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Clam Gardens & Indigenous Wisdom

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

A 5,000-year-old rock wall that is 20m thick and over 800m long in Fulford Harbour was designed to grow clams and other seafood for Tsawout First Nation villagers. We visited it with W̱SÁNEĆ Elder, Carl Olsen, along with W̱SÁNEĆ Elder, Mark Sampson and Charline George, T'Sou-ke Elder, plus Parks Canada's Erich Kelch, and 20 students in Alison Bain's grades 3-4 class from Fernwood Elementary.


These ancient walls are examples of sustainable aquaculture practiced all along the BC coastlines for thousands of years. By constructing rock walls at specific tidal levels, people created ideal habitats for clam populations and many other species to thrive. The Clam Garden Network and Parks Canada Sea Garden Restoration Program sites have lots more information, if you want to really dig in.

Field Trip to the Sea Garden

On Monday, June 19, 2023, the school bus pulled up to Ruby Alton Park along Isabella Point Road, and we all clambered down to the beach, then turned south. Carl Olsen and Erick Kelch introduced us to the site and Mark Sampson read us a beautiful picture book to introduce sea gardens to the class.

Then, we explored with Quentin Harris and Shannon Johnson, from SD64 Indigenous Ed along, too. It was so fun to find huge rock crabs all along the wall, plus many sea cucumbers, chitons, different seaweed species (some edible that we tried!), and of course, clams squirting all around.

At lunchtime, Erich steamed up a pot-full of butter clams and we all got to try them. Afterwards, we learned how to bury the shells back in the clam muck, and say thank you, so that the nutrients could be recycled into new shells. It was a good day.

Outdoor Science Lab

One week later, on June 26, 2023, SFU (Simon Fraser University) scientist, Emily Spencer along with Penelakut Elder, Ken Thomas, came to Fernwood School to follow-up with more Clam Garden science and Indigenous wisdom. Emily had great activities and a slide show to teach us about the scientific process and experimentation. She shared results of a study they did at the Fulford Clam Garden and other sites, where they tested the cooling and calming effects of sea walls on clams, to test climate change resiliency.

Then, we all walked down to Fernwood Beach, visited the new signage about the Penelakut Villages here, gathered materials, and tested the porosity and water-holding capacity of different substrates including broken clam shells from ancient middens here, along with silt and sand. Emily and Ken were so great with the students, and everyone loved playing on the beach in the sunshine.

Thank You's

These field trips were made possible by the generosity of time from our instructors, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation's Wild Schools Program, SD64 Indigenous Education, Parks Canada, and another grant of Alison Bain's.

Next steps

We're seeking funds and planning more field trips for Autumn 2023 for primary school students on Salt Spring, Galiano, and Penelakut Islands. Thanks to Carl Olsen for the inspiration and commitment to share this knowledge and help people gain knowledge that can help us all with greater food security for the future!


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