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guide about people booklet Hul'q'umi'num'



Bill Angelbeck, Archeologist and Anthropologist,
Douglas College
49.064423, -123.157649

The centrality of Canoe Pass in Hwlitsum traditional territory

Bill Angelbeck

For millennia, Coast Salish peoples have lived in the Lower Mainland of what is now British Columbia dating back to the earliest periods, occupying the area once the massive glaciers retreated over 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene. More specifically, the area of Canoe Pass and Brunswick Point are the traditional territory of the Hwlitsum First Nation, a Hul'q'umi'num-speaking people. Historically, they were known as Lamalchi, or Hwlumelhtsu,1 which is the name of another of their villages located on Kuper Island to the west. Other villages and seasonal camps were located on Galiano and other southern Gulf Islands. The Hwlitsum also had camps and settlements along the Lower Fraser River, for accessing lakes and montane regions. One of their main villages, Hwlhits'um (Hwlitsum,) was located along Canoe Pass, at Brunswick Point on the southern arm of the Fraser River. The name of the village and of the people are one and the same, Hwlitsum, which in itself strongly indicates the ties of people and place. (See Map)

Their village at Canoe Pass was centrally located within their traditional territory. Given the nature of the Delta, when tides or floods may quickly raise the water levels, the Hwlitsum recount that these plankhouses were built upon stilts. These were rectangular post-and-beam structures, to which they attached cedar planks for the walls and roof above an earthen floor; wooden platforms and floors would also have been added. Although shed-roof plankhouses were more common among the Coast Salish, some Salishan groups such as the Nuxalk in Bella Coola also built houses on stilts, some of which were visited and photographed by G. Dawson in the early 1900s.

The Hwlitsum were distinctive for living amidst and knowing well both the Lower Mainland and the southern Gulf Islands as their village along Canoe Pass allowed for ready access to both regions. In interviews, Rocky Wilson,2 former chief of Hwlitsum, detailed that the time to depart for the Gulf Islands was during low tide,when the Fraser River waters emanated furthest into the Salish Sea. As he put it, the flow of the Fraser River waters would “push” you towards Galiano Island. Conversely, to return from the Gulf Islands to Canoe Pass, the optimal time was high tide, when the sea was pushing back the waters of the Fraser.

Over the several millennia of occupation, Hwlitsum maintained a highly mobile lifeway, living at various settlements and camps throughout their traditional territory. The late chief Rocky Wilson recounted their “seasonal cycle” from their oral histories, beginning with spring.3 A new year began with spring salmon and eulachon (or candlefish) entering Canoe Pass as they headed further up the Fraser River. With summer came the runs of sockeye salmon, which provided more than enough to eat and smoke for storage. In fall, Hwlitsum fished the chum and coho runs of salmon that appeared in the river, and hunted for deer and elk; some would even hunt mountain goat in the upper mountain reaches. Traditionally, most would head to Lamalchi village on Kuper Island to settle in as a base for the winter months——a time of visiting, feasting, potlatching, and ceremony throughout Coast Salish territory and the Northwest Coast.

The traditional seasonal cycle included numerous other species that were fished, hunted, or gathered. Being in the lower Delta of the Fraser meant that Hwlitsum were also optimally situated for annual migrations of numerous bird species that gathered seasonally throughout the area. This included ducks, Mallards, geese, and brants, in addition to pheasants that were common year-round. These seasonal forays of the Hwlitsum were not just for foods, but involved material resources, whether for lumber, stone tools, or paints. Healers sought medicinal plants or minerals to treat a range of minor to major ailments.

They also engaged in forms of cultivation of landscapes to enhance the productivity of certain species, whether it involved constructing clam gardens in the islands, burning forest margins to augment the growth of berry bushes, or tilling areas to augment the productivity of wapato, a regional starchy root that was cooked in the manner of potatoes. Such activities, which intensify the presence of a species, question the notion of whether “hunter-gatherer-fisher” is an appropriate characterization of their economic lifeway.

For each species harvested, it was necessary to know their seasonal availability and their distribution in the territory. It was important as well to know which tools were optimal for hunting or processing the catch or harvest, and how to make those tools. They taught the children in their Hul'q'umi'num language: the name of the plant and its various parts, ways of identifying it, ways of distinguishing it from poisonous look-alikes, and any stories related to the species as a part of a broader education. In this way, their seasonal rounds were also a time for educating youth with the breadth of knowledge and wisdom of their lifeway and culture.

After the British gunboat, the Forward, shelled their village at Lamalchi on Kuper Island in 1863, many moved predominantly to Canoe Pass as their main village, taking their name from this place, Hwlitsum. Still, they continued their tradition as a predominantly fishing people, even as settlers began to inhabit the region. Eventually, a cannery was built at Brunswick Point, and many Hwlitsum incorporated this wage work into their seasonal rounds.

In recent times, Hwlitsum families have continued to gather at Canoe Pass, during the peak of salmon fishing season, to process fish and can salmon brought in by the fishers. In a series of interviews conducted with Hwlitsum, community members have described such times with fondness.These gatherings were central to their identity as Hwlitsum people. While done in a contemporary context, it was no different from the same basic activities that had been done by their ancestors for generations over millennia throughout their traditional territory.

1 As reported by Florence James in Glavin, Terry. (2005). "This Haunted Place," The Georgia Straight. "Hwlumelhtsu" means "lookout place.”

2 Raymond “Rocky” Wilson, Bruce Miller, Bill Angelbeck, and Alan Grove (2009) The Hwlitsum First Nation's Traditional Use and Occupation of the Area Now Known as British Columbia. Hwlitsum First Nation. Archives, Ladner, B.C.

3 Raymond “Rocky” Wilson (2007) “To Honour Our Ancestors We Become Visible Again.” In Be of Good Mind: Essays on the Coast Salish, edited by Bruce Granville Miller. UBC Press, pages 131-38.