need is the date collected, a description of the collection location, and if you have latitude and longitude for the collection site – GREAT. Our Mammal and Bird Preparator was sorting through some of the newer specimens in the receiving freezers – and this label stuck out:
There’s the date, a location, even a cause of death – a drowning victim.
That’s a source of mortality that someone should study – in-ground pools as a man-made source of wildlife mortality. I remember seeing a Barn Swallow trying to swoop low and drink from a pool on a still summer day. It lost track of the surface and “landed too low” (if I remember my WWII aviation slang correctly). It actually did an end-over-end into the pool when its beak dug too deep into the water’s surface – and since we were in the yard, we were able to save the bird.
But I digress.
A key feature of a specimen label is clarity. I am just as guilty as anyone else in our modern day rush-rush society – and have scribbled labels much to fast. The above label is great – it looks like 49°48’06.148″W, -119°30’15.217W – or is that North? Woah – 119°N? The earth must be doughnut shaped… I remember a student giving a lecture on cod when I was a grad student and she said that Arctic Cod (Boreogadus saida) ranged to 95° North. Could it be true? Is the Earth doughnut-shaped and its coordinate system goes beyond 90 North?
Old museum labels also suffer from the same problem – before we printed labels, we relied on perfect handwriting to make sure that 100 year old labels would still make sense. When the pen fades, it can be a real challenge to decipher the original content on an oily bird label. Signatures are easy to figure out – they usually show each researcher’s distinctive flare. But a lazy 6 or a 9 can look like a zero, a faded 7 can look like a 4, a 1 like a 7, a Z like a 2, etc…
To all citizen scientists – please write your labels as clearly as possible or print them out on your home computer. Our collection’s scientific value is totally dependent on your data.
Yea – I know this specific label is detailing a location in Upper Mission at 49°48’06.148″N; 119°30’15.217″W – but if the N and W were obvious on this label, we’d have not had such a chuckle. It does however, highlight how handwriting can seriously change the interpretation of a label.
It is always fun (as a sci-fi fan) to find things in the RBCM’s collection which take me away from tasks like fish vat inventory, to allow a brief respite in geekism.
Sure there are simple things – like finding specimen 2187 and making the nerdistic reference to Finn’s stormtrooper number and Princess Leia’s jail cell. In the vertebrate collection, 2187 is the catalog number for a Columbian Ground Squirrel collected in 1937, and a Mallard Duck from 1915. There is no reptile or amphibian with that number – the highest catalog number in the herpetology collection is 2007. There’s also no fish with that number; fishes have complex catalog numbers which reflect the year the specimen was collected, the sample lot in that year, and the nth species in that specific lot. I plan to simplify the fish catalog numbers – so eventually there will be a fishy 2187 and it will have a fin.
But in January, while sitting with my head in a vat of fishy alcohol, counting far too many flatfishes, I found a few little gems that made me snicker. The same cannot be said for my volunteer – she just rolled her eyes – and said “Nerd” (or something like that…).
The following photos are of some flatfish I found in vat 16. This Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias) is number 7 of 9 in its respective sample (980-00573-004). Cue the snickers from the Trekkies. Resistance is futile.
Another fish, the Pacific Sanddab (Citharichthys sordidus) – the genus is pronounced Sith-a-rick-thees – Yes, it’s a Sith-fish… it has a dark side and a light side… and the Star Wars fans go wild with excitement. Smiling now? It just goes to show that with nerdy humour, a little dab’ll do ya.
Yes, there are days where work is frantic and the day flies by – no complaints there. Then there are days where 4:30PM seems like a lifetime away. On those days, doesn’t matter where you work – little moments of levity go a long way. Nothing beats a slow but productive day punctuated by silly humour. Life is too short to be serious all the time. Seriously.
I did not expect this much attention when we developed the prototype Pocket Gallery here at the RBCM. Who’d have thought that the Assfish would go viral. This morning (January 19, 2016), I received an email from Dr. Andrew Gates of the SERPENT Project, Southampton, with a video of a live Assfish from 2601 meters off Africa’s east coast.
Now we can see the fish in its natural habitat – swimming lazily over a soft substrate – until it was startled by the ROV/submersible.
At this time of year, many of us are looking for presents and if you are like me, you might be debating should you buy something fun or something educational? This kind of question comes up all year round when you work in a museum or science centre and you are developing interactives and you consider in the use of ‘interactive’ are we privileging the physical at the cost of the intellectual and emotional?
Pine and Gilmore (1998) define experience as something that is memorable and personal. Memorable and personal experiences are those that include high levels of customer participation and the connection. In addition, “experiences, like goods and services, have to meet a customer need; they have to work; and they have to be deliverable” (Pine & Gilmore, 1998, p. 102).
If you switch the word “audience” for “customer” could this be the mission for the public program department at a museum? The use of the physical can go hand in hand with the development of the intellectual and emotional. Roth and Jornet (2014) concur when they write “ experience … integrates the physical-practical, intellectual, and affective moments of the human life form that interpenetrate each other” (p. 106).
The best way to integrate the physical within the museum is by the use of interactives. “Museum exhibits not only engage visitors and help them to construct meanings, they usually also reference the larger world of cultural subject knowledge. The represents the part of the component that Dewey called ‘interactivity’, which… has breadth and depth and needs to be considered in discussing experience” (Hein, 2006, p. 193).
In his description of a museum interactive, Shea (2013) urges us not to sacrifice entertainment for education when in fact “enjoyment causes the visitor to positively engage with the objects and therefore to develop an interest in learning about the technology that makes them work, producing a desire to discover just how exactly they do it”. This quest for meaning-making is what Roth and Jornet (2014) emphasize about Dewey’s (1938) definition of experience when they say “the most important among the attitudes to be developed in and through experience is ‘the desire to go on learning’” (p. 116).
Having fun at an interactive does not automatically diminish the potential of educative experiences, if anything, it is an important ingredient.
Pine, J., & Gilmore, J. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 97–106.
Hein, G. (2009). John Dewey’s ‘wholly original philosophy’ and its significance for museums. Curator, 49(2), 181–203.
Roth, W.-M., & Jornet, A. (2013). Toward a theory of experience. Science Education, 98(1), 106–126. doi:10.1002/sce.21085
Shea, M. (2014). The hands-on model of the internet: Engaging diverse groups of visitors. Journal of Museum Education, 39(2), 216–226.
Thanks to my UBC Masters of Museum Education cohort for asking this question. Learn more about the Masters of Museum Education at UBC here Applications for 2016 close in March.
Whether we notice or not, we rely on natural cycles for our very existence. While many pay scant attention to nature, it provides life-support services (food, timber, clean water, flood control, pollination, fresh air) as well as spiritual functions (serenity and beauty)(Heal et al. 2001).
Only in Science Fiction can you find a planet with plenty of food and air but no green-spaces. Where does that atmosphere come from? Is all the food shipped in from other planets? Call me crazy, but I’d rather be on the 4th moon of Yavin (it looks strangely like the Yucatan region).
The stability of our planet’s ecology is based on diverse ecosystems. Even seemingly barren habitat, as found in alpine lakes, is far more complex than first glance suggests. In these low-productivity (oligotrophic) lakes there can be complex communities of predatory and grazing zooplankton, as well as a diverse assemblage of algae and microbes.
At home in my urban yard there is a lot of diversity – and we’d like to attribute that to our lawn-removal plan. A complex environment – even if only a veggie garden, should attract more wildlife. This last weekend (November 8th) we had a Wilson’s Snipe hang around, in addition to the usual birds like the Golden-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos that forage in our garden on a daily basis. We estimated about 30 birds on the food forest this morning – Juncos, Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a Towhee – but not a single bird on the nearby lawns. It made me wonder what we could do for North Americn bird populations if everybody abandoned the concept of a lawn and grew a garden that was far more complex and full of food.
We also get a few mammals in the autumn – Grey Squirrels, Norway Rats, Raccoons, and Mule Deer – actually they live year-round in our neighbourhood. We get the occasional Cougar as well, but I have never seen one. The Cougars must be after the Mule Deer, Eastern Cottontails and domestic cats that are allowed to roam free. Predator-prey interactions are commonplace even in urban environments. I have seen many people walk by oblivious to life-and-death “dog-fights” between Cooper’s Hawks and small passerine birds. These interactions add richness to our communities and can make a short stroll very exciting.
Photo by Jeannette Bedard.
During these grey rainy winter days (or snowy days elsewhere in Canada), it is hard not to daydream about summer, or a tropical get-away. But even in the daily rush to and from work, you can admire the resilience of nature – from Equisetum poking through newly patched sections of sidewalks in Victoria, to a Common Redpoll adding its dash of colour to a frosty prairie hedge. Take the time to appreciate nature as it prepares for the shortest days of the year.
Redpoll photo by By Cephas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Heal et al. 2001. Protecting Natural Capital Through Ecosystem Service Districts. Stanford Environmental Law Journal 20: 333-364.
Taractes asper – the Rough Pomfret – is a fish you don’t meet every day. I have to admit I had a song by the Pogues running through my head when I made up this blog title. The Rough Pomfret looks exotic – and feels it too. Each body scale has a small crest, and the combined effect makes this fish feel almost like a rasp-file or pine-cone.
Drawing by Norman Eyolfson, from the first specimen discovered here in BC.
This fish is a brown to blue-black colour and ranges from near the surface to 550 meters depth. The dark colour suggests to me that they are a deeper-pelagic fish that perhaps migrates to shallower depths to feed at night – but very little seems to be published on eastern North Pacific specimens.
They are widely distributed from a single record near Kodiak Island, Alaska, south to southern California, and west to Japan. Here in BC they are known from scattered records published by Peden and Ostermann (1980), and Peden and Jamieson (1988).
The RBCM records of Taractes asper (with data) are from the following locations:
52°N, 131°W – 1st found in BC (RBCM 979-11058) (Peden and Ostermann 1980)
We have another 7 cataloged specimens that appear to lack any information on when and where they were collected. We’ll have to find them in the collection and see if there is any information on the specimen labels themselves. If these 7 lack any information, then they will be deaccessioned and offered to university collections as teaching specimens. I can’t waste space on specimens with no information.
This new one was dropped off this week by Scott Buchanan from Archipelago Marine, with thanks to their marine observers program. It is now fixing in formaldehyde and will eventually be stored in ethanol. It came aboard the Viking Enterprise, October 5th, 2015, at 50°25.91’N, 128°37.16’W, from west of Quatsino Sound at about 250 meters depth.
Normally we photograph the left side of a fish – it is the picky scientific standard. But in this case the right side was in better shape, and since this is an informal publication, I thought I could stretch the rules. For a Stormtrooper, I can be quite rebellious.
It joins the 11 others in the RBCM Ichthyology collection, and helps flesh-out what we know about the diversity and distribution of fishes here in our coastal waters. This Google Earth image shows where Taractes asper has been taken in BC waters. It also is known from one location in Alaska and so the species appears to be continuously distributed, but rarely collected.