British Columbia

Mount Douglas or PKOLS? Park getting closer to new name requested by local First Nations

PKOLS is a significant site for Indigenous people of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nations, who have asked for the name of Mount Douglas Park on Southern Vancouver Island to be changed to reflect that.

'I would personally see it as a failure if it is not done by the end of this term,’ says Saanich councillor

Mount Douglas is of significant cultural and historical importance to the local W̱SÁNEĆ people, who want to see the name changed to PKOLS, meaning white rock. According to traditional history, the mountain grew after the Creator tossed four white rocks that mark the borders of Indigenous territories. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

It's been eight years since Indigenous people local to southern Vancouver Island trekked to the top of Mount Douglas in Saanich and placed a sign identifying the peak by its Indigenous name PKOLS.

Now, after repeated requests to rename the mountain, a Saanich councillor says a process is underway.

On Wednesday, Coun. Colin Plant told CBC the District of Saanich is in the process of drafting a Memorandum of Understanding with the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council, comprised of the Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout First Nations, that will discuss renaming important traditional areas.

Plant said that MOU is expected to be announced this fall, and could pave the way for PKOLS to replace or be added to the current park name which recognizes colonizer Sir James Douglas.

"I am very committed to seeing this change happen during this term, which ends in October [or] November 2022," said Plant, speaking to On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

"I would personally see it as a failure if it is not done by the end of this term," he said, adding he has been on council for more than six years and believes the process has already taken too long.

A close-up shot of the sign placed on Mount Douglas in May 2013 after a group of Indigenous people and supporters trekked up. It reads in part that "the reclamation of PKOLS to replace the colonial name Mount Douglas recognizes the nation-to-nation agreements negotiated here and supports ongoing efforts of Indigenous and settler people to restore balanced relationships to the lands they call home." (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Tsawout Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey led the walk up Mount Douglas in 2013 and sent a letter to council then requesting the change. Another was sent a year ago.

In 2019, Pelkey spoke to CBC about the cultural and historical importance of the mountain to local Indigenous people during a special broadcast of On The Island from the park.

"We've always known it as PKOLS amongst our people, and we would like that name to be permanently put onto this," he said.

Pelkey said that according to traditional history, the Creator came down to the villages on the land now known as Saanich before settler contact and threw four white rocks that became markers for the borders of the W̱SÁNEĆ people's territory.

PKOLS translates into the English words "white rock." 

A view from the summit of Mount Douglas, known to the Indigenous people of the area as PKOLS. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Pelkey said one of the rocks landed near Elwha River in Washington State, one landed on Salt Spring Island, one landed in what is now the aptly named City of White Rock on the Lower Mainland and one landed in Saanich and grew into PKOLS.

"We use those and we recognize that as our border that was given to us by the Creator," said Pelkey.

The park and mountain are officially named Mount Douglas after Sir James Douglas. As governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia during the 1850s and 60s, he led British colonization west of the Rocky Mountains and negotiated land deals with First Nations, which some argue were done in bad faith. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The day Douglas didn't die

According to Pelkey, PKOLS was also the site of a major incident in the 1850s that shaped relations between Indigenous people and the colonizers in the area at that time.

He said the W̱SÁNEĆ people used to have runners who followed the trails between villages to deliver messages.

One day a young runner came across a fence, something he had never seen in his life. He jumped over it and was shot dead by the farmer who had built it, according to Pelkey.

The local chief was so outraged he rallied chiefs from all over southern British Columbia and Washington State and they all agreed the settlers had to die. So the chiefs asked for a meeting with Sir James Douglas on PKOLS.

Five thousand Indigenous warriors were mobilized to kill Douglas and his soldiers, when Pelkey said a priest who was respected by the local Indigenous people said violence was not the answer.

The chiefs decided to stand down and a peace treaty was drawn instead of weapons.

Mount Douglas Park trails were once used by First Nations messengers, who would run along them from village to village to relay news. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Now, more than a century and a half later, Indigenous people and settlers are drawing up documents concerning the same spot.

Plant said council can rename the park but will have to ask the province to rename the mountain itself.

"We may try and do both at the same time," he said.

Plant said the vast majority of Saanich residents also support a name change.

LISTEN | Tsawout Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey explains the significant history behind PKOLS, also known as Mount Douglas, to CBC's Gregor Craigie in 2019:

With files from On The Island