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Dentalia Shells
These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.
Illustration by Manami Kimura
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Gambier Island: West Bay Amble E-mail
(9 - user rating)
Written by Brian Grover   

Level: Easy
Distance: 4 km r/t
Time: 1½ hr Elevation: 50 m
Season: Year Round
Map: 92 G/6
Access: Take the bus to Horseshoe Bay and catch the ferry to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. Crossing time is 40 minutes. As you step off the loading ramp of the Langdale ferry you'll find the foot passenger ferry to New Brighton immediately on your right. Since this ferry services both Gambier Island and Keats Island make sure you get on the correct sailing.

To avoid retracing your steps, contact Cormorant Marine water taxi [604-250-2630] in Horseshoe Bay to find out if any trips are planned directly to West Bay. Though scheduling is sporadic and custom trips prohibitively expensive it may be possible to piggyback on another previously scheduled outing for just $20 or so. From West Bay just follow the directions below in reverse, returning via ferry from New Brighton and Langdale.

A boat ride or two, a pleasant rural stroll, and lunch at a charming country store are the highlights of this low-key day trip. From the government wharf in New Brighton climb the hill past the pay phone, staying with the right fork when you reach the Gambier Island General Store [604-886-3838.] Soon enough the road levels out, taking you past old homesteads and newer recreational properties as it winds through mixed forest of maple, hemlock and fir.

Think Globally, Buy Locally. Gambier Island Store has a sandwich and a porch swing with your name on it.
Picture of Gambier Island Store

Chest-high glades of sword fern burning with backlight offer plenty of opportunities for the photographically-inclined. Continue straight at the only other intersection en route to reach the long pier at West Bay. Or turn right and take a side trip to Gambier Harbour, adding 6 km to your day. Return to the general store for a gourmet sandwich before heading back to the city. Later in the summer picking blackberries along the foreshore is a good way to kill time while waiting for the ferry.




+1 #2 Gambier residentKathy 2010-11-04 00:41
Actually, if you want to hitch a ride back to civilization from West Bay, it's more practical to call Mercury water taxi in Horseshoe Bay than Cormorant water taxi. Cormorant is based on Bowen, and only randomly comes to this part of Gambier. Mercury has scheduled service on weekends out of Horseshoe Bay, to both West Bay and Gambier Harbour. Mercury's number is 604-921-7451.

Their schedule is at
+1 #1 Gambier residentKathy 2010-11-04 00:40
If you hike this stroll to West Bay in late October and plan to be there at low-ish tide, it's spawning season!

You can see Chum salmon fighting their way up the beach, and then into the lower reaches of Whispering Creek, which parallels the lower part of the West Bay road, leading to the dock. Look over the edges of the bridge just above the dock, and you often can see half a dozen big, tired Chums in the shallows, waiting to climb the next stretch of the stream.

They're usually there around Hallowe'en.

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