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Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Sea To The Sky

In the beginning there was water everywhere and no land at all. When this state of things had lasted for a long while, the Great Spirit determined to make land appear. Soon the tops of the mountains showed above the water and they grew and grew till their heads reached the clouds. Then he made the lakes and drivers, and after that the trees and animals.

-Mulks, 100-year-old elder of the Squamish Nation, dictated in archaic Coast Salish, 1896 (In The Salish People, vol. II, by Charles Hill-Tout)


If you had been living in the land we now call British Columbia about 30,000 years ago, you probably wouldn't have noticed the gradual weather change or been able to predict the awesome transformation that was about to take place. Plants similar to those in today's temperate forests carpeted the hills and river valleys. Animals roamed the forests, but many of them, like the mammoths, are extinct today.

Slowly but relentlessly the climate grew colder. Heavier and more frequent snowfalls built up expanding snowbanks. Small glaciers formed in hollows on the mountainsides. High up on the mountain peaks of the Tantalus and Coast ranges, existing glaciers spread downward, freezing the green hillsides. A new ice age was changing the face of the landscape, and glaciers from several mountain ranges would eventually join together to cover most of British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska, western Alberta and the northwestern United States under a massive ice sheet. Over the next 15,000 years, you could have watched great lobes of ice spill into the valleys and follow the routes of ancient river beds. A major glacier, about 2000 metres (6500 feet) thick, deepened and widened the valleys around the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers, then pushed through the river valley that is now Howe Sound. Streams of meltwater from the glacier carried sand and gravel to the fan-shaped plains that had built up in the Strait of Georgia, formerly an inland sea. Only the highest peaks, like the Lions and Whistler Mountain, appeared as islands above the massive ice sheet. Eventually, about 15,000 years ago, the area sagged under the weight of millions of tones of ice.

If you had been an observer, you would not have noticed the next gradual climate change as the glaciers began to melt and recede. The rasping tongue of the Howe Sound and Squamish Valley glacier pulled back from the abraded remains of low mountains - now islands named Keats, Anvil and Gambier - leaving its signature on scarred cliffs like the Stawamus Chief in Squamish and depositing rock and gravel in its wake.

When the ice had retreated as far north as what is now Porteau Cove, period slowed the melt for some time. Rock debris was released from the melting ice and built up a ridge or "sill" that formed a curve across Howe Sound. (Later, the ridge attracted rich marine life to the shallower water, which, in turn, attracts adventurous divers today who explore the underwater bounty.)

You would have heard the frigid landscape resounding with the boom of house-size chunks of ice splitting from the glacier and dropping into the encroaching sea. The splash of meltwater, eroding the ice's exposed surface, provided a continuous chorus. But the most spectacular display was yet to come.

The peak of a broad volcanic cone that reached above the massive ice field erupted into flame, as though in retaliation for the glacier's long suppression. The relentless force of fire fought the ice to herald Mount Garibaldi's birth. Avalanches of boiling lava, spitting sparks and flame from the intense heat, roared across the glacier, while dense clouds of steam and hot ash blotted our the sky. Rocks and ash billowed down the sides of the growing mountain dome, intermingling with the solid remains of cooled lava. Finally a cone made up of rocks and ash, enclosing an area of 6 cubic kilometres (1.5 cubic miles), stood triumphant above the smoke and flames.

Where fire and ice met, the lava and ash seemed victorious, blanketing large sections of the glacier, but the passive glacial melt and retreat claimed the final victory. As the supporting ice diminished, removing the foundation for the volcanic debris, tremendous rock slides thundered into the valley, carrying with them almost half of the existing cone. Today, about 26 square kilometres (10 square miles) of the Squamish Valley floor rest on a 91-metre-thick (300 foot) base of rocks and rubble that once formed Mount Garibaldi's western slope. The mountain is much less than its original height, at 2678 metres (8787 feet). It is the only known, major, Pleistocene age volcano in North America that actually built itself upon a glacier.

During the same period, another battle between fire and ice was taking place just north of Mount Garibaldi. It molded an unusual, flat-topped lava formation called The Table, which rises vertically several hundred metres above the valley floor. The volcano repeatedly spewed flaming lava into a hole melted in the glacier. Over time this built up a series of round horizontal sheets enclosed by ice walls, with lava flows solidifying around the sides of the sheets, like layers of pancakes dripping with syrup.

Throughout the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt from Squamish to Meager Mountain north of Pemberton, lava flows and rock, debris created mountains, lakes and unusual landforms-Black Tusk, Cinder Cone, Mount Price and Mount Cayley to name a few-that now attract thousands of hikers and climbers annually. Lobes of molten lava blocked a valley and formed a basin that now holds Garibaldi Lake. Other rivers of lava solidified against the ice near Rubble Creek Valley. The lava flows cooled rapidly as they met the cold barrier, forming steep cliff faces.' As the lava's heat melted the ice, more lava, like liquid wax, filled the vertical spaces. The result was a spectacular 500-metre (1640-foot) cliff that rises from the valley floor and barricades the water of Garibaldi Lake. This barricade partially collapsed in the 1850s, causing a dramatic change in the landscape just before the first white men explored the Squamish and Cheakamus Valleys.

Leaving some small glaciers high in the mountains, the Squamish Valley lobe of the ice sheet gradually disappeared. The weight of the ice had depressed the newly uncovered land by several hundred metres. As the ice melted and the water returned to the sea, you would have witnessed another spectacular display as icy saltwater poured inland over the depressed land, raising the sea about 200 metres (660 feet) higher than today's level.

About 10,000 years ago, when the land had finally regained its original height, an equilibrium was established and the water receded. Remains of sea life blanketed the ground and may still be found in fossils south of Squamish.

The tumult died. Peace spread over the mountains and islands, waterfalls and rivers. Seedlings hesitantly sent feelers out around the barren rocks. Lichens and mosses carpeted the ground. You would have seen forests of alder, willow, lodgepole pine and buffalo berry greening the hillsides. Much later, Douglas fir, western red cedar and other conifers reached for the skies - a rain forest was in the making. When the earliest white settlers visited Sea to Sky Country in the 1800s, they encountered the same types of soaring trees and lush mosses, ferns and bushes as had existed thousands of years before.

The First People


While the slow process of glacial melt was uncovering the land, the first pioneers entered British Columbia by crossing the Bering Land Bridge. Travelling slowly south along an ice-free route from the Yukon, hunting and gathering along the way, they established territories throughout North America. Archaeologists studying shell middens in and around Vancouver have dated native occupation there from as long as 9000 years ago. The culture of these people evolved into what we know today as the Coast Salish and Squamish nations.

The Coast Salish language, used by the Squamish people, is similar to that of First Nations people in Washington state, just south of the border between Canada and the United States. The Washington natives believed that the Squamish originated from the bands in that state.

They tell a story about some of their people who, on a fishing trip along the coast, were blown to Point Grey in a storm and settled there. In reality, some bands of adventurous hunters left their settlements on the upper Fraser and Thompson Rivers and, following valleys and streams, gradually worked their way southwards. Their stories of limitless game and fish spread back to other nomadic groups who were constantly moving in search of food. Some of them discovered the lush Squamish Valley and recognized it as the ideal location for their homes. Fish abounded in the lakes, rivers and ocean, game was plentiful, and the rich land provided roots and berries for food and cedar for their winter homes.

The Squamish territory eventually extended throughout Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet, from Gibsons at the southwestern end of the sound north to the Shovel Nose Indian Reserve on the Squamish River. To the east it reached Port Moody and the Indian River. Some believe Point Grey was the southern boundary; others feel that it stretched to Musqueam.

Over the vears, the Squamish people named many villages and geographical features around Vancouver, Howe Sound and the upper Squamish Valley, each descriptive of its locale. A legend about twin girls gave the name Chee-Chee, meaning twins, to the two peaks (now called the Lions) that can be seen from Vancouver. The bay at Gibsons was called Scjunk, meaning "a fellow is standing up and watching out (leaning against a big rock)," because a big rock lies on the shore at the middle of the bay. Port Graves on Gambier Island was known as Charl-Kunch, "(long) deep bay," and Passage Island, near Point Atkinson, was named Smismus-Sulch, "the waves go over it all the time."

A 1975 British Columbia Archaeological Survey uncovered evidence of several native camps or villages on islands in the Sound: on Gambier there were 19 sites; 5 sites on Keats Island; Bowen Island, 10 sites; Pasley Island, 7; Shelter and Hermit Islands, 1 each. Within the town of Gibsons, 10 sites produced artifacts. Shell middens, granite hammers, a basalt point adze and many chipped points showed where native people had lived and hunted. In 1981, the Worrall burial site at Gower point near Gibsons disclosed scattered remains of a native male, aged 20 to 30 years, likely prehistoric and probably part of a burial site.

Around the year 1800, at least 16 villages existed on the Squamish River within 40 kilometres (25 miles) of its mouth, but their inhabitants mainly used summer sites on Burrard Inlet or Howe Sound.

Within these boundaries the Squamish people pursued their daily activities, camping during the summer under light shelters made of woven mats or in huts made of slabs of cedar bark supported by poles. In winter they lived in roomy lodges consisting of a permanent post and beam framework enclosed by a removable cover of roof and wall cedar planks. The homes were parallel to the shore, near the water where the residents could beach their canoes. Each family in the local group occupied one section of the winter house. The wife, husband, unmarried children, older relatives and slaves shared their own fire, cooking and eating their personal food supplies separate from the others in the dwelling. The lodges provided cozy settings for songs, stories and spirit dances during the long, cold, wet nights. The same village sites endured for hundreds of years.

The Squamish men practised polygamy, and a chief often had four or five wives. The women prepared most of the meals, collected and dried berries for use in flat cakes, and dug edible roots using sharp sticks. After preparing the morning meal, the women swept out their dwellings with boughs, then, constantly busy, would weave mats, baskets and blankets while their children played noisily throughout the camp.

When the time came for a woman to deliver her baby, she would go out to a quiet spot in the woods where friends helped her to build a small tent of woven cedar mats, then assisted in the delivery. Babies' heads were permanently flattened by the pressure of cedar-bark pads in their cradles. This practice was important because a flattened head signified nonslave status.

During the winter the men hunted in the surrounding forests. In summer the families canoed to camps on English Bay and Burrard Inlet, where they fished and gathered berries. These were favourite locations for their traditional method of hunting ducks. In the evening the hunters prepared narrow, specially built, duck-hunting canoes by placing a cedar slab covered with mud across the gunwales of each one, then built a fire on top of the mud. At dusk they paddled silently, waiting. When the flames encouraged the ducks to investigate more closely, the hunter in the bow steadied his spear, attached to the end of a long pole. A sharp, expert jab and one more duck was ready for the coals.

The Squamish people treated salmon with great reverence. At the yearly First Salmon Ceremony, the children carried in the specially prepared fish. After everyone had eaten with solemn care, they followed a time-honoured ritual as they returned the bones to the water. They believed that the salmon lived in their own world as people, but appeared each year as fish to provide their flesh to humans. The Squamish smoked this staple food over alder or hemlock fires and were able to store it dried for up to two years, often having about a hundred salmon stored safely for the winter. It remained "hard as a bone." They soaked it in water before preparing it for eating.

The men also hunted and fished near their villages on the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers. The word "Cheakamus" means "basket catch fish" (or "salmon weir place") in the Salish language. During spawning season on the Squamish and Fraser Rivers, giant sturgeon weighing as much as 270 kilograms (600 pounds) succumbed to the fishermen's longhandled harpoons, which were connected to floats and lanyards."


One large settlement at Horseshoe Bay was a popular fishing locale for the Squamish who were attracted by the large number of smelts. In fact, the native name for Horseshoe Bay is Cha-Hai, which means "that peculiar sizzling noise, similar to that made when frying bacon in a pan, but which is made by myriads of small fish-smelts do it-moving in the water."

Sea otters did not come into Howe Sound, but the abundance of seals provided a good source of meat. As they slept just under the rolling surface of the water or on the rocks east of Bowen Island, the native hunters would approach quietly in their canoes and spear them. The subsequent celebration of the fresh catch involved a traditional cooking method. While their families waited in anticipation, the hunters would lay a seal across two logs, between which a small fire burned. As the hair scorched off, they turned the body over by holding the head and tail. This allowed for slow cooking. After the middle was done, they cooked the head, then the tail, the same way. A mouthwatering feast ensued.

Although the ocean and rivers provided their major sustenance, hunters also roamed the forests in search of animals for hides and meat. Large herds of elk in the forest bordering Point Grey and False Creek, and mountain goats attracted the hunters. Deer also were abundant, and the men tracked them with their dogs. Venison was roasted on an indoor fire. The cook pierced the meat with a sharp stick, then placed the stick upright in the earth, close to the coals. To boil meat they would heat rocks in the fire, place them in a cedar trough full of water, then add the meat. The women served the meat and vegetables on a large wooden platter about one metre (three feet) long. The family would sit around the serving platter on mats and low wooden blocks. They used stone knives and mountain-goat-horn spoons to eat.

A story, passed down through generations, told of a grizzly bear as tall as two men, killed by one of the hunters near the Squamish villages. The hunter out the grizzly in half and covered the door of his cedar house with the hide. As this happened before the coming of the white man, t e hunter must have used a spear or arrows, which made the accomplishment even more outstanding.

The natives' lives were not always peaceful and productive. The men sometimes fought with their northern neighbours, the St'at'ime (Lillooets), and defended their villages from bands of Tsilhqot'in (Chilootin) people and ferocious Lekwiltok (Ukeltaws) who would take slaves and massacre the rest of the village.

Farther inland, some of the St'at'ime people lived in the vicinity of Whistler, camping on the shores of Green Lake and the upper Squamish and Lillooet Rivers, but their main villages extended to the north and east of Pemberton. They hunted along the upper reaches of the Squamish, the Mamquam, and other rivers flowing into Howe Sound. Their relationship with the Squamish must have been reasonably friendly, since intermarriages were common enough that numerous St'at'imo families ha re atives among the Squamish tribe. Many St'at'ime wives settled with their Squamish husbands, and several families spoke the St'at'imcets language between themselves.

So time passed until the white man came, bringing gifts of clothing, food and hunting tools, and the horrors of smallpox and tuberculosis.

Captain George Vancouver arrived in 1792. Native tradition prophesied a calamity every seven years (measured by the changing phases of the moon and the passing seasons), and Vancouver's arrival coincided with a seventh year. The Squamish passed on to their children and children's children the story of Vancouver's special welcome. As his boats passed through the First Narrows, the natives paddled out to greet him in their canoes and threw clouds of white feathers into the air. The feathers settled like snowflakes on the water. This ceremonious welcome, plus the gifts of fish to the white men, convinced Captain Vancouver that the natives were friendly, but he could not have guessed their underlying purpose. As this was a seventh year, the Squamish were beseeching the visitors to have pity on them and their families.