'Blue ribbon panel' seeking National Historic Site for Courtenay River Estuary

A local scientist, who has made one of the most significant archeological finds in North America, is preparing to publish her findings.

Archeologist Nancy Greene and geologist David McGee have proved that the Courtenay River Estuary possesses the remains of thousands of wooden stakes, which suggest that civilization occupying this area had an extensive fishery using wood-stake fish trap systems.

They have evidence of two distinct intertidal wood-stake fish trap types — the winged heart trap and the winged chevron trap, larger than anything previously described.

They present evidence that an industrial-level fishery based on knowledge of fish behaviour, utilizing the tides and sophisticated engineering principles, and an appreciation of sustainability, was in operation for more than 1,400 years.

Their find shows a level of organizational sophistication and potential for a population base not previously attributed to ancient cultures in Canada.

Their work is in the final stages of preparation for submission for academic publication.

Recognizing the importance of this find, Project Watershed is co-ordinating a community-wide effort to make a submission to the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for National Historic Status for the Courtenay River Estuary.

Paul Horgen, board chair of Project Watershed, has been elected chair of this co-ordinating group.

He is assisted by Valerie Diamond, administrative assistant, as he leads what can be described as a "blue ribbon panel."

As the raison d'être of the group  is to seek National Historic Site designation for the fish traps, two primary members of the group are Greene and Melissa Quocksister, the liaison with the K'ómoks First Nation.

The world of higher education and research is extremely well represented, with no fewer than four university professors. Paul Horgen, the chair, is Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto  and a biologist. He is joined by Betty Donaldson, Professor Emerita of the University of Calgary, an educator and a historian; Don Castleden, past chair of Project Watershed, retired professor from the University of Manitoba, continuing education; and Dan Mato, Professor Emeritus of the University of Calgary, art historian and archeologist.

An even greater source of specific experience comes from anthropologist Greg Miller, who has worked with heritage site status for locations in the American Northwest, and Rod Heitzmann, a retired archeologist from Parks Canada, again with extensive experience with national historic sties.

The panel is further strengthened by Christine Dickenson, an educator and an active volunteer at the Courtenay and District Museum.

Local governments' interest is demonstrated by their representatives — Area B Director Jim Gillis, Area C Director Edwin Grieve, Comox Coun. Marcia Turner and Courtenay Coun. Jon Ambler. The group is further strengthened by Alana Mullaly from the Comox Valley Regional District staff — a professional planner, she is experienced with historic status applications.

Finally, a most prestigious advisor is our former Lieutenant-Governor, Iona Campagnolo, who has agreed to advise the group in the later stages of the submission.

Local industry and commerce can already see the economic benefits flowing from the educational and tourism opportunities that will result with site designation, as it will formalize and publicize the archeological significance of the Courtenay River fish trap system.

The co-ordinating group has two professional foresters with expertise in the marine environments — Kerry Brownie and Gary Ardron.

The Chamber of Commerce is represented by developer Kip Keylock, while Dove Hendren, a local business person, will also provide liaison with our MLA's office. A recent and most welcome addition to the team is local architect Tom Dishlevoy.

A successful bid for National Historic Site designation will require a community-wide effort involving the CVRD, Town of Comox, City of Courtenay, the K'ómoks First Nation and others.

Success will have many benefits.

It will deliver a message to the Comox Valley, the Province of British Columbia and the federal government on the historic archeological significance and environmental significance of the Courtenay River Estuary. It will result in a greater understanding by the public of the heritage value and the cultural history of the Comox Valley and specifically the Courtenay River Estuary. It will bring expanded national and international awareness of the Comox Valley and our estuary, which will positively affect tourism in the Comox Valley.

National Historic Site designation is but one goal.

The group is seeking additional funding to complete a 20- to 30-minute documentary on the archeological history and biological significance of the Courtenay River Estuary. A first short video clip is already available at:

Future developments could include a display of models of the fish traps showing how they were constructed and operated, fish harvesting and preservation techniques, and First Nations artifacts. These displays could be at local museums, at the Discovery Centre now being constructed, or even at the newly proposed interpretative centre that could be located right on the estuary.

— Courtenay River Estuary National Historic Site co-ordinating group


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