The shíshálh have lived on the Sunshine Coast for millennia, benefiting from the rich resources of the sea and the rain-forest, while enhancing their wealth through strategic marriages to foster peace, goodwill and trade. With a population exceeding 25,000, their vast territory extended from Princess Louisa Inlet through the waters of Sechelt Inlet to their present community chálich (outside waters)
First Nations – Pulling Together
The shíshálh were semi-nomadic, travelling between their summer and winter camps, in large canoes much larger than the war canoe pictured above. A journey of over 100 miles would involve many days of hard paddling. During the winter months the clans would gather at chálich where they would celebrate large potlatches, often lasting several weeks and sometimes months, as a means of enhancing their strategic relationships.
Talaysay Tours and Sunshine Coast Tours, have joined together to offer the Sechelt Inlet Cultural Tour, providing visitors with an wonderful opportunity to learn more about the shíshálh culture and to explore this ancient waterway. Our tour began with a traditional song of ?imash (welcome) sung in a rich baritone voice by drummer Andy Johnson.
Shortly after leaving the Government Dock in Porpoise Bay, we passed by a small island, a site of significant religious significance to the shíshálh which our guide, Candace Campo, was able to share further with us.
We soon passed out of the settled areas of Sechelt, enjoying the immense beauty of Sechelt Inlet. We stopped again and were treated to another song, the story of a young warrior, inspired by a vision of a two-headed eagle, singing to the elders as they paddled their canoes toward chálich.
Candace shared stories of her own childhood, growing up on the shores of Sechelt Inlet, saying “when the tide is out, the table is set,” a reference to the rich marine life available for their food supply. She described how as a child she would be sent out with potato sacks to gather shell fish for the evening meal. As she and her brothers passed other families, they would share which areas had just been harvested to ensure that the habitat was properly managed.
With a keen eye for location, we were treated to a rare sighting of ancient pictographs, like this one, which is actually just around the corner from where I live. I’ve paddled past this cliff face more times than I can remember, without noticing this rock painting which has been there for centuries.
And here’s another one, much more intricate, and hidden to all, except those who know just where to look.
The shíshálh are currently collaborating with the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the University of Toronto to unearth the long-term history of their land. To date, the earliest artifacts recovered date from between 8,000-11,000 years with well over 600 archaeological sites to be carefully unearthed.
It is obvious that will be many more chapters to be told in this rich cultural history and the Sechelt Inlet Cultural Tour is a good place to begin. The tour is offered daily 2:30-4:30 and leaves from the Porpoise Bay Government Dock.