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10 Point Grey

If you care to take a short journey outside downtown Vancouver, to visit the University of British Columbia or the Museum of Anthropology in Point Grey, you can also visit the sight of another indigenous legend at Arcadia or Wreck beach. A short distance off the beach you will see a single rock – it is called Homolsom Rock and it holds special significance for Vancouver First Nation’s peoples. Pauline Johnson recalls how a young indigenous friend told her of the legend of Point Grey. The legend tells how the malicious spirit ,"who warred  upon all fishing craft, demolished canoes, and sent men to graves in the sea" was defeated and turned into Homolsom Rock. The rock now stands as a beacon for those at sea to guide them home. Point Grey: the legend of how the Great Tyee of the West Wind was finally tamed.

Point Grey

“Have you ever sailed around Point Grey?" asked a young Squamish tillicum of mine who often comes to see me, to share a cup of tea and a taste of muck-a-muck that otherwise I should eat in solitude.

"No," I admitted, I had not had that pleasure, for I did not know the uncertain waters of English Bay sufficiently well to venture about its headlands in my frail canoe.

"Some day, perhaps next summer, I'll take you there in a sail-boat, and show you the big rock at the south-west of the Point. It is a strange rock; we Indian people call it Homolsom."

"What an odd name!" I commented. "Is it a Squamish word?–it does not sound to me like one." 

"It is not altogether Squamish, but half Fraser River language. The Point was the dividing-line between the grounds and waters of the two tribes; so they agreed to make the name 'Homolsom' from the two languages."

I suggested more tea, and, as he sipped it, he told me the legend that few of the younger Indians know. That he believes the story himself is beyond question, for many times he admitted having tested the virtues of this rock, and it had never once failed him. All people that have to do with water-craft are superstitious about some things, and I freely acknowledge that times innumerable I have "whistled up" a wind when dead calm threatened, or stuck a jack-knife in the mast, and afterwards watched with great contentment the idle sail fill, and the canoe pull out to a light breeze. So, perhaps, I am prejudiced in favour of this legend of Homolsom Rock, for it strikes a very responsive chord in that portion of my heart that has always throbbed for the sea.

"You know," began my young tilli- cum, "that only waters unspoiled by human hands can be of any benefit. One gains no strength by swimming in any waters heated or boiled by fires that men build. To grow strong and wise one must swim in the natural rivers, the mountain torrents, the sea, just as the Sagalie Tyee made them. Their virtues die when human beings try to improve them by heating or distilling, or placing even tea in them, and so–what makes Homolsom Rock so full of 'good medicine' is that the waters that wash up about it are straight from the sea, made by the hand of the Great Tyee, and unspoiled by the hand of man.

"It was not always there, that great rock, drawing its strength and its wonderful power from the seas, for it, too, was once a Great Tyee, who ruled a mighty tract of waters. He was god of all the waters that wash the coast, of the Gulf of Georgia, of Puget Sound, of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, of the waters that beat against even the west coast of Vancouver Island, and of all the channels that cut between the Charlotte Islands. He was Tyee of the West Wind, and his storms and tempests were so mighty that the Sagalie Tyee Himself could not control the havoc that he created. He warred upon all fishing craft, he demolished canoes, and sent men to graves in the sea. He uprooted forests and drove the surf on shore heavy with wreckage of despoiled trees and with beaten and bruised fish. He did all this to reveal his powers, for he was cruel and hard of heart, and he would laugh and defy the Sagalie Tyee, and, looking up to the sky, he would call, 'See how powerful I am, how mighty, how strong; I am as great as you.'

"It was at this time that the Sagalie Tyee in the persons of the Four Men came in the great canoe up over the rim of the Pacific, in that age thousands of years ago when they turned the evil into stone, and the kindly into trees.

"'Now,' said the god of the West Wind, 'I can show how great I am. I shall blow a tempest that these men may not land on my coast. They shall not ride my seas and sounds and channels in safety. I shall wreck them and send their bodies into the great deeps, and I shall be Sagalie Tyee in their place and ruler of all the world.' So the god of the West Wind blew forth his tempests. The waves arose mountain high, the seas lashed and thundered along the shores. The roar of his mighty breath could be heard wrenching giant limbs from the forest trees, whistling down the canyons and dealing death and destruction for leagues and leagues along the coast. But the canoe containing the Four Men rode upright through all the heights and hollows of the seething ocean. No curling crest or sullen depth could wreck that magic craft, for the hearts it bore were filled with kindness for the human race, and kindness cannot die.

"It was all rock and dense forest, and unpeopled; only wild animals and seabirds sought the shelter it provided from the terrors of the West Wind; but he drove them out in sullen anger, and made on this strip of land his last stand against the Four Men. The Pale-face calls the place Point Grey, but the Indians yet speak of it as 'The Battle Ground of the West Wind.' All his mighty forces he now brought to bear against the oncoming canoe; he swept great hurricanes about the stony ledges; he caused the sea to beat and swirl in tempestuous fury along its narrow fastnesses; but the canoe came nearer and nearer, invincible as those shores, and stronger than death itself. As the bow touched the land the Four Men arose and commanded the West Wind to cease his war-cry, and, mighty though he had been, his voice trembled and sobbed itself into a gentle breeze, then fell to a whispering note, then faded into exquisite silence.

"'Oh, you evil one with the unkind heart,' cried the Four Men, 'you have been too great a god for even the Sagalie Tyee to obliterate you for ever, but you shall live on, live now to serve, not to hinder mankind. You shall turn into stone where you now stand, and you shall rise only as men wish you to. Your life from this day shall be for the good of man, for when the fisherman's sails are idle and his lodge is leagues away you shall fill those sails and blow his craft free, in whatever direction he desires. You shall stand where you are through all the thousands upon thousands of years to come, and he who touches you with his paddle-blade shall have his desire of a breeze to carry him home.'"

My young tillicum had finished his tradition, and his great, solemn eyes regarded me half-wistfully.

"I wish you could see Homolsom Rock," he said. "For that is he who was once the Tyee of the West Wind."

"Were you ever becalmed around Point Grey?" I asked irrelevantly.

"Often," he replied. "But I paddle up to the rock and touch it with the tip of my paddle-blade, and, no matter which way I want to go, the wind will blow free for me, if I wait a little while."

"I suppose your people all do this?" I replied.

"Yes, all of them," he answered. "They have done it for hundreds of years. You see the power in it is just as great now as at first, for the rock feeds every day on the unspoiled sea that the Sagalie Tyee made." 

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