Sitchanalth – The Songhees History Cairn at Willows Beach, Oak Bay

As I noted yesterday, I sought and found more cairns in Oak Bay that mark Songhees geography and history. This is the sixth one that I am aware of. Maybe if I look, I will find more. Too bad that I have to hunt for them, but perhaps by the time I am done, other people will not need to look so hard.

Today’s cairn is at Willows Beach, the cairn itself is in Willows Beach Park very close to the tea room. I have updated the map to show the location of the cairn, which is about midway along a site that must extend over a kilometer of shoreline.

The monument marks the site of Sitchanalth, a major Songhees village that extends behind most of the sandy parts of Willows Beach and also encompassing land on the rocky headland to the south near Bowker Creek.

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The inscription on top of the cairn reads:

The indigenous people called Willows Beach Sitchanalth, which according to Songhees elder Ned Williams referred to the drift logs and trees lodged in the sand. The site was used for thousands of years, and longhouses once lined the entire shore. The people enjoyed a wide variety of sea life, deer, birds and shoreline foods. Ned’s father smoked salmon here.

Oak Bay Heritage,  Artwork by Charles Elliott, Temoseng,  BC 150 YEARS

Once again archaeological information is used in the inscription. In this instance there is a great deal more information available publicly, though much of it centres on controversy that arises when development overlaps with protected archaeological sites. If you care to search out that information, be sure to also read this blog post (and the two related ones in the same place) for some well-informed insight into these controversies – there is a lot of misinformation out there.

It seems from the exchanges that arise during controversies that ignorance is a part of the problem. These cairns in Oak Bay will educate the public and maybe in a small way could help reduce the conflicts that arise. The Sitchanalth cairn is the best placed to do so. Willows Beach is the most heavily used park in Oak Bay, and probably ranks second (behind Beacon Hill Park) in the Greater Victoria area. The cairn is placed at the busiest, albeit crowded to the point of clutter, part of this popular place and should be seen by many local people. The King George Terrace Lookout cairn is also heavily visited, though as frequently by tourists as locals.

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The picture below is looking along most of the Sitchanalth area. The north end of this place is near camera position, the south end of the village was beyond the large tree in the distance.

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10 thoughts on “Sitchanalth – The Songhees History Cairn at Willows Beach, Oak Bay

  1. Thanks so much for this blog. I grew up right alongside Willows Beach and the scenics you’ve included in this post are very familiar to me (you can almost see the roof of our old house – which is thankfully still standing and very well tended – in one of the photos). But of course I grew up ignorant of the amazing history of the place. In our growing up years, “history” for our neighbourhood started with the fire at the Willows Racetrack in 1944. I’m glad these cairns are being installed to finally tell some of the stories that we all should have learned long ago.

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    • Laurie – thank you for visiting and commenting. I really appreciate that local perspective – it is all too true that the average Oak Bay resident’s ideas of local history have a very shallow time depth. These cairns should make a small dent in those concepts, and I hope that there will be more recognition and education about BC’s “prehistory” in the years to come. There are so many interesting stories to learn about this area.

      Anyone that is interested in this topic should follow the Northwest Coast Archaeology blog – it has fascinating posts on old and recent archaeology, on the natural environment (this is one of my favourites which documents what must be one of the biggest waves in world history) and how it relates to the people who lived on the coast in the past and so many more topics. It is frequented by many archaeologists who share their knowledge in the comments of many of the posts. He has a “got to a random post” button which can easily consume half a day.

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    • In the early 60’s a friend of mine & I used to dig for artifacts on this islet.. We found a few things mainly bone fragments.. Our site was laid out in an orderly fashion & if I remember correctly we dug there for 2 summers. We would pedal our bikes there, dig for a couple of hrs then go home… Wonderful times.. Our midden was approx 3 ft deep & approx 6 ft long Although I don’t live in Vic any more I couldn’t happen to notice the statue that has been placed on our diggings. As I lived in Vic in the latter parts of the 70’s I would often go to the site & watch it slowly being taken over & it shallower & shallower My children were not really that interested. We did another “dig” in Esquimalt on the side of a hill. .Don’t remember where though 55 yrs passes very quickly. . ..

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      • Hi Dan – I am thinking you left a comment on my Willows Beach post, meaning to leave it on the Kitty Islet one? There was a University of Victoria dig at both places, long ago, so both have that kind of history. I am glad it brought back good memories for you.

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      • Hi Thank you for your reply. Actually, Kitty’s Cove would have been nice but I wasn’t sure if the message would have gone through. My friend eventually moved to Van & I lost touch of him. Also same fellow & I would bike to Sidney, we actually found fossils that were only found in Korea. All this happened in the early 60’s. Good memories, I don’t have anything remaining from our digs.. Was there last summer & saw the cairns. Nice to see at the time of our digs, of course there was nothing like that.. Was also surprised to see cairn & plaque at Willows beach.. oldigger 55

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      • Thanks for the memories! If you click on the links in these posts you will find the other cairns too, in case you are over this way again and in an exploring mood.

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  2. Pingback: Songhees History Cairn, Anderson Hill Park « burnt embers

  3. Thank you for sharing these cairns with us! Have you just started your blog? And, are you using Twitter to promote it too. It’s simply wonderful. And I would never have seen it without the tweet from UVic Anthropology.

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  4. Pingback: Sahsima and Chikawich – Cairns marking Songhees places in Oak Bay « burnt embers

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