and so distinct from its surroundings as to suggest
rather the handicraft of man than a whim of Nature,
it looms up at the entrance to the Narrows, a symmetrical
column of solid grey stone. There are no similar formations
within the range of vision, or indeed within many a
day’s paddle up and down the coast. Amongst all
the wonders, the natural beauties that encircle Vancouver,
the marvels of mountains shaped into crouching lions
and brooding beavers, the yawning canyons, the stupendous
forest firs and cedars, Siwash
Rock stands as distinct, as
individual, as if dropped from another sphere.
saw it first in the slanting light of a redly setting
August sun; the little tuft of green shrubbery that
crests its summit was black against the crimson of sea
and sky, and its colossal base of
grey stone gleamed like flaming polished granite.
My old tillicum lifted his paddle
blade to point towards it. “You know the story?”
he asked. I shook my head (experience had taught me
his love of silent replies, his moods of legend-telling).
For a time we paddled slowly; the rack detached itself
from its background of forest and shore, and it stood
forth like a sentinel—erect, enduring, eternal.
“Do you think it stands
straight—like a man?” he asked.
“Yes, like some noble-spirited,
upright warrior,” I replied.
“It is a man,” he
said, “and a warrior man, too; a man who fought
for everything that was noble and upright.”
“What do you regard as
everything that is noble and upright, Chief?”
I asked, curious as to his ideas. I shall not forget
the reply; it was but two words—astounding, amazing
words. He said simply:
Through my mind raced tumultuous
recollections of numberless articles in yet numberless
magazines, all dealing with the recent “fad”
of motherhood, but I had to hear from the lip of a Squamish
Indian Chief the only treatise on the nobility of “clean
fatherhood” that I have yet unearthed. And this
treatise has been an Indian legend for centuries; and
lest they forget how all-important those two little
words must ever be, Siwash Rock stands to remind them,
set there by the Deity as a monument to one who kept
his own life clean, that cleanliness might be the heritage
of the generations to come.
It was “thousands of years
ago” (all Indian legends begin in extremely remote
times) that a handsome boy chief journeyed in his canoe
to the upper coast for the shy little northern girl
whom he brought home as his wife. Boy though he was,
the young chief had proved himself to be an excellent
warrior, a fearless hunter, and an upright, courageous
man among men. His tribe loved him, his enemies respected
him, and the base and mean and cowardly feared him.
The customs and traditions of
his ancestors were a positive religion to him, the sayings
and the advices of the old people were his creed. He
was conservative in every rite and ritual of his race.
He fought his tribal enemies like the savage that he
was. He sang his war songs, danced his war dances, slew
his foes, but the little girl-wife from the north he
treated with the deference that he gave his own mother,
for was she not to be the mother of his warrior son?
The year rolled round, weeks
merged into months, winter into spring, and one glorious
summer at daybreak he wakened to her voice calling him.
She stood beside him, smiling.
“It will be to-day,”
she said proudly.
He sprang from his couch of
wolf skins and looked out upon the coming day: the promise
of what it would bring him seemed breathing through
all his forest world. He took her very gently by the
hand and led her through the tangle of wilderness down
to the water’s edge, where the beauty spot we
moderns call [Page 8] Stanley Park
bends about Prospect Point. “I must swim,”
he told her.
“I must swim, too,”
she smiled, with the perfect understanding of two beings
who are mated. For to them the old Indian custom was
law—the custom that the parents of a coming child
must swim until their flesh is so clear and clean that
a wild animal cannot scent their proximity. If the wild
creatures of the forest have no fear of them, then,
and only then, are they fit to become parents, and to
scent a human is in itself a fearsome thing to all wild
So those two plunged into the
waters of the Narrows as the grey dawn slipped up the
eastern skies and all the forest awoke to the life of
a new, glad day. Presently he took her ashore, and smilingly
she crept away under the giant trees. “I must
be alone,” she said, “but come to me at
sunrise: you will not find me alone then.” He
smiled also, and plunged back into the sea. He must
swim, swim, swim through this hour when his fatherhood
was coming upon him. It was the law that he must be
clean, spotlessly clean, so that when his child looked
out upon the world it would have the chance to live
its own life clean. If he did not swim hour upon hour
his child would come to an unclean father. He must give
his child a chance in life; he must not hamper it by
his own uncleanliness at its birth. It was the tribal
law—the law of vicarious purity.
As he swam joyously to and fro,
a canoe bearing four men headed up the Narrows. These
men were giants in stature, and the stroke of their
paddles made huge eddies that boiled like the seething
“Out from our course!”
they cried as his lithe, copper-coloured body arose
and fell with his splendid stroke. He laughed at them,
giants though they were, and answered that he could
not cease his swimming at their demand.
“But you shall cease!”
they commanded. “We are the men [agents] of the
Sagalie Tyee [God], and we command you ashore out of
our way!” (I find in all these Coast Indian [Page
9] legends that the Deity is represented by
four men, usually paddling an immense canoe.)
He ceased swimming, and, lifting
his head, defied them. “I shall not stop, nor
yet go ashore,” he declared, striking out once
more to the middle of the channel.
“Do you dare disobey us,”
they cried—“we, the men of the Sagalie Tyee?
We can turn you into a fish, or a tree, or a stone for
this; do you dare disobey the Great Tyee?”
“I dare anything for the
cleanliness and purity of my coming child. I dare even
the Sagalie Tyee himself, but my child must be born
to a spotless life.”
The four men were astounded.
They consulted together, lighted their pipes, and sat
in council. Never had they, the men of the Sagalie Tyee,
been defied before. Now, for the sake of a little unborn
child, they were ignored, disobeyed, almost despised.
The lithe young copper-coloured body still disported
itself in the cool waters; superstition held that should
their canoe, or even their paddle blades, touch a human
being their marvellous power would be lost. The handsome
young chief swam directly in their course. They dared
not run him down; if so, they would become as other
men. While they yet counselled what to do, there floated
from out the forest a faint, strange, compelling sound.
They listened, and the young chief ceased his stroke
as he listened also. The faint sound drifted out across
the waters once more. It was the cry of a little, little
child. Then one of the four men, he that steered the
canoe, the strongest and tallest of them all, arose
and, standing erect, stretched out his arms towards
the rising sun and chanted, not a curse on the young
chief’s disobedience, but a promise of everlasting
days and freedom from death.
“Because you have defied
all things that came in your path we promise this to
you,” he chanted: “you have defied what
interferes with your child’s chance for a clean
life, you have lived as you wish your son to live, you
have defied us when we would have stopped your swimming
and hampered your child’s [Page 10] future.
You have placed that child’s future before all
things, and for this the Sagalie Tyee commands us to
make you forever a pattern for your tribe. You shall
never die, but you shall stand through all the thousands
of years to come, where all eyes can see you. You shall
live, live, live as an indestructible monument to Clean
The four men lifted their paddles
and as the handsome young chief swam inshore, as his
feet touched the line where sea and land met, he was
transformed into stone.
Then the four men said, “His
wife and child must ever be near him; they shall not
die, but live also.” And they, too, were turned
into stone. If you penetrate the hollows in the woods
near Siwash Rock you will find a large rock and a smaller
one beside it. They are the shy little bride-wife from
the north, with her hour-old baby beside her. And from
the uttermost parts of the world vessels come daily
throbbing and sailing up the Narrows. From far trans-Pacific
ports, from the frozen North, from the lands of the
Southern Cross, they pass and repass the living rock
that was there before their hulls were shaped, that
will be there when their very names are forgotten, when
their crews and their captains have taken their long
last voyage, when their merchandise has rotted, and
their owners are known no more. But the tall, grey column
of stone will still be there—a monument to one
man’s fidelity to a generation yet unborn—and
will endure from everlasting to everlasting. [Page