John Davidson (August 6, 1878–February 10, 1970)

John Davidson was a botanist who popularized nature study through illustrated public lectures. He created the Vancouver Natural History Society and the University of British Columbia’s herbarium and botanical garden. Today, many consider Davidson an environmental folk hero for his conservation efforts.

Illustrated map of southwest British Columbia showing locations of Vancouver, Howe Sound and the present-day Garibaldi Provincial Park

First Nations settlements on BC’s south coast

The Garibaldi area is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish group of First Nations. A subgroup of the Coast Salish, the Squamish Nation, collected resources from the high altitude areas around Garibaldi. The Skxwúmish, as they call themselves, occupied a number of permanent village sites along both sides of what is now the Squamish River. In addition, Squamish villages existed along the Cheakamus River, along the northwestern shore of Howe Sound and on both sides of Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm.

Mount Garibaldi and Garibaldi Lake

The region set the stage for many Squamish legends. In one legend, people survived a great flood by anchoring their canoe to the peak of Mount Garibaldi with a rope of twisted red cedar bark. In another, the mythical thunderbird made his home upon the rugged peak of Black Tusk, his lightning responsible for the rock’s blackness. And in yet another legend, Seyawoto (or serpent slayer Te Quit'chitail) killed the great double-headed serpent, Smolkai, at Garibaldi Lake.

The Natives of this area used cedar, fir, and Sitka spruce for fuel, construction materials, bark and pitch. From the pitch of the fir and Sitka spruce, they made a useful glue that they rubbed on the eyes to cure blindness. Alaska blueberry and mountain bilberry, which the Squamish gathered in large quantities, dried, and made into cakes, supplemented their diet.

They also mixed fireweed seed, Chamerion angustifolium (syn. Epilobium angustifolium) (xach't), a common ingredient in weaving and padding, into mountain-goat and dog-wool blankets to increase the strength of the fibers. Hunters of high status also hunted mountain goat, a very difficult pursuit that took many years of training.

Beginning in 1782, a century of recurring small pox epidemics (introduced by European settlers) killed many of the Native people. Because of this, by the time the first Vancouverites began exploring these mountainous areas in the early twentieth century, the First Nations’ long occupation was not as obvious to some people.