The Destruction of Sitchanalth by the Devil Mountain Tsunami of 930AD

The ancient Salish community of Sitchanalth was centered at the mouth of Bowker Creek on Oak Bay now a suburb of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia in Canada. The great Salish chief’s house was likely the site of Glenlyon-Norfolk School.

The site is facing East across the great Salish Sea to Mount Baker and Bellingham. It was, over the centuries, a bustling seaport, home to a large extended family of related Salish people, trading and inter-marrying with other Salish families all around the great waters now known as the Salish Sea.

This article celebrates the 5-10 thousand year history of  Sitchanalth, and explores the possibility that it was  major Coast Salish SEA PORT located on the Oak Bay Seafront.

Recent discoveries in other parts of North America are finding remains of ancient peoples going back over 100,000 years, in fact since man evolved on the planet. It is not hard to imagine this amazing location has always been a prime piece of real estate with its food plenty and beauty.

It is believed the settlement known as Sitchanalth stretched from the south where the Oak Bay Beach Hotel is now located, all the way north, passed Willows Beach to Cattle Point in Uplands Park

Each family had a long-house facing the water, and the long houses ran the length of the seaport all the way to the sacred burial grounds at the North End of the bay where Uplands Park and Cattle Point now are celebrated and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

It is hypothesized the mouth of Bowker Creek, was where the Chief’s longhouse was located. This was on the south-side of the mouth of the creek. Then as now  this was the prime site of the whole village with its view east across  Oak Bay to Devils Mountain (Mount Baker).

This is now the site of  Glenlyon-Norfolk School.

Over the Centuries

Since humans first reached this region many eons ago, this has been a prime settlement site due to the beauty and the abundance of food.

It now appears likely that there were two waves of migration out of Africa. The first took place between 130,000–115,000 years ago via northern Africa . New archaeological discoveries on the West Coast of North America have revealed a mysterious group of ancient people perhaps visited our coastline much early than has been thought. Perhaps if the hypothesis is proven, more than 100,000 years ago.

New theories have been recently hypothesized – that early man arrived in canoes following the coastline of what is now Russia, Alaska and British Columbia. For many years it was commonly accepted that early arrivals came by foot over land bridges revealed after the last ice age. But following the coastline off shore now seems much more likely.

Our current generation of young scientists will find there is much “unknown” and even more “unknown unknowns”, making the history of the Salish settlements around the Salish Sea a wonderful topic for research.

Ancient Stone Bowls in bedrock at Sitchanalth, Bowker Creek, Oak Bay

So Sitchanalth could have been settled for much longer than we think, but certainly an estimate of  10,000 years is reasonable if unproven.

During this time, we believe Sitchanalth, will have been destroyed by tsunami many times.  In the past 2,000 years we have evidence  visible in the sand banks over near Bellingham across the Salish Sea and in the preserved underwater trees in Seattle Harbour.

It seems the 930 A.D. event was the biggest and did the most damage to Sitchanalth. 

The carbon dating of these trees in Seattle harbor has allowed scientists to confirm the approximate date and match it with many other markers around the banks of the Salish Sea.

Geologists have found evidence for at least two other quakes on the Seattle fault in the past 2,500 years. But neither was nearly as big as the 930 A.D. event.

Although most local fault lines run N-S in parallel to the fault line which continues up through Canada from the San Andreas Fault in San Francisco, there is a particularly deadly fault line called the Devil’s Mountain Fault which runs perpendicular E-W .

This is a deep crack in the Earth’s crust that runs for about 125 kilometres from near Darrington in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington to just south of Victoria;  i.e.  from Mount Baker, to Ten Mile point and across to Sooke Potholes and Sooke Hills.

The Bowker Creek, which was the focal point of the Sitchanalth society, is linked to the Devil’s Mountain Fault, and it is likely “Devil’s Mountain” was the name given to Mount Baker by the ancient Salish in their stories recounted in their potlatches.

It is this great 930A.D. Tsumani,  makes Sitchanalth the “Pompeii” of Vancouver Island and the focus of Oak Bay’s long history, most details of which have been lost, maintained only in the Salish oral tradition, and recounted to this day in the wonderful potlatch ceremonies of the Salish.

The Earthquake and the Tsunami caused the loss of most of the population of this flourishing seaport. Many estimate the population was peaking at this time and was maybe as big as 10,000 people. Certainly many more than the small village of a few families which we have always been told.

A few survivors were surmised to have escaped up the hill behind the Chief’s House to a safety point, where now a fine old Victorian mansion exists on York Place. To this day this is the escape route for the students of Glenlyon-Norfolk School in their Earthquake drills.

The death toll was catastrophic. The horror unimaginable.

The few Salish survivors moved from the devastation across Oak Bay to the harbour and to what is now the Songhees territory to build new lives.

Lkwungen verbal tradition still tells interesting stories connected to a “flood”. Click here for a summary of the story as told by  Bradley Yuxwelupton Dick, Coast Salish/Lkwungen Artist.

Salish oral tradition from the Tsarslip also reports a tsunami, possibly also the 930 A.D. tsunami . The Tsunami reached  the top of Tlay will nooth (aka “The Place of Refuge”/Mount Newton) near Victoria airport recounts Tsawout hereditary chief Eric Pelkey. His recital of the event is very moving and is in the CBC Audio Records.

More recent discoveries have led credence to the theory Marco Polo re-discovered the pacific Northwest 200 years before Columbus.

“Taken together, the maps and the text raise the possibility that Polo crossed the 51-mile Bering Strait, sailed around the Aleutian Islands and down the coast of present-day Canada. If true, not only would that place Polo in America two centuries before Columbus, it would mean he found the Bering Strait four centuries before Danish explorer Vitus Bering supposedly became the first European to have sailed the waterway.”

Much to be explored and discovered by tomorrow’s students.

Question : Did Marco Polo discover the Salish Sea?

W.E. Smith
The Sitchanalth Hypothesis
May 2017