Siwash Rock as an urban geoheritage icon

by Michael C. Wilson and Lionel E. Jackson Jr.
Monday, February 8, 2016

Cliffs on the north side of Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C., expose mafic dikes and an overlying flow or shallow sill cross-cutting Cretaceous sandstones. The intrusives, dated to 31.5 million years ago, range from basalt to andesite. At Prospect Point near Lions Gate Bridge, strong polygonal jointing varies from horizontal to vertical, resembling stacked cordwood at the base with columns above. Siwash Rock, a sea stack, was isolated when wave action eroded away the surrounding sandstone and jointed intrusives of a former rocky point. Credit: both: Lionel Jackson.

Siwash Rock in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, is a prominent and photogenic sea stack — an erosional remnant of an Oligocene basalt dike that cuts through Cretaceous sandstones. The rock (properly named “Slahkayulsh,” meaning “he is standing up”) is a geoheritage locality in both aboriginal and nonaboriginal iconography.

The original and retold stories of Siwash Rock, like the baked zone around the dike itself, have been transformed and preserved for all to experience.

Coast Salish First Nations recognized that it was a singular feature and understood it to be a man turned to stone by the Transformers when the world was still being shaped. One version of the story of the transformed man, in which he swam to cleanse himself while his wife gave birth to his child, is embedded in Vancouver’s sense of place through the writings of poet E. Pauline Johnson, who was of mixed Mohawk and English heritage. Euro-Canadian Vancouverites eagerly appropriated the site as a metaphor celebrating purity.

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