Denis St. Claire

Denis St. Claire
Denis St. Claire

Category: Indigenous Community Alumni Awards

Name: Denis St. Claire

UVic degree and year: Bachelor of Arts, 1970         

Current hometown: Victoria             

Birthplace: Port Alberni, BC

Denis St. Claire spent many years as an educator, archaeologist and ethnographer. In 2014, he retired as an educator and continued his archaeological and ethnographic work. His primary focus was with the Tseshaht First Nation, working with their elected councils, hereditary leaders and staff. Over the years he enjoyed working with Elders of other Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and conducted multi-year archaeological excavations within their traditional territories. In 2013, St. Claire was honoured to receive the Margaret and James F. Pendergast Award from the Canadian Archaeological Association, which is given “in recognition of extraordinary and exemplary contribution in expanding the boundaries of Canadian archaeology.”

Q: What was the moment you realized your career calling?

DSC: Probably in my Grade 8 Social Studies course, when Miss Smith, my teacher, said in response to my many questions asked during our studies of ancient Mesopotamia, that she thought that I would be interested in archaeology. I did not have a clue what the word meant, so she lent me a pile of books. They were fascinating!

Q: Many people are not following one career for life. What other work might interest you in the future, even as a hypothetical?

DSC: I will be 75 years old in 2022, so I don’t think that there is time to start a new career! However, my years as a Social Studies, Native Studies and French teacher were deeply fulfilling and I continue to do field work, continuing my passion for archaeology and ethnography.

Q: What movie or television show always makes you laugh?

DSC: Any of the Pink Panther movies because of the comedic genius of Peter Sellers.

Q: What’s a part of your daily routine that you can’t do without? 

DSC: Breakfast at the Spiral Café in Vic West. Ongoing contact/interaction with my colleagues and former students, continuing to have relevance.

Q: The pandemic has come with lessons for many of us. What is something you learned that you will carry forward with you?

DSC: Patience, perseverance and continuing commitments.

Q: How did UVic, or your faculty specifically, shape you as a person? What is the best advice a mentor has given you?

DSC: I was indeed fortunate to form close bonds with a number of my profs, which turned quite quickly into good friendships. I suppose the essence of what I learnt through my associations with them is to seize opportunities as they present themselves and to bond with my students, opening ‘doors’ for them whenever applicable and deserved.

Q: What is your favourite memory of being a student at UVic?

DSC: Learning in a manner unavailable in high school. Relating to my profs in an adult manner.

Q: What do you hope you and your work will ultimately contribute toward a better future for people and the planet?

DSC: I trust that the body of my work, and that of my associates, will continue to supply First Nations with the tools necessary to assert their Indigenous rights and title in meaningful ways.


For the full list of 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, click here.