Mount Newton, known as Lau,Welnew to First Nations, next on name-change list

Mount Newton is next on the list of Greater Victoria landmarks that First Nations want to see restored to their traditional names.

The Saanich, or Wsanec, tribes know the mountain as Lau,Welnew, which means place of refuge in the Sencoten language.

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“There’s big support for that one in the Saanich Nation because we have always held that mountain sacred,” said Tsawout hereditary chief Eric Pelkey, who spearheaded last week’s march up Mount Douglas to erect a sign bearing the traditional name Pkols.

The Mount Newton campaign is likely to start this fall, Pelkey said.

Saanich elders have passed down the story of a great flood, believed to have taken place about 10,000 years ago, he said.

“The people that emerged from it did it by tying themselves to an arbutus tree on the top [of Mount Newton] with cedar ropes and their canoes and that’s how they survived the flood,” Pelkey said.

“When they came down they were called the emerging people and that’s where the name Wsanec came from.”

Grant Keddie, Royal B.C. Museum curator of archeology, said Lau,Welnew is well-documented as referring to Mount Newton and refers to the place of escape from the flood.

“There is some geological evidence that about 10,000 years ago there was a massive flood, which came down the Fraser River, probably as a result of an ice blockage, and that went across the Strait [of Georgia] and into Saanich Inlet,” Keddie said.

Legends also talk about Mount Newton as home of the thunderbird.

“So it is really quite a significant place,” he said.

“I am very much in favour of seeing the First Nations footprint on the landscape in important places like this.”

Different families used different names for features, which is why some Lekwungen (Songhees) people refer to Mount Tolmie as Pkols, which means white head or white rock, Keddie said.

There are also references to Mount Douglas as Chu-utchin — heavenly mountain — and Pepkiyos, the name given to snowberry plants.

A further complication is that many of the names were not documented until most of the fluent Sencoten speakers had died, Keddie said.

For now, Pelkey and supporters of the Mount Douglas name change are concentrating on compiling the documentation needed to support their application to the province for restoration of the name Pkols.

Talks are also planned with Parks Canada about Sidney Spit, where the remains of a longhouse and graves have been found, Pelkey said.

“I think Parks Canada would appreciate having a history of the area,” he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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