Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sumas Mountain and the Great Flood or Tsunami

There is a story in "Five Corners the Story of Chilliwack" by Bruce Ramsey that tells of the drowning of a world, the end of a culture and the beginning of a new one.  While it can be compared to the story of Noah I find echoes of a more recent event, the March 2011 Japanese Tsunami.

Sumas Mountain, B.C.© Stephen Mullock

From "Five Corners the Story of Chilliwack" by Bruce Ramsey

"During the flood here in this valley there was a man who told his people to build a good canoe, and he said,  there will be one mountain that's not going to be clear out of sight.  The top will be there and that's where the people are going to be saved, those that are going to have a canoe".

"But a lot of people did not believe him, for they said, "There are a lot of high mountains; we can climb up there." Well when the time came that the flood started they began to climb Sumas Mountain, or as the Indians call it Tuhk-kay-ugh, and it didn't go out of sight during the flood. They went to the top and they had a long rope that was the Indian's work, braided of some kind of skin and trees, and they tied themselves up.

The story says there were three canoes*; one was lost there, one broke away and nobody knows where it went. When the water began to recede and about half of Sumas Mountain was visible they began to go down and they found a cave where they stayed until they could see the low land was dry.

And that the people that came down Sumas Mountain to the dry lands below changed their language from the old Chilkwayuhik language to the Halkomelem tongue which is in use today.

At that moment there began, to the old traditions, the birth of the present rich native culture, particularly basket weaving, of which it has been said there are few superior counterparts in the world.


The Chilliwack, Agassiz and Abbotsford areas are ringed along their edges with mountains of all sizes and rising in the middle of the Valley are a number of prominent peaks the largest being Sumas Mountain. Escape to higher ground, everywhere, would seem to be readily at hand.

The idea of "a man" telling a river traveling people to build a "good canoe" must have sounded like strange advice indeed.  The natives would have been quite familiar with the Fraser River floods; in a time long before dikes were built to hem the Fraser's water in. Their solution would have been simple, climb or jump into a canoe and move to higher ground.  What if instead of a flood it was a Tsunami?

A Tsunami would explain why there would be no time to travel to another mountain and the force of the water would explain why

"They went to the top and they had a long rope that was the Indian's work, braided of some kind of skin and trees, and they tied themselves up."
So was it a flood or something else?

The last two paragraphs are eerie as massive cultural changes take place after this event including language and basket weaving.  Where the earlier inhabitants wiped out by this catastrophic event? 

* What of the missing canoes?  I found this, almost by accident the day after I wrote this post, in the book "The People of the Harrison" by Daphne Sleigh, "One of the most specific flood stories describes how a group of Chehalis and Scowlitz people crowded on to rafts and escaped across the Fraser to Sumas Mountain to take refuge from the rising water.  They moored there, but some of the land mass of the mountain broke away and carried the raft southward to Washington, where - so the story goes - the survivors became the Chehalis and Cowlitz tribes of that state."
Quick Facts
"Sumas" is a Halqemeylem word meaning "a big level opening" referring according to Wikipedia to the Sumas Prairie below. 

Name Details for Sumas
Hike Sumas Mountain

The Sumas Peak has an elevation of 910m or 2,986 feet above sea level. 

Imagine living here...

Stephen Mullock RI is an award winning full-time real estate agent with 30 years of experience and hundreds of sales. Thinking of buying or selling real estate in the Fraser Cheam communities of Chilliwack, Agassiz or Harrison Hot Springs? Contact Steve (click here) for experience, local knowledge and friendly service you’ll be happy you did.

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