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Unearthed Clam Gardens Help Tell History of Russell Island Aboriginals

Aboriginal representatives are helping students understand the significance of clam gardens along the coast of Russell Island off British Columbia.
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Six years after two clam gardens were discovered along the beach of Russell Island, between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay off of British Columbia, Canada, University of Victoria students are figuring out how and when the gardens were built, reports the Times Colonist.

“From some groups of elders we’ve talked to, they say these clam gardens basically acted as food banks,” said Nathan Cardinal, the cultural resource management adviser for the Gulf Island National Park Reserve. “If they couldn’t get enough food to get through the winter, they could come here and grab shellfish.”

Aboriginal representatives have joined the students—who pitch tents and spend May and part of June studying aboriginal sites around Vancouver Island—how the gardens were a part of their culture.

Philip Joe’s grandparents told him stories about the gardens. He is a member of the Cowichan Tribe. “The clam gardens are only a little bit of our culture, and there’s a lot more to be explained,” he said.

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Eric McLay, a University of Victoria instructor, said the gardens are at least 1,000 years old. They were built on the beach at low tide and surrounded by rock walls for protection from predators and to act as a barrier against seaweed.

Those who tended the clam gardens would till the sand so the clams could get more oxygen.

“It shows that people didn’t passively react to their environment but rather created their own landscape,” McLay told the Times Colonist.