Gardens and Garry Oaks: a coastal field school on Tl'ches

Students explore ecological past with Lekwungen Coast Salish elders

More than 60 years ago, the last Coast Salish residents of Tl’ches—the Chatham and Discovery islands off the eastern coast of Oak Bay—left to live on the Songhees Reserve in Esquimalt. But this summer, Lekwungen Coast Salish Elder Sellemah/Joan Morris, who grew up on Tl'ches, helped UVic and Songhees students in a UVic field school see the islands through her eyes—superimposing past and present.

Today, Tl’ches shows off grasses, beaches, shell middens and, if you’re lucky enough to see him, one lone wolf. But through Sellemah, and the guidance of other members of the Songhees community, students learned about the wider diversity that once flourished among the Garry Oaks, including the traditional gardens and orchards that have rapidly disappeared in the intervening decades.

The field school in ethnoecology, led by UVic ethnoecologist Dr. Darcy Mathews, is a partnership with the Songhees Nation, and offers a rare opportunity to learn about the cultural and ecological past of Tl’ches from Lekwungen Coast Salish elders and community members.

Mathews and his 18 students learned about the land and ocean—and its history—in new ways. Student research projects recorded heritage sites, invasive species, erosion and plant species in an effort to better understand the interconnected cultural and ecological past of Tl’ches.