Sahsima and Chikawich – Cairns marking Songhees places in Oak Bay

In the Greater Victoria area there has recently been a concerted effort to start recognising First Nation’s geography and history with permanent markers. An interesting blog about the ones in the City of Victoria is at this page. In the  municipality of Oak Bay, marker cairns have appeared for the past two years or so. Last weekend one showed up near my home, and last year a similar one was installed close by. These cairns are nicely done with a bronze inscription describing the Songhees information for a nearby location, and a different bronze plaque in each one designed by Charles Elliott of the nearby Tsartlip Nation. This video gives some information about Elliott’s work and shows the wide range of public art that he has contributed to this area.

The Sahsima cairn is brand new and at the east end of Penzance Road next to the Chinese Cemetery on Harling Point with the rock it refers to on the beach beyond.

The bronze inscription reads:

Sahsima, meaning “harpoon”, was the original name identified by Songhees elder James Fraser for the point where the Chinese Cemetery is located: Hayls the Transformer, with spirit companions, Raven and Mink, came by in his canoe, frightening away the seal the harpooner had been stalking. The harpooner rebuked them, Hayls turned him to stone as he stood there poised to throw the harpoon, saying “You’ll be the boss for seals … from Sooke to Nanaimo.”

Oak Bay Heritage, Artwork by Charles Elliott, Temoseng, BC 150 Years, 2008.


When I was at the stone a few weeks ago seals were busy hunting along the shoreline, frequently splashing right in front of Sahsima as you can see in the next picture.


The Chikawich cairn is about a year old and is found at the Marine Scenic Drive lookout on King George Terrace, at the edge of Trafalgar Park.


The inscription on this monument reads:

To the east (left) lies McNeill Bay, called Chikawich, meaning “big hips”, where an early indigenous village was located. Later the people of Chikawich moved to Gonzales Bay to the west (right), and still later to Cadboro Bay, about 8km north by canoe. These people were the ancestors of Mary, the wife of King Freezy, notable Chief of the Songhees from the 1840’s until 1864.

Oak Bay Heritage, Artwork by Charles Elliott, Temoseng, BC 150 Years, 2008.


The Sahsima story has become known to non-Songhees residents in the past decade or so. I think this came about as part of the story telling associated with the Chinese Cemetery when it became a National Historic Site.  And while the story is known in an abbreviated form that lacks cultural context, it still has struck a chord with local artists and is inspiring their work. There are some fantastic photographs of Sahsima, such as here, here and here. Also, the rock has inspired paintings and other creative work which retells the story in engaging ways. If these cairns do serve this creative cross cultural purpose, and thereby help to intertwine cultural values, mutual respect and sensitivity between communities, then they will serve a powerful purpose.

Because of this potential to make a difference, it is disconcerting to find almost nothing about these markers on the internet. The Oak Bay municipality website does not mention them, though it does use a picture of a third one that is near to these two in McNeill Bay – it is on the cover of their 2010 Annual Report. I assume Oak Bay is participating in this program in part to give some recognition to First Nations and to help repair the municipality’s indifferent record on preserving and acknowledging aboriginal heritage. If so, their website needs to catch up because the heritage sections are still devoted to settler heritage, it makes no attempt to acknowledge the previous >10,000 years of human occupation of the region, and provides no information about these cairns. How many are there? Are more planned? Where are they located? What are they about? Who participated in their design?  There was a newspaper article about the program in the Oak Bay News last year (a free paper distributed to all houses), but the link to that article no longer works, and worse, if you want to see the image of the artist or to read the front page with that story and image on it, you now have to pay for a copy.

One can learn a bit about Songhees geography at their web pages, including more on Harling Point.


Edit: I have found several more of these cairns which are featured in separate posts. The list below includes all of them, and I will add to this list, or provide links, if I find more and post about them. The map is in google maps and it too will be updated as I add to the list.

  1. Map – link
  2. Sahsima – Harpoon Rock, Chinese Cemetery – this post.
  3. Chikawich (King George Terrace lookout) – this post.
  4. Chikawich and Tliwaynung – Beach Drive by Kitty Islet – link
  5. Spewhung – Turkey Head, Beach Drive – link
  6. Sitchanalth – Willows Beach Park seawall – link
  7. Sungayka – Loon Bay – link
  8. Thaywun – Bowker Creek – link
  9. Anderson Hill Monument – link
  10. The Chekonein Family – Cattle Point – link




29 thoughts on “Sahsima and Chikawich – Cairns marking Songhees places in Oak Bay

  1. Hello there,
    Thank you very much for all this work you have done putting this information together. I found it very interesting and think that it is important to recognize indigenous history. It’s good to see Victoria is doing more but as you say they aren’t advertising it much. Let’s hope they get there.


    • Thank you Kelly – thanks so much for coming by. I think that the Oak Bay has now got some information about these markers on their website, but it did take a very long time.


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    • Hi suzicate – welcome to my blog and thank you for you kind words. These cairns are pretty good ones in the world of cairns, and that is because of Charles Elliott’s contribution (though the setting for several of them is terrific). Elsewhere in Oak Bay you can find the identical stone structure with a bronze plaque on top, but nothing on the front and they are quite boring to look at, once the words have been read. There are, however, some very interesting cairns or markers in this area. For instance, the link in the first paragraph of this post will take you a blog about some visually really interesting markers in Victoria, which is the neighbouring municipality to Oak Bay.


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