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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

Archaeological Investigations of the National Historic Sites Service, 1962-1966

by John H. Rick

Excavations in British Columbia


In 1778, Captain James Cook visited the Nootkan Indian village of Yuquot on Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Finding the natives hospitable, he named the cove on which their village was situated "Friendly Cove." It was not, however, until 1788 that a European, John Meares, settled at Friendly Cove. He built a small dwelling and a shipyard from which he launched the schooner Northwest America. His activities in the area were cut short by the arrival of Esteban Josť Martinez who seized several vessels for illegally participating in the sea otter trade in Spanish territory. To reinforce their territorial claims, the Spanish built a small battery on the nearby island of San Miguel and constructed a hospital, bakery, two carpenter's shops and other buildings on the shores of Friendly Cove.

Since this site represents the most northerly extension of Spanish settlement on the west coast of North America, it was felt that archaeological investigation might yield interesting data on the adaptation of the Spanish to a northern climate. Moreover, the six-year span of Spanish occupation would mean a closely dated collection of artifacts for comparative purposes. Consequently, on completion of his work at Coteau du Lac in June, 1966, William J. Folan began excavations at Friendly Cove; his senior assistant was John T. Dewhirst.

Extensive trenching on San Miguel Island failed to reveal substantial traces of the battery or any significant amount of Spanish artifacts. The search for other Spanish structures was hampered by the fact that the present-day village of Friendly Cove is built on top of the Spanish site. Nevertheless, by placing trenches in the open spaces between houses, it was possible to excavate some of the areas where documentary evidence suggested Spanish buildings had been located. A number of artifacts of European manufacture were found, but there was little trace of Spanish structural remains; however, the quantity of bone points and harpoon barbs that were uncovered suggested that the village was built on a large midden and subsequent excavation revealed midden deposits 18 ft. deep. These yielded an excellent collection of pre-contact Nootkan artifacts including a few zoomorphic figures carved from ivory and stone. A number of Nootkan songs were recorded, among them one describing the Spanish occupation.

A brief survey carried out in the vicinity of Friendly Cove revealed nine additional sites, mostly identified by their shell mounds.

17 Excavation of the stratified shell midden underlying the Nootkan village of Yuquot. Comparatively few traces were found of the 18-century Spanish occupation despite extensive trenching among the houses of the present-day village of Friendly Cove and on nearby San Miguel Island. The midden proved to be about 18 ft. in depth and yielded an excellent sample of pre-contact Nootkan artifacts.
(M. Folan.)

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