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Love Where You Live



By Joy Murray

Newcastle Island is a short distance from Nanaimo, easily reached by walk-on ferry from Maffeo Sutton Park. It is a beautiful Island with a chequered history spanning several centuries. The name of the Island was changed in 2021 from Newcastle to Saysutshun to acknowledge the first inhabitants of the Island, the Snuneymuxw and the meaning of the name is: “Working together for a common purpose.”

The Snuneymuxw have inhabited the Island for thousands of years. The people followed the seasons in an equable climate which provided for their needs.   The busiest time of year for the residents was the Spring which was the season for the herring run.  Longhouses were built on the beach to house the people and provide shelter for the work. Herring were no doubt an important part of the diet and the tasks of catching, preparing and preserving would have needed lots of willing helpers. One can imagine a beach busy with people cleaning, smoking or drying the fish.  European explorers, mainly the British and Spanish, had also harvested the abundant fish and established several processing plants. In later times, the Japanese set up a saltery to process their catch.

The hunting season took place in the fall and the hunters mainly sought deer and elk. Skill would have been needed to prepare and store the meat and preserve the skins for other uses. The people who lived on the Island, many, many years ago, had a strong affinity for their animal neighbours and this is evident in the items they chose to wear as adornment. Animal fur, teeth, bones or feathers were often chosen or polished shells or stones could be their choice. Many of these items can be seen in a display in the Pavilion on the Island.

There are many trees on SaySutShun but the tree most prized by the inhabitants has been the Cedar, a tree still being used for many things including medicine. The Arbutus also had a prominent role in the life of the inhabitants. The wood of the arbutus tree is very strong and it was used for building while the bark was a valuable source of medicine.  The trees also provided artistic material for the many totem poles around the Island which tell the stories of the lives of the people who lived there. The carver often also included the animal that protected or were important to the family depicted.

However, this bucolic life was about to change with the important discovery of coal in 1849. The commerce of the world needed lots of coal to fire up the engines of the ships and the machines of their factories. This bucolic Island was named Newcastle Island for the coal mining town of Newcastle in England.  The first coal mine was established in 1852 and it produced 50 tons of coal in a day. The coal seam extended to Protection Island. In September 1852, 480 barrels of coal was collected from surface seams and shipped to Victoria.  Miners had been recruited from England, made their home in Nanaimo and worked 14 day shifts on the Island, while living in a camp.


Information Sources: Grateful thanks to Nadine……… for her knowledge and hospitality.  Other Sources of information from Internet. Photo by Racheal Talboys

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