Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is part of Snuneymuxw First Nation Traditional Territory. The Snuneymuxw are a Coast Salish people who live on Vancouver Island and speak the Hul'qumi'num dialect. Prior to European contact the Snuneymuxw had many winter villages along the Nanaimo Harbour, each one consisting of several longhouses.
Newcastle Island or Saysutshun has always had a special place in the hearts of Snuneymuxw people or mustiyuxw. It has been used as a place of healing. When someone had passed away in the community, the loved ones would go to Newcastle island to yu’thuy’thut to fix up their heart, mind and body and let go of their tears.
Saysutshun was also used for the training grounds of the competitive canoe pullers, they would run the trails to keep themselves in top physical shape. Saysutshun was also used for gathering traditional medicines. In order to maintain Saysutshun a family would live on the island to ensure the traditional medicines were not over picked, and that the trails had been kept clear and free from debris.
Contact us to inquire about including a cultural aspect to your next event or function!
Some Traditional Stories
Newcastle Island's Hidden Treasure
Long ago before we had cars, planes, trains and ferries, the Snuneymuxw war canoes were used as taxis to bring trading goods across to Vancouver and back.
Two Snuneymuxw men were hired out to Vancouver and they were going to make their way back home to the Snuneymuxw village in Nanaimo, when these four men came up to them saying “Snuneymuxw?”
The two Snuneymuxw men understood that they wanted to hire them for a ride to the Island. The four men paid the two Snuneymuxw and they got into the canoe with their belongings. Among those belongings there was a wooden box. The man that had the box, sat on the box all the way to Nanaimo.
About half way, three of the men began to fight over the box. The man that had sat on the box jumped off the canoe and swam away because he didn’t want to have anything to do with the fight. The three men continued fighting, until one was pushed out of the canoe and drowned. The last two men that were fighting both stabbed each other and fell out of the canoe. The two Snuneymuxw men didn’t know what to do so they came home and just pulled the wooden box up in front of the traditional long house.
A woman came outside and asked why that box was outside and who it belonged to. Her husband said, “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
The wife said, “Well if it’s nothing to worry about why is it there?”
After a while the husband finally told his wife, “Ok we got hired back from Vancouver and on the way home these four guys killed themselves fighting over this box.”
The wife then said, “Well what if someone came along and thought you may have killed them for this box, you must get rid of it.”
So he and his friend picked up the box and brought it to Newcastle Island (Saysutshun). One of the men said, “Let’s see what all this fighting was about?”
So they opened box and inside were gold bricks, coins and paper money. They knew they couldn’t spend it because it was probably stolen and people may have died for it, so they believed it may be cursed.
They dug a deep hole and buried the box in the hole and pulled huge rocks over the hidden treasure.
Newcastle Island has a hidden treasure the Snuneymuxw people still talk about.
Potlatch (Gathering) of the Year
Long ago all the animals and birds would gather together and have a year-end feast and share a meal with one another.
If someone liked clams they brought clams to the main table, if someone liked berries they would bring it to the main table. So everyone’s favorite food was at the same table for one another to share.
Everyone always looked forward to Eagle’s dish because he brought Coho salmon. To all the animals and birds, Coho is like chocolate and it never made it all the way around the table before running out.
One year Raccoon was talking to his friend the Cormorant and Otter. He said to them, “I wish we could just steal that Coho and keep it for ourselves because most of the time it never makes it all the way around the table.”
Cormorant says, “Yes, I wish we could steal it too.”
So Raccoon says, “Well, all we need is a big distraction.”
Cormorant says, “Well I could pretend I’m stretching and while I’m stretching someone can run behind and grab the Coho.”
Raccoon says< “How about I stand up on a perch and watch to see when it looks busy and Otter you run in and grab the Coho while Cormorant is stretching.”
So Cormorant goes to main table and stands there waiting for Raccoon to say its OK. When Racoon gives Cormorant the sign, he pretends to stretch and Otter runs in and grabs the Coho. Just as Otter is at the water line, Eagle swoops down and stops Otter and says “Stop! Why must you steal from our main table? This is the only time of year we share a meal with one another and you are stealing. I must teach you all a lesson. Cormorant, because you tried to trick me with having your wings flared wide open you shall be like this until this day.” So, Cormorants do not have natural oil in their feathers so when it rains or they get wet they have to leave their wings flared open in order to dry or they will be cold.
Eagle continues, “Otter, you once were a great scout of all the lands now you shall be a great scout of the sea.” So, Otters breathe air but live in the ocean.
As each one was getting in trouble Raccoon became more and more afraid of what was going to happen to him because he had planned the whole idea and when Eagle said, “And Raccoon…”, Raccoon became so afraid he turned white.
Eagle said, “Raccoon because you had planned the stealing of the Coho this is how you shall live from now on.” The Eagle then cast the champagne Raccoon out to Newcastle Island and told him that is where they shall live from now on.
So Newcastle Island is the only place in the world that has the champagne coloured raccoons.
Clam Bed Rocks
Long ago there were three rows of long houses that started from Departure Bay all the way to Port Place Mall. Newcastle Island was used for three things by Snuneymuxw First Nations:
When someone passed away in the village they went to Newcastle Island to yu’thuy’thut fix up their hearts, mind and body.
Training grounds for the canoe pullers
Harvesting traditional medicines.
Because Newcastle Island was used by Snuneymuxw people, there needed to be a family that lived on the island to maintain it.
Once on Newcastle Island lived a young man, and every day he would stand at one point of Newcastle and talk to a young lady from the village across water. One day he couldn’t hear her because it was too windy, so he decided to swim across and finally meet her. When he had gotten half way across, the water start to lhapqwum (boil) and a sea monster came up, swallowed the young man and then went back under the water. The girl began to scream so loud and people from the village came down to see what happened. The Elder of the village told all the young men to run home and grab their paddles and spears and then he told all the women, “You go down the beach and dig as many clams as you can and put them in the canoes.”
So when the men came back and the women had put clams in the canoes, the Elder said to the men, “When you go out to the middle of the water where the water boils, I want you to stop and hit the top of the water with your paddles and you will see the water bubble up. When you see it bubble I want you to throw clams down and the sea monster will come up out of the water to eat more clams and when he does I want you to spear him.”
So the men went out the middle of the water and begin to hit the top with their paddles and the water began to boil and the clams were thrown into the water. When the sea monster came up out of the water some men were throwing clams in his mouth and then they speared the sea monster. They dragged the sea monster to the beach and the Elder grabbed a knife and cut open the sea monster and the young man jumped out with no cuts to his body.
So, the clams that were thrown into the water washed up on Newcastle Island and it looks like a perfect clam bed rock.
In the traditional Hul'q'umi'num language of the Snuneymuxw people, places were named for the use they gave or for a particular feature. There isn't just one name for Newcastle Island, but there are many names for various places around the Island.
Below are some of the described meanings for place names:
Saysutshun: Means 'training for running' and refers to the special places where runners, canoe paddlers or warriors would bathe to cleanse themselves before a race or battle.
Qulastun: Means 'facing the other way' or 'backwards'. It is the name for the bay where the ferry docks which looks back toward Nanaimo Harbour. Many years ago, this was a favourite gathering place to dig and dry clams.
Tl:piles: Means 'deep, going under water' and is the name for a small bay at the north end of the Island which was a favourite camping place because of its perfect beach for landing canoes.
Xwi'thi:sucun: Means 'to nail something'. This is the passage which was a well-used portage for canoes except during storms.
Lhapqwum: Means 'boiling place' and is where a monster, a huge sting ray-like creature, lived and made the water look like it was boiling.
Learn more about Snuneymuxw history and culture at: