Times Colonist

Des­e­cra­tion and re­birth on Mount Doug

How white set­tlers un­did cen­turies of pro­duc­tive farm­ing in only a few years

- NATHALIE CHAM­BERS, ROBIN ALYS ROBERTS and SO­PHIE WOOD­ING

Note from the pub­lisher: When Nathalie Cham­bers and her hus­band, David, first took over Madrona Farm, 27 acres in Saanich with a deep his­tory, they never thought their small-scale agri­cul­tural busi­ness would blos­som into an in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal act. Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food in­tro­duces read­ers to sto­ries of lost farm­land and bees sav­ing lives. It shows how sus­tain­abil­ity, ecosys­tems and bio­di­ver­sity tran­scend the para­dox of our own, man-made losses. This prac­ti­cal book teems with fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and facts. Sav­ing Farm­land will help us all sup­port lo­cal farm­ing and sus­tain­able land de­vel­op­ment so we can in­dulge in good eat­ing-for­ever. The fol­low­ing is an ex­cerpt from Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food.

Madrona Farm lies on the western slopes of PKols — or “White Head” — as Mount Dou­glas was orig­i­nally called in the na­tive lan­guage. Lo­cated on tra­di­tional lands that the Saanich peo­ple have stew­arded since their an­ces­tors gath­ered around the edges of melt­ing glaciers, PKols held spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance as a meet­ing place. From its 213-me­tre (700-ft.) head, dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies and na­tions ex­changed news, and viewed the weather, the sur­round­ing wa­ters and the peo­ple pad­dling home from nearby is­lands. They hunted and roamed freely. In those early days, Haro Strait on the east­ern side of PKols con­nected with Blenk­in­sop Lake on its western foot.

Grad­u­ally the sea re­ceded, re­veal­ing Blenk­in­sop Val­ley, graced with fer­tile soil. For thou­sands of years, na­tive peo­ples thrived in the area by lis­ten­ing to their el­ders. They learned how to iden­tify and treat each ecosys­tem with re­spect. They un­der­stood how to max­i­mize the avail­able di­ver­sity. They fore­cast the best win­dow for har­vest­ing and co­or­di­nated other sea­sonal ac­tiv­i­ties. Although they ma­nip­u­lated plants and their en­vi­ron­ments to pro­mote the growth of cul­tur­ally pre­ferred spec­i­mens, the peo­ple also worked with care to en­hance spe­cific plant com­mu­ni­ties. “Keep­ing it liv­ing” was their mantra.

Know­ing which bulbs were edi­ble and which poi­sonous, the na­tive peo­ples on the is­land man­aged ca­mas plots as sus­tain­able farm­ers do. For more than 2,000 years, they tended berry plots. “Burn­ing spe­cial­ists” care­fully timed burns to pro­duce more and bet­ter blue­ber­ries or black­ber­ries. Such burns en­sured re­pro­duc­tion, thus in­creas­ing yields of edi­ble roots in na­tive agri­cul­tural patches up and down the coast. They cared for hun­dreds of species of plants, from red cedars on hill­sides to tiny bog plants in river estuaries. They un­der­stood the im­mense mulching and restora­tive ben­e­fits of the salmon runs. They nour­ished the soil, us­ing spe­cial dig­ging sticks to aer­ate their pro­duc­tive farm­lands. They wel­comed the wild rose­hips af­ter the first frost. They cal­cu­lated when their favourite berries would be ready to pick and when it was time to greet dif­fer­ent birds as they flew back from mi­gra­tion. They un­der­stood the an­i­mals skirt­ing the bases of their favourite trees, and they knew how and why to preserve those same trees, as well as the ponds, lakes and rivers. The na­tive peo­ples traded in­for­ma­tion amongst their many cul­tures, so that over the cen­turies, their cedar bas­kets filled not only with food but also with cur­rent and an­cient knowl­edge of how to sup­port the habi­tat that so fully sup­ported them.

The Pa­cific Coast na­tive per­spec­tive on agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment rec­og­nized that the cre­ation of re­sources was al­ready com­plete. With na­ture al­ready in abun­dance — pro­vid­ing con­stantly ap­pre­ci­ated wealth — hu­mans “merely tend, nur­ture and re­spect­fully, thank­fully, take what is needed. Where peo­ple seek bal­ance and har­mony as a way of life, the earth and its re­sources be­come equal part­ners in an end­less cy­cle of re­spect­ful life.” The na­tive model, which thrived for thou­sands of years prior to Euro­pean con­tact, is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to cur­rent cul­ture, “which de­mands that hu­mans dom­i­nate the en­vi­ron­ment and profit from it.”

Un­til a lit­tle over a cen­tury and a half ago, na­tive cul­tures in the vicin­ity of mod­ern-day Madrona Farm thrived, as their deep un­der­stand­ing of the lav­ish land wove through ev­ery part of their so­ci­ety. Then Euro­pean and Amer­i­can peo­ple ar­rived to “set­tle” the land. In 1850, a se­ries of treaties was ne­go­ti­ated by Van­cou­ver Is­land’s gov­er­nor James Dou­glas, with lo­cal peo­ples and signed by lead­ers of the Songhees Na­tion, wherein na­tive lead­ers trans­ferred land ti­tle to the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany.

Called the Dou­glas Treaties, they in­volved 14 land-ti­tle pur­chases, with land ex­changed for money, cloth­ing and blan­kets. They formed the only treaties made with abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples in Bri­tish Columbia for nearly 150 years, un­til the Nisga’a Treaty in 2000. Per­haps the Songhees Na­tion signed the Dou­glas Treaties be­cause it had been as­sured the peo­ple would be al­lowed to “roam freely” over the tra­di­tional lands. The Saanich Penin­sula cost the com­pany £109, seven shillings and six­pence for the ap­prox­i­mate to­tal of 386 wool blan­kets, which the var­i­ous na­tive lead­ers pre­ferred to re­ceive in­stead of cash. How­ever, as Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia re­searcher Wil­son Duff men­tions:

“Why did Dou­glas not sign the treaties him­self? As agent of the com­pany and the Crown, he was one of the par­ties to the trans­ac­tions. He took pains to have the other party [the In­di­ans] make their ‘sig­na­tures’ and had his em­ploy­ees wit­ness them, but nowhere did he af­fix his own sig­na­ture. Why are all the In­dian X marks so reg­u­lar? It is not be­cause the doc­u­ments are copies, for it is clear from other in­di­ca­tions that they are the orig­i­nals. Could the an­swer lie in the man­ner in which the marks were made, per­haps with the In­dian just plac­ing his hand on the pen as Dou­glas made the mark?”

As the set­tlers took more and more ground, in­tro­duced al­co­hol and im­posed a new re­li­gion, they ripped the foun­da­tions of na­tive cul­tures apart. Rather than lis­ten­ing with re­spect to hon­our lessons they could have learned about how best to sus­tain both them­selves and the land, the new peo­ple chose only to force the na­tives to aban­don car­ing for the whole area and to con­fine them­selves to se­lected “In­dian Re­serves.”

When the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany logged PKols to build Fort Vic­to­ria in 1843, it de­stroyed the ma­jor­ity of enor­mous na­tive cedars that had prompted the colo­nials to bestow the lit­tle moun­tain with the name Cedar Hill. Dou­glas firs grew up to over­shadow the re­main­ing smaller cedars. How­ever, in 1889, the white set­tlers made a pro­nounce­ment. Hence­forth, this site, sa­cred to the lo­cal First Peo­ples, would be pre­served as a park — but it would be re­named Mount Dou­glas af­ter Queen Vic­to­ria’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Sir James Dou­glas.

The newly chris­tened Mount Dou­glas quickly lost its fer­til­ity. When its slopes eroded — first due to log­ging, then as a re­sult of three ma­jor fires fol­lowed by rain — the na­tive peo­ples had to re­bury the bones of their an­ces­tors. White set­tlers — not com­mu­ni­cat­ing with na­tive peo­ples and not seek­ing to un­der­stand their sur­round­ings — also de­stroyed a na­tive mid­den at the foot of the moun­tain, a place that had long been an im­por­tant all-tribes meet­ing cen­tre. Paddlers used to come to what is now called Mount Dou­glas Park beach from all over Saanich and the San Juan Is­lands for clam­bakes and cul­tural ex­changes. Af­ter such af­fronts to the moun­tain’s sig­nif­i­cance to abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture, re­cent ef­forts point to­ward re­claim­ing it. In the spring of 2013, Tsawout First Na­tion chief Erik Pelkey led a march up to the moun­tain’s peak to share sto­ries and rekin­dle aware­ness of its ori­gin.

De­spite their ig­no­rant ap­proach to abo­rig­i­nal knowl­edge, sa­cred sites and cul­ture, white set­tlers in the mid-1800s did work valiantly within the limi- tations of their Euro­pean cul­tural un­der­stand­ing to cre­ate a pro­duc­tive food base on the land they had taken over. Farm­ers grow food on this south­ern tip of Van­cou­ver Is­land 12 months a year be­cause the area is in a per­fect rain shadow, sur­rounded on three sides by Wash­ing­ton’s Olympic and Cascade Moun­tains, Van­cou­ver’s Coast Moun­tains and the Van­cou­ver Is­land ranges.

Vic­to­ria is si­t­u­ated in a cli­mate much like that of the Mediter­ranean, hav­ing only 92.7 cen­time­tres (36.5 in.) of an­nual rain­fall com­pared to Van­cou­ver’s 145.5 (57.3) or North Van­cou­ver’s 252.2 (99.3). The land around Mount Dou­glas also con­sists of nine dif­fer­ent types of soil, in­clud­ing white beach sand, which pro­vides a rich min­eral base for top-qual­ity pro­duce. A bio­di­ver­sity hot spot, the area around Mount Dou­glas is part of the Garry oak and as­so­ci­ated ecosys­tems — host­ing 137 dif­fer­ent pol­li­na­tors. Food lovers find all of this within a 12-minute drive from down­town Vic­to­ria.

 ??  ?? Author Nathalie Cham­bers stands by one of the deer fences sur­round­ing Madrona Farm. Her new book Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food in­cludes a his­tory of the Saanich Penin­sula, the ti­tle for which was bought by the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany in 1850...
Author Nathalie Cham­bers stands by one of the deer fences sur­round­ing Madrona Farm. Her new book Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food in­cludes a his­tory of the Saanich Penin­sula, the ti­tle for which was bought by the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany in 1850...
 ??  ?? Coast Sal­ish First Na­tions led a march to top of Mt. Dou­glas to re­name it PKols in 2013. The ef­fort comes more than 160 years af­ter set­tlers logged the moun­tain, which re­sulted in eroded slopes and in­creased sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to fires.
Coast Sal­ish First Na­tions led a march to top of Mt. Dou­glas to re­name it PKols in 2013. The ef­fort comes more than 160 years af­ter set­tlers logged the moun­tain, which re­sulted in eroded slopes and in­creased sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to fires.
 ??  ?? From Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food, © 2015 Nathalie Cham­bers, Robin Alys Roberts and So­phie Wood­ing, Rocky Moun­tain Books.
From Sav­ing Farm­land: The Fight for Real Food, © 2015 Nathalie Cham­bers, Robin Alys Roberts and So­phie Wood­ing, Rocky Moun­tain Books.

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