“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 southwest 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 favor 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
tillicum, “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 sea birds 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 Paleface 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 forever, 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
“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.”