Grand Hall tour

Coast Salish House

The Coast Salish are actually several related groups whose territories occupy much of the eastern coast of Vancouver Island and the mainland opposite. On the mainland, the territory stretches north to the Homathko watershed, east up the Fraser River beyond the present-day town of Yale, and south to the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

CMC T2004-003 (detail) There were two types of houses in Coast Salish villages, a long shed-roofed structure and a gabled house with a slightly pitched roof. Both types were constructed of heavy cedar logs holding up equally massive roof beams. The wide, hand-split cedar boards which formed the walls were set parallel with the ground between pairs of narrow poles and tied in place with twisted cedar branches. Traditional Coast Salish houses were very large, up to 30 metres in length and approximately 12 metres in width. Several related families lived in each house.

The house representing the Coast Salish in the exhibit is a smaller version of a house which stood near the present site of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. With its central doorway and massive carved figure and painting, it is somewhat unusual. No record has been found of the exact significance of the painting above the doorway.

You may enter the house.

S92-4390 In front of the house is the Tsonoqua feast dish, a contemporary work made for the Canadian Museum of Civilization by Kwakwaka'wakw artist Calvin Hunt. About 8 metres long, it rivals in size the large, traditional feast dishes. The food at feasts was often placed in a large dish carved in the form of an animal or supernatural being.

Many Kwakwaka'wakw stories tell of Tsonoqua, a supernatural woman who lived in the depths of the forest. Huge, shambling, and half-blind, with a basket on her back to hold the children she sought to capture, she was a figure to be feared. At the same time, she was a symbol of riches and wealth. The abdomen of the Tsonoqua is the main part of the feast dish, while the face can be removed to reveal another dish. Associated with the feast dish are six small bowls, in the form of red snappers, seals and frogs, which, when the dish is completely assembled, rest on the knees and other parts of Tsonoqua's body.