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Summer field trip to the Fraser Canyon with the St’at’imc

I’m a library volunteer at MOA with a  particular enthusiasm for the archaeology of B.C. This summer, my daughter Jo recommended a book about the area that informed much of her own previous PhD research:People of the Middle Fraser Canyon : An Archaeological History by Anna Marie Prentiss and Ian Kuijt (UBC Press, 2012).

An earlier Volunteer Associates enrichment trip had taken a group of us to the rugged land of Keatley Creek pit houses with its wild horses and somewhat wild young archaeologists and we had glimpsed the drying racks for fish along the Fraser River. The book also talked about the even larger pit house site at Bridge River where upwards of 1000 people might have lived before it was suddenly and mysteriously abandoned. We then learned of the existence of a cultural tour offered by the local St’at’imc People (Xwísten Experience Tours) and decided to plan a trip.

We arrived in Lillooet on a Thursday evening in August after a visit to the excellent Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler and checked into the newly refurbished Reynolds Hotel where a huge storm rattled the windows in our zen-inspired room. In the morning though, the air was fresh and fragrant with the aroma of rain soaked sage as we met our St’at’imc guide Josh by the banks of the Fraser.

We drove first to the Bridge River pit house site with its myriad enigmatic circular depressions, each one a house. One is currently being excavated and another has been reconstructed for viewing. Josh from the local St’at’imc told us tales both archaeological and cultural: of overflowing resources, of trading and raiding parties from the hills and of ancient agreements and conflicts.

Back at the Six Mile Rapids at the confluence of the Bridge and Fraser Rivers, we stood alongside the deserted wind drying racks on the banks of the Fraser. The sockeye were returning in small numbers this year so the Band had closed the fishery. Such an absence of salmon would have been a calamity in the past. Perhaps that’s why the village site was suddenly abandoned all those years ago?

Josh, soon to begin university, had assisted with the fishery progressively from the age of four. He described different fishing techniques and pointed to the beach where Simon Fraser had landed to request help from the St’at’imc for his journey. Later we sampled wind dried salmon and watched a filleting demonstration while lunch was prepared for us at the Bearfoot Grill at the top of the hill. What a lunch. Salmon, rice, salad and the best bannock ever, followed by sweet whipped soapberries for dessert; all prepared by another impressive St’at’imc graduate with outstanding teaching and cooking skills who took the time to come and talk to us about native plants.

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It was a good trip with good people. I can highly recommend it.

Find the thesis paper that was partly informed by the featured title “People of the Middle Fraser Canyon” on cIRcle, the UBC’s digital repository (and a great place to find online research!)

Grassland Debates: Conservation and social change in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, British Columbia
by Joanna Isabel Emslie Reid

And don’t forget to visit the Audrey & Harry Hawthorn Library & Archives for more resources.

by Alison Emslie