white men ventured inland, a century ago, in the days
of the first Chief Capilano, when the spoils of the
mighty Fraser River poured into copper-colored hands,
but did not find their way to the remotest corners of
the earth, as in our times, when the gold from its sources,
the salmon from its mouth, the timber from its shores
are world-known riches.
fisherman’s craft, the hunter’s cunning
were plied where now cities and industries, trade and
commerce, buying and selling hold sway. In those days
the moccasined foot awoke no echo in the forest trails.
Primitive weapons, arms, implements, and utensils were
the only means of the Indians’ food-getting. His
livelihood depended upon his own personal prowess, his
skill in woodcraft and water lore. And, as this is a
story of an elk-bone spear, the reader must first be
in sympathy with the fact that this rude instrument,
most deftly fashioned, was of priceless value to the
first Capilano, to whom it had come through three generations
of ancestors, all of whom had been experienced hunters
and dexterous fishermen.
Capilano himself was without
a rival as a spearsman. He knew the moods of the Fraser
River, the habits of its thronging tenants, as no other
man has ever known them before or since. He knew every
isle and inlet along the coast, every boulder, the sand-bars,
the still pools, the temper of the tides. He knew the
spawning grounds, the secret streams that fed the larger
rivers, the outlets of rock-bound lakes, the turns and
tricks of swirling rapids. He knew the haunts of bird
and beast and fish and fowl, and was master of the arts
and artifice that man must use when matching his brain
against the eluding wiles of the untamed creatures of
Once only did his cunning fail
him, once [Page 79] only did Nature
baffle him with her mysterious fabric of waterways and
land lures. It was when he was led to the mouth of the
unknown river, which has evaded discovery through all
the centuries, but which—so say the Indians—still
sings on its way through some buried channel that leads
from the lake to the sea.
He had been sealing along the
shores of what is now known as Point Grey. His canoe
had gradually crept inland, skirting up the coast to
the mouth of False Creek. Here he encountered a very
king of seals, a colossal creature that gladdened the
hunter’s eyes as game worthy of his skill. For
this particular prize he would cast the elk-bone spear.
It had never failed his sire, his grandsire, his great-grandsire.
He knew it would not fail him now. A long, pliable,
cedar-fibre rope lay in his canoe. Many expert fingers
had woven and plaited that rope, had beaten and oiled
it until it was soft and flexible as a serpent. This
he attached to the spearhead, and with deft, unerring
aim cast it at the king seal. The weapon struck home.
The gigantic creature shuddered and, with a cry like
a hurt child, it plunged down into the sea. With the
rapidity and strength of a giant fish it scudded inland
with the rising tide, while Capilano paid out the rope
its entire length, and, as it stretched taut, felt the
canoe leap forward, propelled by the mighty strength
of the creature which lashed the waters into whirlpools,
as though it was possessed with the power and properties
of a whale.
Up the stretch of False Creek
the man and monster drove their course, where a century
hence great city bridges were to over-arch the waters.
They strove and struggled each for the mastery, neither
of them weakened, neither of them faltered—the
one dragging, the other driving. In the end it was to
be a matching of brute and human wits, not forces. As
they neared the point where now Main Street bridge flings
its shadow across the waters, the brute leaped high
into the air, then plunged headlong into the depths.
The impact ripped the rope from Capilano’s hands.
It rattled [Page 80] across the gunwale.
He stood staring at the spot where it had disappeared—the
brute had been victorious. At low tide the Indian made
search. No trace of his game, of his precious elk-bone
spear, of his cedar-fibre rope, could be found. With
the loss of the latter he firmly believed his luck as
a hunter would be gone. So he patrolled the mouth of
False Creek for many moons. His graceful, high-bowed
canoe rarely touched other waters, but the seal king
had disappeared. Often he thought long strands of drifting
sea grasses were his lost cedar-fibre rope. With other
spears, with other cedar-fibres, with paddle blade and
cunning traps he dislodged the weeds from their moorings,
but they slipped their slimy lengths through his eager
hands: his best spear with its attendant coil was gone.
The following year he was sealing
again off the coast of Point Grey, and one night after
sunset he observed the red reflection from the west,
which seemed to transfer itself to the eastern skies.
Far into the night dashes of flaming scarlet pulsed
far beyond the head of False Creek. The color rose and
fell like a beckoning hand, and, Indian-like, he immediately
attached some portentous meaning to the unusual sight.
That it was some omen he never doubted, so he paddled
inland, beached his canoe, and took the trail towards
the little group of lakes that crowd themselves into
the area that lies between the present cities of Vancouver
and New Westminster. But long before he reached the
shores of Deer Lake he discovered that the beckoning
hand was in reality flame. The little body of water
was surrounded by forest fires. One avenue alone stood
open. It was a group of giant trees that as yet the
flames had not reached. As he neared the point he saw
a great moving mass of living things leaving the lake
and hurrying northward through this one egress. He stood,
listening, intently watching with alert eyes; the swirr
of myriads of little travelling feet caught his quick
ear—the moving mass was an immense colony of beaver.
Thousands upon thousands of them. Scores of baby beavers
staggered along, following [Page 81] their
mothers; scores of older beavers that had felled trees
and built dams through many seasons; a countless army
of trekking fur beavers, all under the generalship of
a wise old leader, who, as king of the colony, advanced
some few yards ahead of his battalions. Out of the waters
through the forest towards the country to the north
they journeyed. Wandering hunters said they saw them
cross Burrard Inlet at the Second Narrows, heading inland
as they reached the farther shore. But where that mighty
army of royal little Canadians set up their new colony,
no man knows. Not even the astuteness of the first Capilano
ever discovered their destination. Only one thing was
certain, Deer Lake knew them no more.
After their passing, the Indian
retraced their trail to the water’s edge. In the
red glare of the encircling fires he saw what he at
first thought was some dead and dethroned king beaver
on the shore. A huge carcass lay half in, half out,
of the lake. Approaching it he saw the wasted body of
a giant seal. There could never be two seals of that
marvellous size. His intuition now
grasped the meaning of the omen of the beckoning flame
that had called him from the far coasts of Point Grey.
He stooped above his dead conqueror and found, embedded
in its decaying flesh, the elk-bone spear of his forefathers,
and trailing away at the water’s rim was a long
flexible cedar-fibre rope.
As he extracted this treasured
heirloom he felt the “power,” that men of
magic possess, creep up his sinewy arms. It entered
his heart, his blood, his brain. For a long time he
sat and chanted songs that only great medicine men may
sing, and, as the hours drifted by, the heat of the
forest fires subsided, the flames diminished into smouldering
blackness. At daybreak the forest fire was dead, but
its beckoning fingers had served their purpose. The
magic elk-bone spear had come back to its own.
Until the day of his death the
first Capilano searched for the unknown river up which
the seal travelled from False Creek to Deer Lake, [Page
82] but its channel is a secret that even Indian
eyes have not seen.
But although those of the Squamish
tribe tell and believe that the river still sings through
its hidden trail that leads from Deer Lake to the sea,
its course is as unknown, its channel is as hopelessly
lost as the brave little army of beavers that a century
ago marshalled their forces and travelled up into the
great lone north. [Page 83]