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Hell's Gate

Today’s blog comes to you from the road. We are taking our RV on a road trip through BC to see the sights. Hell’s Gate was our first stop. I remember going there as a very young child but my memory and what the place looks like today are two different versions of this place. We hopped on the tram to take us down to what is known as Hell’s Gate. On the tram we were told this harrowing story of Simon Fraser and his team riding their birch bark canoe over the rapids. His thoughts of the river at this point were like the gates of hell, that is how Simon Fraser named this spot. The stories of Simon Fraser here is that he is the saviour of this place and held in great honour with so much that points to his greatness. There is a massive picture of him in his canoe when you get off the tram. You then can take a walk through all the different little shops and look out points that show the river and its massive power. Along the decks there are some “totem poles” and I put them in quotes because I have never seen in community a full-on Indigenous human with a massive feather headdress as a totem pole. The other pole was very unsettling as well, I am not sure it was carved by an Indigenous person but I don’t know for sure and I could not find out any information about the poles themselves. From my understandings about totem poles they were made by coastal Salish people, not Interior Salish people, but I could be wrong. This made me wonder why there be totem poles at this location to begin with?

There were no stories other than Simon Frasers story at this place, honouring him as the great white man that found this place no one else dare go… but wait a minute that is not the truth. Driving along the highway you can see the huge number of Indigenous groups that live in these areas and have lived here for 22,000 years. But he is honoured for “first” discovering the area… How can you discover a place that already has thousands of people living there? The government website tells us that Indigenous people lived there and that Simon Fraser would not have been able to do this journey without them. Then how can he “discover” a place when they actually state that there were communities of people living all along the river?

As quoted on the government webpage that talks about Simon Fraser

As the expedition passed through First Nations’ territories, Fraser often sent First Nation representatives ahead of the party to inform the local communities of their imminent arrival and to assure them that the group’s intentions were friendly. The Indigenous groups provided the travellers with important information, advice, guides, food, and canoes. Oral accounts of Fraser’s travels have survived in many of these communities. (retrieved from

In one place in Simon Frasers story from his journals, he says that the Indigenous people here were not smart and he looked down upon them. In the next paragraph it said that the Indigenous people would not take their canoes over the point of hell’s gate because they knew it was unsafe… so I wonder who was really the one that wasn’t smart? The pictures of this journey were posted all around this tourist attraction and Simon Fraser was always at the front while the one Indigenous person sits at the back of the canoe. Honouring this White man for his bravery. I find this baffling because when I go to look up Simon Fraser and his trips on the Fraser River, I see that he actually only did this trip 2 times. Two times and you get the river named after you? Wow, I am at a loss of words. It makes me wonder why is it that in school we never questioned this? Why were we taught that Indigenous people helped the so called explores but never acknowledged or honoured the Indigenous people and their land? It was and still is their land. How are we talking about this in today’s classrooms? How are we making sure that the next generation is learning the whole story of this land?

Back to the tour. There was one sign that talked about the Indigenous people and the term they used was “Indian”. The sign was created in 1963 and still had not been replaced. This term is no longer okay to use for the Indigenous people of this land. But no one has changed the sign or maybe been asked to change the sign. There is no other teaching about the Indigenous people of the land. How are the people visiting Hell’s Gate to know the real story of this place if they don’t tell the real story? It apparently has a new exhibit about the Chinese people that were brought here to build the tunnels. It says they were imported here? That word was unsettling to read. When we took the tram back up the lovely tour guide asked if we had any questions and you know I did. I asked about the Indigenous people and their story of the voyage they told us about… the answer was, well I don’t know that information but I could ask someone at the front desk and see if they know. Again, so disappointed in the lack of anything about the people of this land.

Connecting this to education isn’t that hard to do. If students in our classrooms were taught about the Indigenous people of this land, then going into a job that talks about this land and how it came to be would then include the true story of this place. They would be able to answer a question about who the Indigenous people were, without having to go ask the people at the front desk. This is part of the work that needs to be done all across this place now known as Canada. Whose stories are we telling in classrooms, in parks, and at the tourist attractions? Whose voices are heard and not heard. How do we hold all of these places accountable for making sure the Indigenous voice is heard? This is my question as I move into another week of touring this land.

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