Judith Williams – “Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast”

Judith Williams – “Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast”
by Andrew Bryant, 5 May

Judith Williams is an artist, art historian, and Assistant Professor Emeritus at University of British Columbia.  She’s also author of the highly acclaimed “Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast“, and recently visited us to speak about that subject.

And what a subject it is.  Beginning with her first visit to Waiatt Bay (Quadra Island), with directions provided by the late Elizabeth Harry (Keekus), Judith first saw, and then slowly began to appreciate, the enormous scope and scale of traditional First Nations mariculture.

The mechanics behind clam gardens are simple, but the ecological understanding behind them is vast.   Simply put, rock walls erected at extreme low tide levels will tend to accumulate sediment above them, creating conditions favorable for species such as Butter and Horse Clams. Cultivate these “fluffy” sediments, move rocks around, leave a path for the canoe – watch the moon and the tides – always remember to replace a “too-small-for-harvest” clam with the syphon (neck) pointed upwards – and watch the moon and the tides.

Do this repeatedly, pass the knowledge down through generations, and you have a predictable, sustainable food production system – that can feed a lot of people – for a very long time.  And it DID.

The “rediscovery” of stone structures used by First Nations peoples to cultivate clams from Puget Sound to Alaska made for a fascinating tale, which continues to unfold and receive wider attention by journalists and scientists alike.   You can learn more about this fascinating story here and here.