One Painting, One Story: The East Sooke Petroglyphs

by Suzanne Heron.

One of my favourite hikes is the Coast Trail in East Sooke Park, along the rocky shore to the petroglyphs at Alldridge Pt, and back through the forest.

Coast Salish people made the petroglyphs by “skimming,” bruising the surface of the sandstone to chip away the darker bits and leave the rough lighter crystals. This one is in a style peculiar to the Strait of Juan de Fuca region.

In a 2011 Sooke Mirror article, Randy Chipps from the Becher Bay First Nation spoke about the large seal carving. It’s “an elephant seal, which acted as a kind of ‘game-warden’ for the community. There may have been a mammal whisperer, he said, who enlisted the help of the seal to manage the community’s fish intake so they didn’t deplete local species. The seal would tell the mammal whisperer which species were in danger, and animal’s size would scare people away from over-fishing.”

These petroglyphs may be anywhere up to 3,000 years old. Carbon 14 and other techniques are useless in most of the 300 sites on the BC Coast. But any older, and the artwork would have been obliterated by the wind and water erosion that is inevitably erasing the seal. No preservation techniques work, and besides, it’s illegal to touch them.

Petroglyphs were carved in places where the forces of nature were especially strong, nearly all near water. Others near us can be found at Petroglyph Provincial Park in Nanaimo, and a very fine example at at the east end of Sproat Lake Provincial Park. To see the seal in East Sooke, head out from the Aylard Farm parking area, down the trail to sandy Becher Bay, and follow the signs to Alldridge Point. The views, the forest, are spectacular. There’s some rugged clambering. (If you need to call 911, first tell them you are in Canada; the phone signals are picked up across the Strait!)

We had just a grand day. That’s my daughter Marian perched on the rock; and I had to darken the lines of the seal. I guarantee you’ll feel the power of the place.