Culture & History

Saysutshun has always had a special place in the hearts of Snuneymuxw people or mustimuxw. Before European contact, Snuneymuxw people lived on the island throughout the late winter and early spring in order to take advantage of the annual herring run.

The island is also a source of traditional natural medicines and has always been associated with physical and spiritual healing. When someone passed away in the community, the loved ones would go to Saysutshun to yu’thuy’thut - to fix up their heart, mind and body and let go of their tears.

Many changes have come to the island over the past hundred years. In the mid-1800’s, the coal mining industry began operating here and the Coast Salish buildings were abandoned. The island has since been home to a fish salting plant, a shipyard, a sandstone quarry, and a leisure retreat for the wealthy. Now it is run as a protected marine park and event destination by the Snuneymuxw people. A walk around the island truly takes you back through time; you can find hidden treasures of all the island’s past incarnations if you only take the time to look.

In the traditional Hul'q'umi'num language of the Snuneymuxw people, the name given to a place also connects that place to our stories, history and culture.

There are many names for various sites around the Island:

Saysutshun: Means 'training for running' and refers to the special places where runners, canoe paddlers or warriors would bathe to cleanse themselves before a race or battle.

Qulastun: Means 'facing the other way' or 'backwards'. It is the name for the bay where the ferry docks which looks back toward Nanaimo Harbour. Many years ago, this was a favourite gathering place to dig and dry clams.

Tl:piles: Means 'deep, going under water' and is the name for a small bay at the north end of the Island which was a favourite camping site because of its perfect beach for landing canoes.

Thlap’qwum: Means 'boiling place' and is where a monster, a huge sting ray-like creature, lived and made the water look like it was boiling. Read the story of the sea monster (The Boiling Place) in the Traditional Stories section below.

Traditional Stories