Although Tsawwassen appears to be a fairly modern city, the area where it now stands has an extensive history. Today the area is home to a group of Coast Salish people who are called the Tsawwassen First Nation. Historians believe that they have lived in the area for well over 4,000 years. In the past, eight prehistoric villages around Tsawwassen were uncovered and excavated. Archaeologists believe that the remains of one of the villages, which is located on English Bluff, were constructed nearly 4,200 years ago by the Coast Salish people.
While tangible proof of settlers in the area dates back to about 4,200 years, many Tsawwassen people claim that their ancestors have inhabited the land for nearly 5,000 years. In the beginning, they said that the people lived together in a longhouse, which was located on the banks of the Fraser River. The house was built with yellow and red cedar trees. It was divided into different sections to accommodate multiple families.
During the summer months when the Tsawwassen people traveled, they used cedar canoes and made tents from wood poles covered with cedar mats. Fishing was one of the main skills that Coast Salish people have been known for throughout history, and this way of life continues to the present day. In addition to being skilled fishermen, the ancient Coast Salish people also possessed skills in harvesting sturgeon, oysters, crabs and other shellfish. However, salmon were one of the most important types of fish they sought. Ancient people believed that these fish were supernatural beings that traveled to their area to offer their own flesh each year. An old tradition involves cooking the fish and returning the bones to the water to give thanks ceremoniously.
In addition to being talented fishermen, the Coast Salish people of the past were hunters and farmers. They hunted elk, sea lions, ducks and bears. These environmentally-efficient people let no part of what they hunted go to waste. After eating the flesh of these creatures, they used the remains to make clothing, artwork and tools. They made pots, spindle whorls, decorated tools and carved masks, and used these handcrafted items to barter and trade with people in neighboring villages. Their artwork, for its part, was culturally unique and exceptional in quality.
One legend provided by courtesy of the Tsawwassen First Nation states that the first man appeared on top of Mount Cheam. He was searching for land to settle. He saw an island, which was the island of Tsawwassen, and went to it. The area where the first man landed on top of the hill is called Selp. The man came down off the hill to build a house. Another legend told by the people, according to Canadian Geographic, talks about a greedy old woman. She was turned into stone by a Transformer after she refused to share her clams with others. When Xaals and his brother came to Tsawwassen, which was an island at the time, Xaals asked her what she was doing. She replied that she was preparing the clams for herself. He told her she should live eternally in a clam bed. After telling her this, he turned her into stone.
Spanish explorers landed on the Point Roberts Peninsula in 1791. In leader Jose Maria Narvaez Gervete’s writings, he named the area Isla de Zepeda. He also noted that both salmon and First Nations people were plentiful in the area. When writing about the native people, he noted that they spoke a very unique language, which he could not decipher with any accuracy.
Visitors to the area may learn more about Tsawwassen’s history by visiting the Delta Museum and Archives, which is located on Delta Street in Ladner Village, in the old city hall building. History and legends keep the Tsawwassen people’s long heritage alive today.
These days, most of Tsawwassen is a tranquil residential setting with beaches on the east and west sides, a border crossing to Point Roberts, WA to the south, and a highway to downtown Vancouver to the north. Plenty of attractive Tsawwassen real estate has been developed over the years, particularly on the waterfront and overlooking the area on English Bluff and Pebble Hill. As older homes were torn down, new and luxurious houses were built, including condos in central Tsawwassen. This neighbourhood is quiet and safe, since local residents take pride in living in a good community – something that does justice to Tsawwassen’s long and storied history.