Strolling along the waterfront in Victoria, British Columbia, one’s glance is arrested by artists’ wares: wood carvings, Cowichan woolen items and other First Nations art.
These artists gather daily along the downtown waterfront, across the street from The Empress Hotel and near the ferry docks, to display and sell their creations directly to visitors from around the world. Some are from local areas, others travel much farther distances. There is a small charge to sell here, only $25 a year, on what is reserve land. Last year 167 permits were sold.
It’s reminiscent of the Plaza in Santa Fe or Old Town in Albuquerque where Native artists gather under awnings to sell their work. Here First Nations artists are located along a low concrete wall with the Welcome to Victoria sign spelled out with flowers in the grass behind and salt water in front with a constantly changing scenario of boats and sea planes. Rather than Navajo rugs, turquoise jewelry, and pottery, it’s Cowichan sweaters, wood carvings, and northwest coastal art.
Any visitor to Victoria would be enriched by a stopping to meet, talk to and buy directly from the artists.
David Charley is one of the 167 who bought permits. He’s a Coast Salish from the Tsartlip Tribe who has been selling here for the past nine years.
“My late uncle used to come down in the early 90’s and sat by the fourth tree there (pointing),” he said. “Twenty-two years ago my wife’s father used to come here. At the time there was only like four people coming here.”
David has worked at other good jobs.
“But in the end I always come back down here,” he said. “I can make more money down here than I do in an actual job.”
Charley carves northwest coast Native designs.
“Hummingbirds and wolves are my best sellers,” he said, and then, holding up a carving he added, “This is one of my fastest sellers, the blue and purple hummingbirds.”
Narcisse Baptiste is another carver but with a slightly different style. A beautifully carved and painted bentwood box and a wooden mask were among his merchandise. His family was originally from the Okanagan Shuswap Band in south-central British Columbia.
Paintings on paper of such northwest coastal designs as bears and eagles, killer whales and hummingbirds, are the style created and sold by Adrian Sampare, is a Gitxsan member, born and raised in Hazelton, B.C. Charlotte Williams is local, from the Tsawout Reserve, 12 miles or so from Victoria. Her work is more similar to what might be found in U.S. tribes. Using Pendleton blankets, she creates purses, pendants and lunch coolers.
Cowichan sweaters have long been associated with the southern part of Vancouver Island, and Yvonne Sam had a number of Cowichan items including vests, mittens, slippers and toque.
“My band is Pauquachin but originally I came from Cowichan,” she said. “My late mom taught me. I made my first Cowichan toque when I was about eight years old.”
She comes to sell when she has knitted enough to warrant making the trip. The craft has served her well.
“I brought up my children on my knitting,” Sam said. “This is how I supported my family, like if my husband got laid off.”