Burgoyne Bay Shell Line

Burgoyne Bay Shell Line

From the Burgoyne Bay parking lot take the trail on the right side of the bay. The path, which has some steep sections, is lined with giant Garry Oaks, Arbutus, Douglas Fir and Cedars, passes through the Boulder Fields, on your way to the secluded beach at the end of the path.

The sun was setting when I arrived at the beach. The low branches of a giant Douglas Fir tree shelters a tiny private cove with a small shell beach. As I began collecting shells from the beach I looked up at the Douglas Fir and realized that the entire bank surrounding the tree was an ancient shell midden created by First Nations peoples over hundreds of generations. Shell middens, or shell mounds, are found all along the Pacific Coast, some of them are more than a kilometer long. In Namu, British Columbia, a midden has been found that is over 9 meters deep and holds the remnants of 10,000 years of continuous occupation. Mesolithic middens are also found in northern Europe where they are known as ‘kitchen middens’ because they contain household refuse. A midden is termed a shell midden when 50% or more of the midden is made of shells.

As I stood there contemplating this shell midden I thought about the thousands of people before me who had added their memory to this same site that I was now witness to. I began to think about the deep connections between the land, the sea, the trees, plants, insects, animals and humans. I knew that spawning salmon returning home from the ocean were an important part of the ecology of the forests along the coast. I wondered how shell middens were interwoven in to the ecology of the site.

The Burgoyne Bay Shell Line is an ephemeral gesture added to the site using shells collected from the beach below the midden. I wanted to create a connection, a thread, from the ocean, the midden and the history of the people who had been there before me, to the Garry Oak tree that stands majestically at the top of the path above the cove. This giant Garry Oak has stood as a witness to the passage of time as well as the passage of the humans who created the shell midden and those who continue to visit the site to this day.

This ephemeral work will vanish and become integrated back into the site, speaking of our own ephemeral passage through this world, witnessed and supported by the natural world we are so deeply interconnected with.

I invite you to become part of this story and add your own photographs of your journey to this cove at Burgoyne Bay, to the Garry Oak, to the history of the site and the people who created the midden, onĀ Instagram #ssiwayfindingproject