It All Began With Gassy Jack...

Memories of Growing Up in Vancouver

 

Dominic Charlie (1866 -1972)


      (The late Dominic Charlie or Tsee-Qawl-tuhn of the Capilano Reserve gave an interview to Olga Ruskin printed in the Vancouver Sun in 1971 and part of the following text is based on it.)

      When asked (in 1971) how old was he Dominic replied that he was 86 which would make his date of birth 1885. On the other hand he remembered Jerry Rogers who had a logging camp at Jericho but Jerry had died in 1877. This calls into question his actual date of birth. In the book ‘Squamish Legends’ compiled in 1966 from tape recordings made by Dominic and Chief August Jack Khahtsahlano his date of birth is given as 1866. But perhaps the dates don’t matter so much as the memories of days that Vancouver will never see again.

      Dominic’s father, Jericho Charley, used to run freight for Jerry Rogers. The camp had been started in the mid-1860’s at a cove in English Bay which became known as Jerry’s Cove and which later turned into the name Jericho. It was a good spot to have a logging camp, Dominic said, because the sandy beach helped the logs to slide into the water easily. Freight for the camp (oats, barley, food) was packed by canoe in from the Hastings Mill store near what today is Gore Ave. (Find Hastings Mill store today as a museum at the foot of Alma.) Dominic used to accompany his father and mother on these trips, sitting in the stern with a small paddle. "It was a great big canoe around 40 to 44 feet long and could carry over a ton of freight. My father lived at the end of the beach. He had a log house which could hold over 1,000 people." When there was a potlatch his father could feed and house this number for a month. The guests would eat dried salmon, dried venison, rice and fresh goat meat, seal and porpoise. When he was older Dominic would help out with a potlatch. He’d go hunting and in two days bring back 100 ducks.

      A favorite food with Dominic was dried salmon roe which his cousin
Jimmy Jimmy used to prepare for prospecting trips. Eaten with salmon berries Dominic described it as "real good stuff." The food the Indians ate then was a lot different, Dominic said. "We used to eat what’s on the beach. There were four or five different kinds of grass on the beach. There were mussells, sea eggs, cockles and lots of clams where the Lions Gate Bridge is. He remembered Vancouver as "all timber" from Point Grey to the head of Burrard Inlet. "There was elk at Point Grey. The elk would swim across the bay. Everything was plenty. Deer, bear, duck. The Indian never got hungry."

      As for Vancouver itself, Dominic said there was "a big change". He
remembered the Hotel Vancouver as a "small, little building." After Burrard Street was cleared of timber he used to watch horse races there from a big stump. He also remembered sailing ships being loaded with lumber at Hastings Mill through a hole in their bow, and the daily stage which ran to New Westminser.

      But there were unhappy memories as well. A hotel Maxie’s stood by the present Second Narrows bridge where the grain elevator is now. The white man, Dominic recalled, traded with the Indians giving whisky "in a barrel and jug, not bottle" in exchange for game. This led to unfortunate consequences. "A lot of Indians drowned in the Inlet when they got drunk," he said. Of his own present family there was his wife Josephine who was 67 and the two of them were much in demand to cook salmon at barbeques. "I had about five girls and I don’t know how many boys but only one boy alive now - Steve Charlie." Add to this 47 grandchildren. Dominic Charlie was also called upon for seasonal weather forecasts by the media and these were amazingly accurate.

      By 1971 the Vancouver of his youth had changed . He remembered the prediction of a white man Jim Fraser who said that one day "there would be white men up the side of the mountain - everywhere. Everything he said is true."

      And it continues to be true today. Vancouver’s past for Dominic meant remembering Vancouver pioneers such as Jonathan Miller, Gastown’s only constable, Navvy Jack Thomas, West Van’s first white settler, and Qua-hail-ya, Gassy Jack’s second wife who returned to the Squamish Reserve on the North Shore. Dominic Charlie died September 9, 1972. Missed but remembered on the North Shore.

Postscript

      One of the people that knew Dominic Charlie was the late Chick
Chamberlain of the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver. The restaurant founded in 1926 is well-worth a visit not only for food but for its
outstanding collection of North Shore and West Coast Indian artifacts.
However, there is more to the story. Chuck Chamberlain who carries on today his father's restaurant explains that the Tomahawk was a place for social gatherings in the old days before the Lions Gate Bridge was built. The road in North Vancouver ended at Capilano Road and further into West Vancouver it was a dirt road.

      Dominic Charlie lived under the Lions Gate Bridge and like others visited the Tomahawk. Chuck said Dominic was known as the pied piper as children followed him enchanted by the stories he told. He was also known as the weatherman and was contacted regularly by the media for weather forecasting.

Chief Dominic Charlie's name is on the menu as are those of other First Nations Chiefs such as Chief Augustus Jack. Chick Chamberlain named the burgers after the various First Nations Chiefs he had known to commemorate their memory after they had passed away explains Chuck. (The only one so not named was Simon Baker (Kind Heart) who considered it quite an honour to have a burger named after him while he was still alive.) For more on the history of the Tomahawk and what it serves see http://www.tomahawkrestaurant.com

 

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