Rock Art of the Inner Coast of BC

Part I: The Discovery Islands

The intrigue for me is the obscured stories they allude to. Little has been recorded either in oral traditions or by anthropologists. Speculation suggests they represent lineage myths and prerogatives. Some of the images–especially those found at a great distance from any known village sites–are thought to mark fishing grounds. Others wonder if these are the marks of shamans or the visualizations of those who entered the spirit world to gain new powers.

Walsh Cove, in Waddington Channel has over a dozen pictographs. Some are easily recognizable as humans or fish. Others, as in the crossed lines and fallen V-shapes at the bottom right are a puzzle. Interestingly, these latter two images are also found in very faint pictographs at Granite Point, on north Quadra Island. Some have suggested the cross lines might represent fish traps. Whatever it was, the form would must have had a known meaning to the creators of both.

Walsh Cove, in Waddington Channel has over a dozen pictographs. Some are easily recognizable as humans or fish. Others, as in the crossed lines and fallen V-shapes at the bottom right, are a puzzle. Interestingly, similar forms to these are found in very faint pictographs at Granite Point, on north Quadra Island.Are the crossed lines fish traps, as some observers have guessed? Whatever its meaning, it communicates info that was recognized over a wide region.

The richly imagined supernatural world of the Mainland Comox people, who once dominated this area, gives this notion credence. The other world, removed by a thin veil, was ruled by beings who inhabited the sky, land and sea. A mythic serpent and an eagle-like bird that brought thunder and lightening could wreak havoc upon humans or bestow incredible strength and prowess. It was possible to meet these beings during sleep, as the human soul traveled, or through the more determined effort of rigorous purification, fasting and bathing. However the encounter happened, it took tremendous courage not to flee or shun such a visitation, for there was much to fear. The serpent could knock its beholder unconscious and cause bleeding from every orifice. On the other hand, it could endow heightened powers as a hunter or fisher and give songs and other talismans of magic guardianship.

Is there a similarity between this crossed line picto at Granite Pt on north Quadra Island (top image), to the one at Walsh Cove on Redonda Island?

Is there a similarity between this crossed lines in this picto at Granite Pt on north Quadra Island (top image), to the one at Walsh Cove on Redonda Island?

Obscure as these messages may now be, they were a common form of communication. There are many examples throughout the inner coast between Vancouver Island and the Mainland. Some are easily recognizable as humans, fish and birds. Others are more abstract, and to add to the intrigue some of the latter are repeated at sites many kilometers apart.

Another picto from Granite Point, characteristically faint at this site. This one suggests a feline face?

Another picto from Granite Point, all of which are very faint at this site. Does this one suggest a feline face?

The pictographs shown in this photo essay were made from red ochre, a powdered iron oxide that was acquired through trade with people at Bella Bella area and in the Rocky Mountains at what’s now Paint Pot Park. The earth was mixed with chewed salmon eggs to create a smooth oily paint that can last from a century to up to 1,300 years, depending upon the site.

Pictographs are often found on particularly dramatic rock bluffs in remote areas away from the sandy beaches and clam beds of villages and resource sites. Some, like Walsh Cove in Waddington Channel, have many images that appear to have been created over a span of years.

This panel of faces in Whiterock Pass between Read and Maurelle Islands includes a female sized hand print above the bottom right side image.

This panel of faces in Whiterock Pass, between Read and Maurelle Islands, includes a small hand print, exactly my size, above the bottom right side image. (No. I didn’t paint this picto!)

British Columbia’s archaeology sites branch has a record of all known pictographs and petroglyphs but there are few books on the subject. The Campbell River Yacht Club has begun documenting pictographs available as a CD. They’ve completed a fairly complete record of those in the Broughton Islands area, off north Vancouver Island. Beth and Ray Hill’s book Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest is out-of-print but available through book dealers and libraries.

Have you got some images or thoughts to add to the record?

Map courtesy of the 2014 Discovery Islands guide, published by www.discoveryislands.ca.

Map courtesy of the 2014 Discovery Islands guide, published by www.discoveryislands.ca.

A petroglyph to the south of the government wharf at Manson's Landing on Cortes Island. This is one of the few associated with a family legend, an account of a young man who goes on a spirit quest to redeem himself and comes back as a skilled hunter. See 'Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands' by Kennedy and Bouchard for the story of Tl'umnachm, p.50-51.

A petroglyph to the south of the government wharf at Manson’s Landing on Cortes Island. This is one of the few associated with a family legend, an account of a young man who goes on a spirit quest to redeem himself and comes back as a skilled hunter. See ‘Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands’ by Kennedy and Bouchard for the story of Tl’umnachm, p.50-51.

There are 54 petroglyphs on the beach below Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge on Quadra Isl. Some are no more than a collection of seemingly random peck holes. Was this  a reckoning system?

There are 54 petroglyphs on the beach below Tsa-Kwa-Luten Lodge on Quadra Isl. Some are no more than a collection of seemingly random peck holes. Was this a reckoning system?

Among my favorite pictograph sites in the Discovery Islands are on the stunning vertical rock face at the narrow entrance to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island.

Among my favorite pictograph sites in the Discovery Islands are those on the stunning vertical rock face at the narrow entrance to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island.

A fish or whale on the east coast of Cortes Isl, across from the entrance to Teakern Arm in Lewis Channel. Associated with it are a group of tally mark style lines, similar to some found in the entrance to Gorge Harbour.

A fish or whale on the east coast of Cortes Isl, across from the entrance to Teakerne Arm in Lewis Channel. Associated with it is a row of lines that suggest tally marks, as seen in other pictos. See images of Gorge Harbour, Cortes Island.