Clam Gardens with Judith Williams

Clam Gardens with Judith Williams

by Heather Harbord, 7
 May 2016

Eighteen members attended the May 7th, 2016 field trip following Judith Williams’ talk on Clam Gardens.  Since Judith was unable to walk far, most of us did not go down onto Westview Beach which is mapped on pages 110-111 of her 2006 book Clam Gardens; Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast.

Instead, we carpooled from the meeting place at the start of the Seawalk to the foot of Oliver St.  We then walked along the side of the road stopping en route for Williams to point out the patterns in the rocks on the beach that Sliammon Elder Norm Galligher had told her were the fish traps and clam gardens that Elisabeth Harry had asked her to investigate.  Both Gallagher and Harry passed away shortly after this so Williams was unable to question them further though other band members were able to help.

When she tried to report her findings to the BC Archaeological survey they disbelieved her saying that there was nothing in the literature.  Previous researchers had only talked to men.  The clam gardens were the prerogative of women and were a highly organized activity dating back thousands of years.

One of the Malaspina Naturalists attending the trip said she remembered seeing a 10 lb Ling cod caught in one of the traps even though it had not been kept up for decades.   In retrospect, we would prefer to do this down on the beach so that we could get away from the noise and danger of the almost continuous traffic.


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.