MOUNTAIN LIFE - Coast Mountains | Winter Spring 2019
30 MLCM WINTER/SPRING 2019 Two Sisters, aka The Lions, on a snowy historical day. LEONARD JUDA FRANK/CITY OF VANCOUVER ARCHIVES TIME IMMEMORIAL words :: Kieran Brownie Mountains have evoked drama since the beginning of time. Humans have always placed that which we deem important in high places, and throughout history the mountains have been the homes of the gods—places where commandments could be found, or sacred wisdom divined. Over time, however, the mountains became tangible locations that mere mortals could ascend. Difficulty became communicable, and reward quantifiable. Eventually, these once-sacred spaces were caught up in the very human narrative of, “who’s is bigger?” As a result, mountains became objects of possession, of ego. As Canada became colonized, English names of mountains were usually given by the middle and upper classes of Britain; often of legal or political privilege. Some of these men had spent time and formed connection in the mountains, others had not. One local example of this occurred in 1889 when British Columbia Supreme Court Judge John Hamilton named the two prominent peaks jutting above the north shore of Burrard Inlet. He called them The Lions of Vancouver, named after The Lions of Trafalgar Square—four bronze statues he had seen in London commemorating one of the empire’s great battles at sea. It should be noted that Hamilton arrived on the west coast in 1872 reluctantly, after failing to get his dream job in Ottawa. He died here in 1890. But to the Squamish peoples of Howe Sound, these twin peaks already had a history and a name: Ch'ich'iyúy Elxwíkn , The Two Sisters. Like Trafalgar, the story of The Two Sisters is also a story of war, but instead of bloodshed and dominance it’s a tale of humility and accountability. According to Squamish Nation legend, the peaks are the marker of a peace treaty between the southern sunset tribes of the Georgia Straight and the northern tribes from the coast beyond what is now Prince Rupert. During a time of intense battle, two daughters of the great Tyee [chief] asked for the fighting to end and for their father to invite the enemies to a peaceful feast in honour of women. He obliged and hosted a days-long potlatch where all sides put down their weapons and celebrated. At the end, the great Tyee lifted his two daughters and set them into a high place forever. "And on the mountain crest the chief's daughters can be seen wrapped in the suns, the snows, the stars of all seasons, for they have stood in this high place for thousands of years, and will stand for thousands of years to come, guarding the peace of the Pacific Coast and the quiet of the Capilano Canyon." Those words were spoken by Chief Joe Capilano and recorded by historian Pauline Johnson for a book titled Legends of Vancouver , a compilation of place-name origin stories published in 1911 (it remains one of the oldest books by a Canadian still in circulation). For the Squamish peoples, high places are reserved for values, not individuals. And their cultural narratives are interwoven with the landscape, leaving no separation between people and place. These stories have survived, despite the careless gestures of a white man’s pen but others have been lost. And therefore it’s always good to ask—what’s in a name? (It should also be noted that in 1889, a hunting party guided by Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish First Nation climbed the west summit, the first recorded ascent of The Two Sisters.) Get the full story of The Two Sisters at legendsofvancouver.net , or find the Legends of Vancouver book at Armchair Books in Whistler Village. WHAT’S IN A NAME?