The Sechelt Image is striking in its appearance. A solid granite carving, standing some 20 inches tall, its rounded, humanesque shape apparently tells a tragic tale. It depicts what resembles a mother holding her infant close to her bosom. Looking at the mother’s face, however, only hints at her being in some sort of distress. Or grief, as some have interpreted it.
This haunting statue was found about a hundred years ago in Sechelt’s Selma Park. Charles E. Hill-Tout, a prominent Vancouver archaeologist at the time, dubbed it the most significant find Sechelt had ever seen. He took it for the most magnificent specimen of its kind to date.
How the Image Was Found
A contemporary article in the Sun claimed that several youngsters from the Knights of Columbus camp had first found it. The Vancouver, however, claimed that it was William Quigley, a camp supervisor, who had first set eyes on the sculpture. Reports from that time contradict each other slightly, but the gist of it adds up well enough.
Whoever it may have been, the idol lay under the roots of a very old tree. This implied that the carving had resided there for numerous generations. Hill-Tout speculated that it might have been some sort of totem, around 2,000 years old. However, new analyses point to it being closer to three thousand years of age.
Hill-Tout’s involvement in the discovery attracted many news agencies. This was because he had previously included himself in a number of other digs. Among the most well-known is the Marpole Midden, which holds ruins of a winter village.
Vancouver World included a photo along with its article, calling it an ape with its child. But how a Sechelt native of that era could have known what an ape looked like, let alone how it held its baby, remains an unknown.
The History of the Statue
Vancouver Art, Historical, and Scientific Association ‘s Will Ferris conversed with the Knights camp in 1921. He sought to place the recently-unearthed totem in the museum, hoping to receive it as a donation from the camp. However, it wasn’t until five years later that it found itself there.
As it turned out, the carving was a Sechelt Nation mortuary stone. The Province released an article in 1926 that featured Dan Paull, a Sechelt Chief. He elaborated that it had vanished amid an epidemic of smallpox and that, since then, no-one knew its whereabouts until the dig. Paull recognized it was an ancestral stone from his family lineage.
Paull recounted the story that connects his family to the stone statue. His family five generations ago suffered a terrible loss: the son of the then-Chief, Sal-ah-keen-im, perished in battle. Overcome with grief, the boy’s mother drowned. A vision subsequently told the chief to place the stone at the front of his home’s door, as a memorial to his loved ones.
According to the Province piece, Paull relinquished the artifact to the Vancouver Museum to keep it safe. There, it turned into the museum’s crown jewel, quickly garnering a lot of popularity. Even the National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery borrowed it on occasion for their exhibitions.
The Image stayed there for many years. But as the decades rolled by, shifting attitudes toward First Nation art would change that. The Shíshálh Nation requested that they receive the statue in the 1970s. The museum complied, returning the statue to its people, and it was the highlight of the tems swiya museum in 2010.