08 The Lure in Stanley Park
Site of the legend: The Lure in Stanley Park
New trees planted in place of the giants
At the intersection of Bridle and Tallow's trails in Stanley Park, you will come across a grove of fallen trees, known as The Seven Sisters. The trees were once some of the tallest in the world. However over time, they became diseased and were felled. New trees have been planted in their place. Pauline Johnson had it confirmed, by several First Nations sources, that a legend surrounded the giant trees. The stories describe how a witch or 'lure' would tempt people into the forest, where they would either become demented or disappear altogether. The legend tells how four god-like deities tracked down the witch and turned the witch to stone. But, fearing that the 'witch' or lure' might escape, the gods asked for the kindest and most benevolent men to stand forever to protect their people. Those brave souls who volunteered were transformed into a stately group of 'Cathedral Trees' known also as 'The Seven Sisters'. The Lure in Stanley Park: the legend of how an ancient evil corrupts and the power of human kindness to protect us all.
The Lure in Stanley Park
There is a well-known trail in Stanley Park that leads to what I always love to call the "Cathedral Trees"–that group of some half-dozen forest giants that arch overhead with such superb loftiness. But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble or onyx columns can vie with those straight, clean, brown tree-boles that teem with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco that can rival the delicacy of lace work they have festooned between you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles, are as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading about their feet. They are the acme of Nature's architecture, and in building them she has outrivalled all her erstwhile conceptions. She will never originate a more faultless design, never erect a more perfect edifice. But the divinely moulded trees and the man-made cathedral have one exquisite characteristic in common. It is the atmosphere of holiness. Most of us have better impulses after viewing a stately cathedral, and none of us can stand amid that majestic forest group without experiencing some elevating thoughts, some refinement of our coarser nature. Perhaps those who read this little legend will never again look at those cathedral trees without thinking of the glorious souls they contain, for according to the Coast Indians they do harbour human souls, and the world is better because they once had the speech and the hearts of mighty men.
My tillicum did not use the word "lure" in telling me this legend. There is no equivalent for the word in the Chinook tongue, but the gestures of his voiceful hands so expressed the quality of something between magnetism and charm that I have selected this word "lure" as best fitting what he wished to convey. Some few yards beyond the cathedral trees, an overgrown disused trail turns into the dense wilderness to the right. Only Indian eyes could discern that trail, and the Indians do not willingly go to that part of the park to the right of the great group. Nothing in this, nor yet the next world, would tempt a Coast Indian into the compact centres of the wild portions of the park, for therein, concealed cunningly, is the "lure" they all believe in. There is not a tribe in the entire district that does not know of this strange legend. You will hear the tale from those that gather at Eagle Harbour for the fishing, from the Fraser River tribes, from the Squamish at the Narrows, from the Mission, from up the Inlet, even from the tribes at North Bend, but no one will volunteer to be your guide, for having once come within the "aura" of the lure it is a human impossibility to leave it. Your will-power is dwarfed, your intelligence blighted, your feet will refuse to lead you out by a straight trail, you will circle, circle for evermore about this magnet, for if death kindly comes to your aid your immortal spirit will go on in that endless circling that will bar it from entering the Happy Hunting Grounds.
And, like the cathedral trees, the lure once lived, a human soul, but in this instance it was a soul depraved, not sanctified. The Indian belief is very beautiful concerning the results of good and evil in the human body. The Sagalie Tyee [God] has His own way of immortalizing each. People who are wilfully evil, who have no kindness in their hearts, who are bloodthirsty, cruel, vengeful, unsympathetic, the Sagalie Tyee turns to solid stone that will harbour no growth, even that of moss or lichen, for these stones contain no moisture, just as their wicked hearts lacked the milk of human kindness. The one famed exception, wherein a good man was transformed into stone, was in the instance of Siwash Rock, but as the Indian tells you of it he smiles with gratification as he calls your attention to the tiny tree cresting that imperial monument. He says the tree was always there to show the nations that the good in this man's heart kept on growing even when his body had ceased to be. On the other hand, the Sagalie Tyee transforms the kindly people, the humane, sympathetic, charitable, loving people into trees, so that after death they may go on for ever benefiting all mankind; they may yield fruit, give shade and shelter, afford unending service to the living by their usefulness as building material and as firewood. Their saps and gums, their fibres, their leaves, their blossoms, enrich, nourish, and sustain the human form; no evil is produced by trees–all, all is goodness, is hearty, is helpfulness and growth. They give refuge to the birds, they give music to the winds, and from them are carved the bows and arrows, the canoes and paddles, bowls, spoons, and baskets. Their service to mankind is priceless; the Indian that tells you this tale will enumerate all these attributes and virtues of the trees. No wonder the Sagalie Tyee chose them to be the abode of souls good and great.
But the lure in Stanley Park is that most dreaded of all things, an evil soul. It is embodied in a bare, white stone, which is shunned by moss and vine and lichen, but over which are splashed innumerable jet-black spots that have eaten into the surface like an acid.
This condemned soul once animated the body of a witch-woman, who went up and down the coast, over seas and far inland, casting her evil eye on innocent people, and bringing them untold evils and diseases. About her person she carried the renowned "Bad Medicine" that every Indian believes in–medicine that weakened the arm of the warrior in battle, that caused deformities, that poisoned minds and characters, that engendered madness, that bred plagues and epidemics; in short, that was the seed of every evil that could befall mankind. This witch-woman herself was immune from death; generations were born and grew to old age, and died, and other generations arose in their stead, but the witch-woman went about, her heart set against her kind. Her acts were evil, her purposes wicked. She broke hearts and bodies and souls; she gloried in tears, and revelled in unhappiness, and sent them broadcast wherever she wandered. And in His high heaven the Sagalie Tyee wept with sorrow for His afflicted human children. He dared not let her die, for her spirit would still go on with its evil doing. In mighty anger He gave command to His Four Men (always representing the Deity) that they should turn this witch-woman into a stone and enchain her spirit in its centre, that the curse of her might be lifted from the unhappy race.
So the Four Men entered their giant canoe, and headed, as was their custom, up the Narrows. As they neared what is now known as Prospect Point they heard from the heights above them a laugh, and, looking up, they beheld the witch-woman jeering defiantly at them. They landed, and, scaling the rocks, pursued her as she danced away, eluding them like a will-o'-the-wisp as she called out to them sneeringly:
"Care for yourselves, oh! men of the Sagalie Tyee, or I shall blight you with my evil eye. Care for yourselves and do not follow me." On and on she danced through the thickest of the wilderness, on and on they followed until they reached the very heart of the sea-girt neck of land we know as Stanley Park. Then the tallest, the mightiest of the Four Men, lifted his hand and cried out: "Oh! woman of the stony heart, be stone for evermore, and bear for ever a black stain for each one of your evil deeds." And as he spoke the witch-woman was transformed into this stone that tradition says is in the centre of the park.
Such is the "Legend of the Lure." Whether or not this stone is really in existence who knows? One thing is positive, however: no Indian will ever help to discover it.
Three different Indians have told me that fifteen or eighteen years ago, two tourists–a man and a woman–were lost in Stanley Park. When found a week later the man was dead, the woman mad, and each of my informants firmly believed they had, in their wanderings, encountered "the stone" and were compelled to circle around it, because of its powerful lure.
But this wild tale, fortunately, had a most beautiful conclusion. The Four Men, fearing that the evil heart imprisoned in the stone would still work destruction, said: "At the end of the trail we must place so good and great a thing that it will be mightier, stronger, more powerful than this evil." So they chose from the nations the kindliest, most benevolent men, men whose hearts were filled with the love of their fellow-beings, and transformed these merciful souls into the stately group of "Cathedral Trees."
How well the purpose of the Sagalie Tyee has wrought its effect through time! The good has predominated, as He planned it to, for is not the stone hidden in some unknown part of the park where eyes do not see it and feet do not follow–and do not the thousands who come to us from the uttermost parts of the world seek that wondrous beauty spot, and stand awed by the majestic silence, the almost holiness of that group of giants?
More than any other legend that the Indians about Vancouver have told me does this tale reveal the love of the coast native for kindness and his hatred of cruelty. If these tribes really have ever been a warlike race I cannot think they pride themselves much on the occupation. If you talk with any of them, and they mention some man they particularly like or admire, their first qualification of him is: "He's a kind man." They never say he is brave, or rich, or successful, or even strong, that characteristic so loved by the red man. To these coast tribes if a man is "kind" he is everything. And almost without exception their legends deal with rewards for tenderness and self-abnegation, and personal and mental cleanliness.
Call them fairy-tales if you wish to, they all have a reasonableness that must have originated in some mighty mind, and, better than that, they all tell of the Indian's faith in the survival of the best impulses of the human heart, and the ultimate extinction of the worst.
In talking with my many good tillicums, I find this witch-woman legend is the most universally known and thoroughly believed in of all traditions they have honoured me by revealing to me.