Bowker Salmon Spiral

The Bowker Salmon Spiral was completed over five days, in Victoria, British Columbia, during the International Conference on Ecological Restoration, and was installed in the greenspace south of the University Centre at the University of Victoria. The process of the work itself was a spiral journey – beginning with the image of spawning salmon, which during the site research began spiraling outwards, to include Bowker Creek, Mystic Vale, the Garry Oaks, Blue Camus flowers and the Songhees people – all inter-related and inter-woven within the history of the land.

When I first arrived Don Eastman, UVic restoration of natural systems program professor, helped to situate me in the area – giving me a brief idea of what ‘natural’ areas could be found on campus – in this sharing he mentioned that there were creeks – Bowker and Hobbs –- on campus that disappeared and reappeared on their way to Cadboro Bay and Oak Bay and that these Bays were the sites of traditional, and ancient, Songhees villages. As we spoke, the images of spawning salmon began to come through.Later that day when I began the site research I discovered that Bowker Creek had been a salmon spawning stream up until the 1940s and that the Songhees people had named the area at the mouth of the creek ‘where there are many fishes’. I also found an article published in the Oak Bay News in November 2003, that a male spawning salmon had been found in Bowker Creek – the first one in seventy years – on November 24, 2003. As I continued with site research I discovered that the headwaters for Bowker Creek begin on the University of Victoria campus, near the University Club. 

The Salmon is important in many cultures, including the Northwest Coast First Nations, where salmon have human characteristics and superhuman abilities. After dying, the ‘Salmon People’s’ spirits return home to be reborn as humans, so it is imperative that all salmon bones are returned to the stream so that they can be reborn again as humans. If any of the bones are missing the new human would be missing corresponding body parts and the Salmon People may not return to the streams because they had been offended. While in Ireland, a salmon is said to swim in the Well of Segais, at the home of the Druids, and is said to be as old as time itself and knows everything past and future. And in Finland where sorcers were said to turn themselves into salmon to escape their enemies.

While I was continuing the search for historical maps looking for the original course of Bowker Creek, I was also aware of the Garry Oak and Blue Camus meadows and the restoration projects taking place in Victoria, as well as Mystic Vale, a second growth Douglas fir ecosystem ravine which Hobbs Creek runs through on its way to Cadboro Bay. I could find no evidence that Hobbs Creek had been a salmon bearing creek, but I did begin to question the links between the creeks, the salmon, the Garry Oaks and Blue Camus. I met with Cheryl Bryce, Land Officer with the Songhees, who confirmed that there was a connection between them. The Songhees traditionally harvested the Blue Camus bulbs and traded these along with salmon. The creeks and waterways would have been used to access the Garry Oaks, which sheltered the Camus – these areas were managed, or tended, by the Songhees people, through controlled burns and regular turning of the earth to facilitate the Camus growth – an inter-dependence that was honoured by the Songhees. The salmon was the ‘silver needle’ joining the land and waters, journeying from the creeks out to the ocean and then back again, providing food for the people and animals as well as nutrients for the soil.

I made numerous trips, over four days, to sections of Bowker Creek, Cadboro and Oak Bays, Mystic Vale, the Garry Oak meadows, trying to find a way to connect my intuitive response to the area – the salmon – and what the research had uncovered. My original idea had been to find the places where Bowker Creek disappeared underground and to mark these places, on land – bringing an awareness to viewers of the mysterious life taking place out of sight and under their feet –culminating with the marking of the mouth of the creek at Oak Bay. 

I decided to collect natural materials from the headwaters of Bowker Creek on the UVic campus, the Garry Oak Meadows, Mystic Vale, Cadboro Bay and Oak Bay. These would become part of a work that would attempt to link the installation site outside of the conference, to the salmon, the creeks, the meadows, Garry Oaks, Camus, Mystic Vale and the ocean, while providing the viewer with a work that could be viewed in multiple ways: visually and viscerally as a response to the spiral form and natural materials that form it and/or through a further investigation into the history of the site.

Special thanks to Cheryl Bryce, Don Eastman and Karoliina, Thomas, Asta and John Koivukangas.

International Conference on Ecological Restoration, University of Victoria, BC, 2004