The village that vanished: Cordova Bay dig unearths signs of thriving W̱SÁNEĆ village

The village that vanished: Cordova Bay dig unearths signs of thriving W̱SÁNEĆ village

An archaeological dig in Cordova Bay is wrapping Wednesday. The project brought together University of Victoria archeological students and W̱SÁNEĆ speaking people to dig up pieces of the past from the once-thriving village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE (pronounced Tel-eech).

What they found paints a picture of everyday life a thousand years ago.

“The ewes we have over there are what we think are a longhouse,” said Darian Claxton, a member of the Tsawout First Nation.

Emerging from deep in the ground are artifacts dating back more than 1,000 years.

“This one was probably used for fishing, likely made of animal, mammal, bone,” said Kaia Carr-Meean, a third-year UVIC Archaeology undergraduate student.

Tools like knives, harpoons and fishing hooks have been unearthed from Agate Park in Cordova Bay. Alongside tools, researchers are finding food remains like seashells, fish bones, sea lions, deer, and even elk bones.

“Everywhere we’re looking, we’re finding evidence from a life from a thousand years ago,” said Dr. Brian Thom, an anthropologist at UVic.

In 2008, 350 artifacts and the remains of 14 individuals were uncovered during excavations for a waterfront home. The carbon dating from those items goes back 1,000 years.

This dig went deeper to find a longer history, which may help weave together what’s become a forgotten history.

Thom says Spanish naval maps from 1792 show two longhouses at the village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE. The village is also where the South Saanich Douglas Treaty was signed in 1852.

But sometime between 1860 and 1913, the village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE, vanished.

“We’re really here helping Tsawout answer some questions they’ve had about this village site and about their history in Cordova Bay,” said Thom.

Victoria Times and Daily Colonist stories from the 1940s through to the 1960s show dozens of remains of First Nations ancestors were discovered during the construction of homes and roadways.

Human remains discovered in 2021 on Cordova Bay Road were determined to be ancestral.

Before colonization, oral histories paint the picture of a busy, prosperous village with 200 people in two longhouses, with the bay filled with canoes.

Through this dig, some Tsawout members have found out they are the direct descendents of those who lived in the vanished village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE.

“I actually have some family ties to this village site,” said Claxton. “My auntie Belinda’s mother, Elsie Claxton, was born here. I’m very excited to see the carbon dates. To be able to put a timeline and see how long ago this village was active.”

Meanwhile, Tsawout First Nation grapples with their erasure from an important village site, and the South Saanich Douglas Treaty was signed there, which took their land but uniquely didn’t offer the Tsawout Nation reserve land in return.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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