B.C. natives believe they'll face similar disaster

DIRK MEISSNER, CP 2005-01-10 02:50:53

VICTORIA -- Aboriginals who live in the villages that dot the rugged, fjord-like west coast of Vancouver Island believe one day they'll face an earthquake and tidal wave similar in destructive force to the quake and tsunami that hit southeast Asia on Boxing Day. It happened before on Vancouver Island more than 300 years ago and it will happen again, say aboriginals and scientists.

"It's in our oral history," says Chief Robert Dennis about the violent earthquake and massive tsunami that struck the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"There was an earthquake and they felt the ground shake and then shortly after the tidal wave came and it washed up all the sand onto the houses," he said. "All the dwellings were destroyed and people by the thousands drowned. They didn't even have time to get into their canoes."

The island quake and tsunami are more than a legend to scientists, says Garry Rogers, a seismologist with Victoria's Pacific Geoscience Centre, a federal research facility that studies the earth's movements.

He can actually pinpoint the date and time of day when the west coast of Vancouver Island was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

"Three hundred years ago, Jan. 26, the year 1700, there was a massive tsunami caused by a magnitude nine earthquake, the same size that was in Sumatra," said Rogers. "The difference is it occurred at night time rather than the daytime.

"The reason we can put it to the date is because the tsunami went across the Pacific and it impacted Japan," he said. "At that time, Japan had a good timing system and a good recording system. It damaged the rice store houses in several ports along the east coast of Japan."

Island aboriginals who live in the Cowichan Valley, about 60 kilometres north of Victoria, tell stories of the ground shaking in the night, causing landslides and massive damage, Rogers said.

West Coast aboriginals who lived on a hillside overlooking the ocean tell a story of continuous shaking and survival, but their neighbours who lived on the water at what is now called Pacheena Bay were wiped out, he said.

"The whole village was gone," Rogers said. "The buildings were gone. The canoes were gone. The people were gone, taken away by the tsunami like we're seeing in Sumatra."

Dennis, elected chief of the Hu-ay-aht First Nation of Bamfield, a fishing and tourism village located about 300 kilometres northwest of Victoria, said he knows of at least 10 different aboriginal accounts passed down over time that tell of the destruction wrought by the island earthquake and tsunami.

The quake and tsunami of 300 years ago have become ingrained in the culture of the West Coast aboriginals and what happened in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India on Boxing Day is a stark reminder of what is lurking in the Pacific Ocean, he said.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003



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