A History of PKOLS (Mount Douglas)

Before I begin this summary of the traditional and colonial history of PKOLS, currently referred to as Mount Douglas, it is important to acknowledge the following is only one interpretation of the area and is written by a colonial settler who does not speak SENĆOŦEN or Lekwungen. This difference of language requires translation from one manner of speaking about a place to another, and certain cultural significances are lost through this process (Paul, 1995). There are also differences between every individual who has ever experienced the place, heard the stories, or attempted to summarize its history. These differences all add to a mosaic of understandings of the history of PKOLS and are a contributing factor to the indirect manner in which the W̱SÁNEĆ traditionally speak about these histories (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013).

Place names in SENĆOŦEN, Lekwungen, and other first nations languages had significant cultural, spiritual and historical significance imbedded in them (Paul, 1995, p.6). As Earl Claxton Jr., said “a place name is more than just a name of a place. A place name is very important in identifying with our homeland as each of those place names contains a history, an important meaning or a teaching” (As cited in Terralingua, 2010).

Stories of PKOLS go back to nearly the beginning of time for W̱SÁNEĆ people to when the Creator gathered stones from near Cordova Bay ('I'EL,ILCE in SENĆOŦEN), and stood near or upon the hill and created the surrounding mountains by casting the stones out upon the land around him (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013). PKOLS can be translated as “White Head” and was possibly a Songhees abbreviated version of a SENĆOŦEN name that was originally longer; it is for this reason that it is sometimes spelled with an abbreviation: P’KOLS (Paul, 1995) (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013). The translation as “White Head” has significant geological and historical implications. There is an oral history that suggests this translation of PKOL’s as “White Head” can be traced back to P’KOLS being the place where glaciers last receded from Southern Vancouver Island (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013).

In pre-colonial times, the territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ people was adjacent to the territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt (SXIMEȽEȽ) nation. While these borders were not always clear or strictly regulated, one way to determine their boundaries was to stand atop PKOLS and point out to the San Juan Islands, and towards Mt.Tolmie in the other direction. While PKOLS was considered to be within W̱SÁNEĆ territory, the land North of these lines were also considered to be W̱SÁNEĆ, and to the South was that of the Songhees and Esquimalt (SXIMEȽEȽ) (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013).

This locational significance of PKOLS made it a very important meeting place. It was quite common for relatives who had been married into different families to meet at scheduled times on top of the mountain (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013). It was also used by people from different nations to exchange news regarding what people had seen out on the water, or to communicate the return of people who had come home for the colder seasons (Paul, Pers. Com., 2013).

According to the oral history of James Elliot, Captain James Douglas, of whom the mountain was re-named, once took the local First Nations to the top of PKOLS and “ pointed outward where our people could roam freely and not be Bothered” (Knighton, 2004). Elliot stated that his people understood “that he was pointing out the borders of where we were free to roam and hunt, and fish”. This event on the top of the hill has a history that is still debated to date in respect to the origins and implications of the Douglas Treaties (Knighton, 2004).

The treaties initially came about due to a conflict between Douglas and the First Nations in the area. These tensions arose when a 14 year old W̱SÁNEĆ messenger boy was shot by Douglas’ men (Knighton, 2004). Tensions grew further when Douglas’ men were cutting down a stand of particularly straight cedar (XPA in SENĆOŦEN) (Thuja plicata) trees in Cordova Bay ('I'EL,ILCE in SENĆOŦEN) to use as masts for their sailboats (Knighton, 2004). These two incidents lead to W̱SÁNEĆ warriors taking their cedar canoes to Cordova Bay to confront Douglas (Knighton, 2004).

Douglas and his men saw they were outnumbered, and retreated (Knighton, 2004). The W̱SÁNEĆ soon after asked to meet Douglas in Victoria, and when they met, were expecting a peace agreement since they had recently spared the life of Douglas and his men (Knighton, 2004). Douglas offered the W̱SÁNEĆ leaders blankets and money and asked them to sign a blank piece of paper with a cross (Knighton, 2004). They saw the gifts as a peace offering and the cross on the document as a sign of the Christian cross, and another sign of peace (Knighton, 2004). However, this Douglas treaty, which to many W̱SÁNEĆ people was only ever considered a peace treaty, essentially stripped the W̱SÁNEĆ people of their land, and divided them into 4 different reserves: Tsartlip (W̱JOȽEȽP), Tsawout (SȾÁUTW̱), Pauquachin (BOḰEĆEN), and Tseycum (W̱SIḴEM) (Paul, 1995) (FPHLCC).

Established as a Government Reserve in 1858, and originally known to colonizers as “The Hill of Cedars”, Mount Doug was transferred to Saanich parks in 1992 (District of Saanich, 2012). The current terms of it’s protection are laid out within the Mount Douglas Park Charter of which the first sentence states, “The lands known as Mount Douglas Park are hereby reserved in perpetuity for the protection and preservation of the natural environment for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public” (District of Saanich, 2012). While this charter helps protect the land for future generations, it is important to consider validating the oral histories of the W̱SÁNEĆ elders and questioning the colonial entitlement to these lands. Learning and respecting these histories and place names is important for us to “all learn from the places we call our homeland. The quality of listening to the land and stories from the land can lead toward listening to each other. Respect for land and for each other is a lesson for any society and nation”(Terralingua, 2010).


This story was originally posted at www.socialcoast.org.


Told by: 

Lliam Hilderbrand
First Nations story