Hupacasath communications director Jolleen Dick and Tseshaht elected Chief Councillor Cynthia Dick unveil a carving by Vancouver artist Jesse Toso at Tyee Landing.
Photos by Shayne Morrow
The site of the Tseshaht winter village of Tlukwatkwuu7is was the scene of an unveiling ceremony hosted by the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) and the City of Port Alberni on July 21.
Known informally as the “Somass Strip” development, Thursday’s opening marks the second phase of an initiative to create public access along the Port Alberni waterfront, starting at Harbour Quay and proceeding along historic Tseshaht territory along the foreshore.
Tseshaht elected Chief Councillor Cynthia Dick gave a brief welcoming address.
“[PAPA CEO] Zoran Knezevic came to see me after the [Tseshaht Council] election and filled me in on the project,” Dick said. “My part is to be here today and remind everybody of our traditional territory.”
Tseshaht historian Darrell Ross provided Ha-Shith-Sa with a backgrounder on the area.
The new public space, named Tyee Landing, is located off Harbour Road between Fishermen’s Harbour and the Somass Division cedar mill. A new strip of roadway (with parking) runs off Harbour Road to the entrance to Centennial Pier.
According to Ross, the location was roughly the site of Tlukwatkwuu7is, which was the principal winter settlement of Tseshaht, and included a wolf ritual beach, where the sacred ceremony (memorably painted by the late Tseshaht artist Dr. George Clutesi) was performed.
To the north was Nuupts'ikapis, roughly on the Catalyst paper mill site, and to the south, T'iipis. Both were seasonal villages, and Nuupts'ikapis also featured a wolf ritual beach.
The marine foreshore was completely appropriated by the forest industry by the early 20th century, and all trace of Tseshaht life was simply plowed over.
Acting mayor Jack McLeman expressed his hope that the revitalization of the area would increase awareness of the Nuu-chah-nulth history.
“I knew there had been something here. But the only name I knew for it was ‘The Dike.’ I worked at Somass for years. We stacked lumber here,” McLeman said.
“That’s why I am happy about the new name. ‘Tyee’ is a Nuu-chah-nulth word that came into the Chinook [working] language, and people know it means something big, whether that is a grand chief or the king, or spring salmon.”
The entrance sign was unveiled by PAPA chair Ron Crema, PAPA public relations director David McCormick and Camela Tang, vice-chair of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, which has provided much of the funding for the long-term project, along with Small Craft Harbours and Western Economic Development Corporation.
The guests then shifted to the Centennial Pier entrance, where Cynthia Dick and Hupacasath communications director Jolleen Dick unveiled a carving by Vancouver artist Jesse Toso, mirroring his rising salmon carving at the other end of the strip on Harbour Quay.
McCormick said the plan is to continue to grow the area for small business and community/cultural activities.
“We’d like to see other artists become involved and do centerpieces,” he said. “[Tseshaht artist] Gordon Dick is a treasure in the community. We would like to see him down here.”
Former Port Alberni mayor and current PAPA vice-chair Ken McRae was one of the early driving forces in the revitalization of the waterfront. For Port Alberni to evolve successfully, he said, acknowledgement of First Nations tradition, culture and history must be a priority.
“That’s the future. We have to work well together,” he said. “The future of the province is in conjunction with First Nations.”
Current Mayor Mike Ruttan attended the event in an unofficial capacity. Ruttan agreed that the Nuu-chah-nulth presence has become an integral component in the marketing of Port Alberni.
“There are so many opportunities. When we work together as an entire community we can create a much more positive story – and a lot more economic opportunities for everybody,” Ruttan said.
“We’re always looking for ways to expand that. We’re always looking for suggestions… the story is changing, and it’s a positive one, so let’s keep that going.”
Community member Marilyn Scanlon was the winner of the “Name the Development” contest. She received a pair of return airfare tickets to Vancouver from Pacific Seaplanes, which now operates off Centennial Pier.