#2 The Mecca of B.C. is Friendly Cove at Nootka Sound
"At long last the people of Canada have suitably marked the spot where British history on the North-west Pacific Coast had its real beginnings" -- H.N. Sage
January 20th, 2014
On Wednesday, August 13th, 1924, His Honour Walter Cameron Nichol, Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia, unveiled at Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, a memorial tablet to the British navigators, Captains Cook and Vancouver, and also to the Spaniards who between 1789 and 1795 held possession of Friendly Cove. This memorial tablet and cairn is one of the first to be erected in Western Canada by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Until now the only memorial at Nootka Sound has been the one placed there by the Washington University State Historical Society, but at long last the people of Canada have suitably marked the spot where British history on the North-west Pacific Coast had its real beginnings. To His Honour Judge F. W. Howay, of New Westminster, B.C., the representative for Western Canada on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, is due the credit for securing the erection of the new memorial at Nootka.
The site chosen for the cairn is striking in the extreme. It is on a small rocky island which rises precipitously from the Pacific and guards the entrance to Nootka Sound. A more romantic situation could hardly have been chosen. Looking seaward from the cairn one obtains an uninterrupted view of the Pacific, stretching westward as far as the eye can see. On the landward side is a magnificent panorama of rock, water, and forest. The Indian village of Friendly Cove, situated less than a quarter of a mile away, occupies the centre of the picture, and behind are forest-clad hills rising in the background to lofty mountains. The cairn is a solid structure of uncut stones, a pyramid, 11 feet high, on a cement base 7 feet square. The bronze tablet, which has been placed on the seaward side of the cairn, bears the following inscription:
Nootka Sound, discovered by Captain Cook in March 1778.
In June, 1789, Spain took possession and established and maintained a settlement until 1795. The capture of British vessels in 1789 almost led to war, which was avoided by the Nootka Convention, 1790.
Vancouver and Quadra met here in August 1792, to determine the land to be restored under the convention.
Judge Howay arranged that the date of the unveiling of the memorial tablet should coincide with that of the arrival at Nootka of the Princess Maquinna, of the British Columbia Coast Service of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the officials of the company allowed the steamer to remain at Nootka Sound for an extra half-day in order that ample time might be provided for the ceremony. Mr. W. R. Lord, the proprietor of the Nootka Cannery, rendered every possible assistance and most kindly furnished the scow and tug used on the occasion. Through the kindness of Major Motherwell, Fisheries Commissioner, H.M.C.S. Malaspina, of the Fisheries Protection Service, was present at Nootka and took place in the proceedings. The British Columbia Historical Association, the University of British Columbia, the Grand Lodge of the Native Sons of British Columbia, and the Lady Douglas Chapter of the International Order of Daughters of the Empire, all sent representatives who were present at the unveiling.
The Princess Maquinna left Victoria, B.C., on the evening of August 10th and proceeded through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the broad Pacific. Early in the morning of August 13th she dropped anchor at Nootka Cannery, about 2 miles distant from Friendly Cove. The Malaspina had already arrived from Alberni, bringing Mr. A. W. Neill. M.P. for Comox-Alberni, and also Major Motherwell. At 9 am the Lieutenant-Governor with Judge Howay and a large party from the PrincessMaquinna hoarded the Malaspina and proceeded to Friendly Cove. A general invitation had been extended to the officers and passengers of the Princess Maquinna to be present at the ceremony, and the result was gratifying in the extreme.
Just as the Malaspina steamed into Friendly Cove, two canoe-loads of Nootka Indians were seen pushing off from the village. As they came nearer there could be heard rising from the canoes a monotonous chant of three notes timed to the paddle stroke. It was a song of welcome and goodwill to the white men. The crew of the first canoe was composed of men, that of the second of women. All were in holiday attire and had added an aboriginal appearance by staining their faces red with the juice of a native berry and by wearing head-dresses of interwoven green fir twigs. The men’s canoe drew nearer, the chant rising and falling in regular cadences. It was partly in English, for the oft-repeated word “hail” could he clearly distinguished. In the centre of this canoe was Chief Jack, the second chief of the Nootkans, his head concealed in a war-mask, a grotesque bird with a huge beak. A leader, seated in the bow, beat time for the singing, holding in his hands sticks which had white feathers attached to the ends.
The “klootchmen,” or Indian women, came in the second canoe. Prominent among them, easily distinguishable by her purple skirt, was Mrs. Napoleon Maquinna, wife of the head chief of the Nootkans. The women were also singing, following the lead of a prima donna who sat in the bow. They paddled more slowiy than the men, but their musical efforts were, if anything, superior. Both canoes circled the Malaspina, the crews keeping up a vociferous welcome. Then Michael Brown, second chief of the neighbouring Clayoquot tribe, a third cousin of Napoleon Maquinna, rose from his place in the men’s canoe and commenced a long harangue in his own native tongue. His booming voice at once commanded silence and his flashing eyes compelled attention. While he spoke in a language unintelligible to the majority of his hearers, it seemed as if the mists of time had rolled away and that we were back again with Captain Cook on the deck of the Resolution looking down at the canoes of the Nootkans which surrounded the ship.
Michael Brown may have been conscious of the illusion he was creating, for he swept his hand shoreward towards the village and appeared to be inviting us to land. At the conclusion of his speech he added the following simple words in the white man’s tongue:
I am glad to welcome you to the country of the Nootkans, you who have travelled so far. Chief Maquinna wishes me to welcome you. I am glad this is my privilege.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor made a brief reply, stating how much he appreciated this unexpected demonstration of welcome, and then Mr. Lord spoke a few words in Chinook, the lingua franca of the Pacific Coast Indians. Hearty cheers were given for the Indians by the party on board the Malaspina and the incident, as charming as it was spontaneous, then closed.
It was now time to proceed to the scene of the ceremony, and the guests disembarked from the Malaspina to the tug Waterfall and its attendant scow, which were waiting in Friendly Cove. Mr. Lord took command and in a few minutes we had passed around Lighthouse Island (San Miguel) to the little strait which separates it from the islet which bears the cairn. Unfortunately the state of the tide did not permit us to land and the ceremony took place on board the Waterfall and the scow.
Exactly at 10 a.m. Judge Howay announced that the proceedings would commence by the singing of the first stanza of Kipling’s “Recessional.” The refrain “Lest we forget, lest we forget! “seemed perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the occasion. Judge Howay then in an able and eloquent address showed why the Historic Sites and Landmarks Board had decided to mark this spot. He told of the difficulties encountered in choosing the site, and paid tribute to all those who had co-operated with him to make this occasion memorable. He thanked the Nootka Indians for their willingness to place at the Board’s disposal the quantity of land necessary for the erection of the cairn. He then dwelt at some length upon the broader international aspects of the Nootka Sound controversy, leaving it to the later speakers to fill in the details. He pointed out that it was here at Nootka Sound that Spain, in 1790, received the first blow which commenced her downfall as a colonial power in America. He claimed that Britain based her case on two principles, now universally recognized but then still unsettled, that discovery not followed by colonization did not confer sovereignty over any place or region and that the seas should be open to the commerce of all nations.
The next speaker was Mr. A. W. Neill, M.P., who in the name of the Parliament of Canada expressed great satisfaction at the erection of the monument. He then spoke of Captain Cook, of the meeting of Captains Vancouver and Quadra at Friendly Cove, and referred to the famous Indian chief Maquinna, during whose lifetime these stirring events took place. Mr. Neill presented to the Lieutenant-Governor several photostat reproductions of scenes at Nootka painted during the Spanish possession. These photostats he had obtained from the Public Archives at Ottawa.
Professor W. N. Sage, of the University of British Columbia, then dealt with the subject of the Spaniards at Nootka and read extracts from the Spanish account of the formal act of taking possession of Friendly Cove by Martinez in 1789. Martinez, with all the pomp and ceremony so dear to the heart of a Spanish grandee, proclaimed the sovereignty of the King of Spain over the territory of Nootka, erected a cross, and bestowed upon the port the name of “Santa Cruz de Nootka.” High mass was celebrated upon a newly erected altar, the first Christian service to take place upon the Pacific Coast of Canada. A fort was constructed by the Spaniards on San Miguel and a settlement formed on the site of the Indian village at Friendly Cove. Maquinna and his warriors had to find another habitation.
Mr. John Forsyth, Provincial Librarian and Archivist, told of the handing over of Nootka to the British in 1795, and contrasted the simplicity of the procedure on that occasion with the elaborate ceremonial of Martinez in 1789. The details of this ceremony in 1795 have not been known until recently, when the Archives of British Columbia obtained from the Foreign Office a copy of the report of Lieutenant Thomas Pierce, the British representative on this occasion. From this report Mr. Forsyth read illuminating extracts, and told of how the British flag was run up over the Spanish fort and then both nations abandoned the settlement.
The tug and the scow were now anchored once more at Friendly Cove, the last two addresses having been delivered on the return journey to the Cove, and the Indians on shore were loudly welcoming His Majesty’s representative with lusty “Klahowyas.” This part of the ceremony was brought to a close by singing “God save the King,” and the party then disembarked.
The Lieutenant-Governor was the first to step ashore and was met by the Rev. Father Charles, the priest in charge of the mission at Friendly Cove, who conducted him to the village where Chief Napoleon Maquinna was waiting to receive him. This chief, who is a descendant of the great Maquinna, was arrayed in his robes of office—worn over his European clothing—a grey blanket adorned with white feathers, and a most interesting wooden head-dress in the form of a bird. He shook hands with His Honour with all due solemnity, and then made a long speech which was translated by Father Charles. His Honour made a suitable reply. A lengthy conversation then took place between the Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Napolcon, Father Charles acting as interpreter.
At the conclusion of this conversation, Mr. Victor B. Harrison. Grand Factor of the Native Sons of British Columbia, delivered an address to Chief Maquinna and the assembled Indians, speaking “as a native son to native sons.” Mr. Thomas Deasy, who was for fourteen years Indian Agent at Masset, on Queen Charlotte Islands, among the Haida, translated Mr. Harrison’s address, sentence by sentence, into Chinook. This speech of welcome seemed to he much appreciated by the Nootkans.
The Indians now invited the white men to inspect their village and to witness some native dances which were performed in one of the large wooden houses. By this time the party had broken up; some of its members had gone off to visit the historic church, and some had made their way to the old graveyard where the great chief Maquinna lies buried. Still others were attempting to purchase totem-poles and baskets from the Indians, who proved themselves as keen at a bargain as their ancestors had in the days when the fur trade was in its glory. But time was passing and soon the tug and the Malaspina announced in unmistakable language that the hour had arrived for the party to return to Nootka Cannery.
As the tug and barge were moving out those assembled on board sang “O Canada” and then gave three cheers for their Indian hosts. Cheers were also given for Judge Howay and for Mr. Lord, to whose untiring efforts the success of this historic ceremony at Nootka Sound was so largely due.
From the Second Annual Report and Proceedings of the British Columbia Historical Association, 1924.
This article is part of an ongoing series of looks into the Rear View Mirror of the past that is presented by our colleagues at British Columbia History, the province’s most venerable literary periodical, dating back to 1937. As the journal of the B.C. Historical Federation, BCH is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. It provides feature-length articles as well as documentary selections, essays, pictorial essays, memoirs, and reviews relating to the social, economic, political, intellectual, and cultural history of British Columbia. British Columbia History began in 1923 as the Annual Report and Proceedings of the British Columbia Historical Association (now the British Columbia Historical Federation). From 1937-58 it was published as the British Columbia Historical Quarterly. From 1965-2005, it was called the BC Historical News. The BCHF is fortunate to have the support of the UBC Library in digitizing the back issues of its publications and supporting the stewardship of these important links to the past.
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