Similkameen Spirit Trail National Historic Site of Canada

Upper Similkameen River Valley, British Columbia
View of Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter. © M.A. Klassen.
General view
© M.A. Klassen.
View of Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter. © M.A. Klassen.View of the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs. © M.A. Klassen.
Address : Upper Similkameen River Valley, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2007-06-08

Other Name(s):
  • Similkameen Spirit Trail  (Designation Name)
  • Tulmn - Cucuwixa; Tulameen - Chuchuwayha  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 2003-054, 2005-098

Plaque(s)


Approved Inscription:  Upper Similkameen River Valley, British Columbia

Situated in the traditional territory of the Similkameen people, the Spirit Trail encompasses 4,000 years of human history. It eloquently evokes for them the journey and connections between the physical and spiritual realms. In the west, the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs are the major source of a mineral pigment with associated spirit power. In the east, pictographs, oral traditions, and layers of archaeological history at the Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter illustrate the ties between this ancient site of habitation and the spirit world. In between, along the north side of the valley, lie dozens of pictograph sites where representations of dreams and guardian spirits have been painted with red ochre.

Description of Historic Place

Similkameen Spirit Trail National Historic Site of Canada is located within the traditional territory of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, in southern British Colombia. The site spreads across lakeside cliffs, rolling valleys surrounded by steep serrated peaks and small bedrock outcrops on the floodplain. The site is composed of three major components linked by an aboriginal trail route: the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs, Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter, and a series of 27 pictograph sites. Combined, these components are representative of a cultural landscape illustrating the major aspects of Upper Similkameen culture and history spanning over 4000 years. Official recognition refers to the 30 separate locations spread over approximately 30 kilometres of the Similkameen valley at the time of designation.

Heritage Value

Similkameen Spirit Trail was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2007 because: for the Upper Similkameen First Nation, it symbolizes the connections between the spiritual and physical worlds along the "spirit trail" in the main river valley of their traditional territory; Tulameen is one of the largest and most significant ochre sources in the interior plateau of British Columbia. Tulameen is recognized as the source of spirit power associated with ochre, which was used to paint the pictographs in the valley; the Upper Similkameen valley contains one of the highest concentrations of pictographs in the interior of British Columbia. The rock art images illustrate the role of spirit powers within Upper Similkameen culture. At Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter, complex pictographs are associated with significant archaeological deposits.

The Upper Similkameen cultural landscape symbolizes the connection between the Upper Similkameen people, the landscape, and the spirit world. Following the trail route physically and metaphorically represents the journey between the material and spiritual realms. The bluffs at the western end of the commemoration area provide the ochre used to communicate with the spirits. At the eastern end of the commemoration area, pictographs, oral traditions, and layers of archaeological history at the Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter represent the connection of the spirit world with an ancient habitation site of the Upper Similkameen people. Along the old trail route, between Tulameen and Chuchuwayha, lie dozens of pictograph sites, marking the place where young men and women fasted and prayed to the spirits, and where representations of dreams and guardian spirits were painted upon the rocks. Red, orange and yellow ochre taken from the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs was used as a paint to create substantial pictographs, which date from around 4000 years ago. The ochre was also used for spiritual and ceremonial purposes, for decorating clothes and other items, and making face and body paints. The Bluffs are located near the confluence of the Similkameen and Tulameen Rivers that were major Aboriginal travel and trade routes connecting the coast and the interior. The cliffs were also a major regional source of chert, which was used to make stone tools. The Upper Similkameen valley contains one of the highest concentrations of pictographs on the interior plateau of British Colombia. The pictograph sites range in size from single glyphs to complex compositions, and exhibit a wide variety of motifs and designs. They are mainly painted on large boulders that have fallen from the steep valley walls. Although some of the pictographs are similar to those found throughout the southern interior of British Colombia, many of the ones from the site display distinct Similkameen motifs. The Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter, which exhibits some of these pictographs, lies underneath one of the cliffs on the north side of the valley, in an open park-like setting of Douglas fir. The Shelter is a shallow rock overhang at the base of a high, smooth granite face. Excavations inside the rock shelter have revealed deeply stratified cultural deposits, with archaeological evidence spanning 200 to 4000 years BCE, attesting to the long-term human use of the shelter.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 2003, 2005, 2007.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: its location within the traditional territory of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, in southern British Colombia; the various settings of the site, including on lakeside cliffs, in rolling valleys surrounded by steep serrated peaks and on small bedrock outcrops on the floodplain; the natural form and setting of the three components of the site, and their physical interrelationship; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains relating to the Tulameen Ochre Bluffs, including lithic scatter and stone tools; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains relating to the pictographs located in the Upper Similkameen River, the Lower Similkameen River, at Okanagan Lake, at Psoyoos Lake, Skaha Lake-Penticton, Slocan Lake, and Vaseux Lake; the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains relating to the Chuchuwayha Rock Shelter, including the pictographs, surface artifacts and subsurface Deposits; the viewscapes to and from the various components of the site.