Clo-oose, Cheewhat River

Clo-oose, Cheewhat River

by | Dec 17, 2021

Clo-oose is the site of an abandoned village of the Ditidaht First Nation on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, above a beach 0.25 miles (0.4 km) west of the Cheewhat River mouth, about 20 miles (32 km) west-northwest of Port Renfrew and 19 miles (31 km) southeast of Bamfield, British Columbia. Cheewhat River supports an important sockeye salmon run into Cheewhat Lake. The Nuu-chah-nulth people have inhabited the area for more than 4,000 years with a traditional territory extending along the majority of the west coast of Vancouver Island and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Makah tribal lands on the western tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The Ditidaht are a tribe of the Nuu-chah-nulth with historical villages at Whyac and Qua-ba-diwa (Carmanah). During their travels between these villages, Clo-oose was a canoe landing used during rough weather, and the name is derived from the word for ‘camping place’. Ditidaht territory is situated between Bonilla Point to the east and Pachena Point to the west. The eastern boundary corresponds with the boundary of the Pacheedaht tribe at Port Renfrew, with whom the Ditidaht share close cultural, kinship, and linguistic ties. The Huu-ay-aht are the neighboring tribe to the west at Anacla in Pachena Bay. The term ‘Ditidaht’ translates into English as the ‘people of diitiida’, a historical village located at the mouth of Jordan River in what is now Pacheedaht territory. Oral traditions recount the common history of Ditidaht and Pacheedaht peoples at this site and the subsequent westward Ditidaht migration. According to this tradition the people from Tatoosh Island, off Cape Flattery in Washington, got into a fight with the Ozette and were forced to abandon their home. They moved across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Jordan River and lived there for a long time eventually becoming the Ditidaht. They had a number of conflicts with the Clallam, Sooke, and Saanich tribes and when these groups banded together and attacked the Ditidaht, they moved again further westward and established villages at Cullite, Carmanah, Clo-oose, Whyac, and Tsuquanah. Ditidaht people derived their food and livelihood from the ocean. The staple foods were salmon, smelt, halibut, and groundfish, as well as intertidal foods such as mussels, barnacles, and sea urchins. These were supplemented with marine mammals, particularly whales and seals, as well as deer and elk from the land. Roots and green plants, fruits and berries were also important. The Ditidaht built fish weirs to catch salmon, typically made with poles of yew and slats of western red cedar, bound with Sitka spruce root. Whales were hunted from dugout canoes, first with bone lances and grass lines attached to sealskin floats, and later with iron harpoons. Dead whales were towed to shore and butchered, but sometimes dying whales would escape the fleet of hunters and wash up on shore which occasionally created intertribal disputes.

As was the case for other indigenous people in North America who did not have immunity to a number of epidemic diseases introduced by Europeans, massive depopulation occurred among the Ditidaht during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. There were at least eight varieties of epidemic diseases introduced to the Pacific Northwest coast region during the first century after European arrival, including smallpox, measles, influenza, and typhoid fever. A major smallpox epidemic reached the Ditidaht in 1782-3, possibly from Spanish explorers, several years before the first recorded contact between the Ditidaht and British fur traders in 1788. Another significant smallpox outbreak occurred in the early 1850s that had particularly devastating effects and resulted in the abandonment of several Ditidaht villages. Internecine warfare, stimulated by the introduction of European weapons and trade, further contributed to population loss and a process of amalgamation as some Ditidaht bands disappeared and others merged together. In 1855, Peter Francis and William E. Banfield, who were traders based on the west coast of Vancouver Island, estimated the remaining population of Ditidaht was about 800. In 1859, Governor James Douglas appointed Banfield a Government Agent for the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, and the following year, he followed up with a census of the indigenous adult male population of the region and listed 200 Ditidaht men. During the 1890s, Methodist mission schools were established in Whyac and Clo-oose, and many Ditidaht children were taken to the Alberni Indian Residential School which operated from 1890 to 1973. By the mid-20th century, most of the remaining Ditidaht resided at either Clo-oose or the neighboring village of Whyac about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the northwest at the outlet of Nitinat Lake on Nitinat Narrows. In 1964, a majority of Ditidaht members relocated to the Malachan Indian Reserve near the head of Nitinat Lake where the Department of Indian Affairs constructed a new village called Malachan.

Clo-oose is on the West Coast Trail, originally called the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, a backpacking trail of 47 miles (75 km) following the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. It was built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast, part of the treacherous Graveyard of the Pacific. The West Coast Trail passes through the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples. Native trails used for trade and travel existed in the area before European settlement. European use of the trail area was originally to facilitate the construction and maintenance of a telegraph line between Victoria and Cape Beale. The Dominion Lifesaving Trail was constructed because of the hundreds of shipwrecks that occurred along this coast in the late 1800s. Skagit was a 3 masted barkentine of 506 tons that wrecked on the reef in front of Clo-oose. This sailing ship was 156 feet (48 m) long and built in Port Ludlow, Washington in 1883, and primarily used to transport lumber down the coast to San Francisco. The Skagit was sailing north from San Francisco in ballast to Port Gamble, Washington to load lumber. The crew ran into a storm and grossly misjudged their position. They sighted the light at Cape Flattery and believed it to be the light from the Umatilla lightship off Cape Alava and proceeded north instead of turning into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The storm drove the Skagit onto the reef at 4 am on October 25th, 1906. The impact of the ship hitting the rocks was so powerful that it instantly killed the captain and cook. The remaining 8 crew members escaped by scrambling over the bow at daybreak and clawing their way to shore. They found help and shelter at Clo-oose and were later brought to Victoria. All that remains of the wreck today is one of the Skagit’s anchors on the beach marking the spot where the wreck occurred. Read more here and here. Explore more of Clo-oose and the Cheewhat River here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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