CAPILANO, Chief Joe




Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors

Although Mary Capilano (Lixwelut) and Chief Joe Capilano (Su-a-pu-luck) are not cited as co-authors of Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver (1911), they provided the basis for the stories that explain the origins of Siwash Rock and the twin peaks known as the Lions. In addition to recalling how the first Chief Capilano wounded a giant seal in False Creek in 1820 and how he shot 13 elk from the last elk herd in Vancouver, taking the meat by canoe to Victoria for sale, Johnson cites the chief’s tribal knowledge of Napoleon Bonaparte gained from French captives of a Russian ship. She praises Capilano’s halting English, “always quaint and beautiful.”

Chief Joe Capilano was born near Squamish circa 1840 and he lived mainly on the Catholic mission reserve near the Capilano River between North Vancouver and West Vancouver. In 1889 he guided the first white party to make a recorded ascent of the West Lion mountain on the North Shore. A year later he led an expedition to the source of the Capilano River. He was known as a carver but worked as a sawmill labourer and stevedore prior to becoming chief in 1895. In 1906, with Cowichan Chief Charley Isipaymilt and Shuswap Chief Basil David, he led a delegation to England, at his own expense, to meet King Edward VI and lobby for recognition of his people’s land claims. His expedition was belittled in the local press when he left Vancouver but he succeeded in gaining access to the King and obtaining a sympathetic hearing. Upon his return, he was labeled a troublemaker for repeating comments allegedly made by King Edward and for organizing a meeting of northern and southern tribes in 1907. He died on March 11, 1910 in North Vancouver prior to the book’s publication.

Mary Agnes Capilano (1836?-1940) was an important genealogist and storyteller. She was the first-born daughter of a marriage that united two previously warring tribes, the Yaculta and the Squamish. In 1936, without consultation and little compensation, the Minister of Indian Affairs recommended transfer of lands from Capilano Indian Reserve No. 5 to the First Narrows Bridge Company, pursuant to Section 48 of the Indian Act. Three years later, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth became the first English monarchs to visit Canada, they drove over the Lions Gate Bridge to “honour it.” The Squamish requested the royal entourage stop at Capilano Road to receive gifts and to present their own queen, Mary Agnes Capilano. She stood on the roadside, in full ceremonial regalia, with Chief Joe Mathias, who had attended the coronation of King George VI in 1911. The royals didn’t stop. Nobody from the Squamish Band was invited to partake in the honouring ceremony. “This was the only time that we could present my grandmother to the Queen,” recalled Chief Simon Baker, “but the car drove past us... It was terrible for my grandmother.” In a condescending letter, the Honourary Secretary of the Vancouver Committee for the Reception of Their Majesties reassured the Squamish their gifts were sent to Buckingham Palace. “We can assure you that every effort was made to fulfill the wishes of Their Majesties and had they desired to stop, it would have, of course, been done. We are assured that Their Majesties took particular pains to acknowledge the homage of their Indian subjects, and that in passing them the rate of speed was considerably lowered.”

BOOKS:

Pauline Johnson. Legends of Vancouver (Vancouver: Province newspaper, 1911). With information from Chief Joe Capilano & Mary Capilano.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005]