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Japanese Charcoal Pit Kilns in the Gulf Islands: History, Archaeology, Anthropology by Stephen Nemtin

There was a robust Japanese charcoal making industry going on in the Gulf Islands in British Columbia before and after the turn of the 20th Century.
Charcoal was used in B.C. mainly for the salmon canning industry as a heat source to solder the tops of the cans after boiling. Charcoal was also needed in the explosives, blacksmith and soap making industries.
However the story of Japanese Charcoal Pit Kilns begins with the story of fire. In the beginning all animals were afraid of fire.
Introduction
The fossil of Lucy, Australopithecus, one of our most famous human ancestors is from 3 1/2 mya (Million Years Ago). Lucy was found in Ethiopia, in a beautiful rift river valley flowing below the Ethiopian Highlands out to the Gulf of Aden. This would have been a lush forest environment to live in with lots of water. Lucy and her little band walked upright (Homo Erectus ). These early hominids would have definitely seen lightning and fire yet there was no need for a fire since they were living 10 degrees above the equator.
Climate Change
Over the next 2 million years the earth would transform into the last great glacial ice epoch. Imagine, that there was so much snow and freezing temperatures that our entire country of Canada, along with some parts of northern United States would have been one great glacial ice field, 3 kilometres thick. Across northern Europe, Russia, China, and India there were large glacial fields and ice rivers in the mountains of Asia and Africa. Thirty percent of the planet covered in ice and the permafrost extended another 100 to 200 kilometres from the glacial edge. The shore lines would have been 120 feet lower.
Glaciers drastically changed our planet!
All animals and birds throughout this time would have been migrating out of the mountains and forests closer to the equator for warmth.

Turkana, the largest dessert lake in Kenya, a country contiguous to Ethiopia, is a treasure trove for archaeologists. They discovered varieties of Homo Erectus, from 4 mya to 1.9 mya. During the period of 1.9 mya these hominids were “flintknapping” to make stone tools and building shelters. Turkana Boy, KNM-WT1500 is another famous Homo Erectus fossil 1.5 mya . He looked far more human than ape with a larger brain and a skeleton that was 40 % human (Homo sapien sapiens).

Playing with Fire
These varieties of Homo Erectus lived in the middle of the last glacial era. Homo Erectus at this time was attracted to fire for its magic, power, energy, light, warmth and for roasted foods. They would have followed it, watched it and poked it with sticks like little children playing at their first campfire . Homo Erectus befriended fire and it became their protector from wild animals. They also discovered fire could be transported by carrying charcoal embers from one place to another eventually determining which wood made the hottest and longest burning charcoal embers for travel and migration.
In South Africa, inside the “Wonderwerk Cave”, there is clear evidence that fire and roasting of food had taken place a million years ago. It was probably at this time that Homo Erectus learned how to make fire by using the “flint /spark percussion” method, with flint and marcasite (a type of orthorhombic pyrite FeS2). It is still unclear when the discovery of the “friction” method, for making fire occurred. All these discoveries of controlling, transporting and making fire were momentous for the future of human evolution. These were the first stepping stones toward culture and populating the earth.

The Hearth
It is interesting that all the ingredients necessary for an oven/kiln are present in every environment: wood, air, fire, charcoal embers, stone, sand, clay or mud.
The camp fire, the fire pit or ring became the hearth and all of these are the first great structural embodiment and symbols of “home”. “A cave” with a fire was a “home” and such gathering places providing a safe refuge for cooking, eating and sleeping. Over the next 850 thousand years, telling of stories, music, art and religion would evolve from leisure time around the hearth. Varieties of Homo Erectus would transform into varieties of Homo Sapiens with fire as a central ingredient for their survival .
Humanoid Migrations were already taking place at 160 to 75 thousand years ago and were spreading further throughout Africa and into the Middle East, Asia, India, South East Asia and China, following the coastlines as the glaciers retreated. Around 60 thousand years ago, there was another “Great Warming” and by 35 thousand years ago there were Homo Sapiens migrating deeper into all parts of Europe, Asia, China, Australia and Japan. Homo Sapiens, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals were all roaming and looking to caves for dwellings. The Bering Land Bridge opened up at around 30 thousand years ago allowing Homo Sapiens of different ethnic groups to follow a new migratory route across and down through to the Americas.

Pottery, Ceramics & Kilns
Another treasure trove of prehistoric artifacts dating back roughly to 29000-22000 years ago was found in the Czech Republic in the middle of Europe. Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov were two sites close together by a stream bed that had a clay base. Dolni Vestonice had six yurt tepee-like structures each with a small hearth.There was also a large community structure with several small hearths and in the middle of the settlement was a large central hearth.The entire settlement was surrounded by a fence of mammoth bones. Archaeologists discovered art objects in abundance, thousands of pieces of fired clay animals and figurines. There were carvings of bear, wolf, fox, reindeer, horse, lion, rabbit, mammoths plus human female and male figurines and other sculptures in bone and wood.
An exciting find on the Pavlov site were the remains of the first potter’s “covered oven kiln” for baking clay. It was found inside a lean-to shelter that was dug into the embankment of a near by stream. Then a spectacular discovery on the Dolni Vestonice site where archaeologist found evidence of the first earth dome “slope kiln” and a potters hut, dug into the side of a hill with thousands of broken shards lying around.

Open Fire Method
It is important to note that prior to this time period “earthenware” pots could be fired, by placing the object on an open fire pit of burning wood and charcoal embers with burning sticks placed around the sides to create a more rounded bake

Kilns of Japan
Japan was connected to the continent through several land bridges prior to 15,000 years ago. This allowed for the migration of people to Japan around 35,000 years ago. Japan’s first clay fired pots belong to the Jamon culture. At the Odai Yamamoto 1 site in Sotogahama  archaeologists discovered “earthenware pottery” and other artifacts from 16,500 years ago. During the beginning of the Jamon period in Japan the open fire method was used to fire pots. Between 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, different sizes and designs of pit kilns /ovens began to appear. The reason for these new designs was the discovery of how to smelt copper out of rock using a high heat.
Charcoal became the prime fuel energy source for the smelting of copper, tin, bronze, gold, silver and later iron at 1000 BC. In Japan and all over the world charcoal makers were using different types and sizes of charcoal pit kilns for the production of charcoal to be used for the smelting of metals and firing ceramics. The oldest charcoal making association in Japan is the “Sumiyaki no Kai” who produced a pamphlet that had over a hundred different kiln designs for the making of charcoal. Charcoal making in Japan would become a huge industry and art form. The most famous charcoal in Japan is “Kishuu Bincho-tan white and black charcoal from the Wakayama prefecture made from an ubame oak. At the early part of the 20th century a new special kiln technology was introduced from the Wakayama prefecture to the Kochi prefecture on Shikoku Island. This modern traditional industry produces a special “TOSA BINCHO-TAN CHARCOAL” using ubame oak. (Miyagawa 2006)
The new kiln technology measures about 3 meters high with a complex ceramic dome structure. There are six holes, three on each side of the dome for loading the wood inside and for controlling the heat.

Charcoal Pit Kilns on the Gulf Islands British Columbia Canada
In the 1870’s AD migrations of Japanese came to the Gulf Islands of British Columbia Canada from the Wakayama prefecture and they brought with them the skill of charcoal making. There are fifteen known charcoal pit kilns on the Gulf islands, 5 on Galiano, 5 on Mayne , 2 on Salt Spring, 3 on Saturna : and unconfirmed rumours of charcoal kilns on Pender and Prevost Islands. All of these charcoal pits were “dug into a slope” lined with a rock wall and a dome created for a top. All the pit kiln sites would have had a shed roof over the entire mound to protect it from the elements.
On the Gulf Islands  there are three different distinct designs of charcoal pit kilns. Salt Spring and Mayne Island each have a large “oval” pit kiln.  These measure 6.2-meters wide, one and a half meters high, 3-meters long, with a 1-meter long, wide, high entrance.

Evidence from the Salt Spring Island dig of 2015 proved that this oval kiln had a ceramic top of sand/clay 5 – 7 inches thick . A dense charcoal layer was found six inches below the surface material outside the entrance of the kiln. This layer covered a 5 meter arc around the front of the kiln which suggests that the charcoal had been raked out of the kiln at the end of the smouldering process. In Japan today this method of raking out the burning charcoal then smothering it in a fine ash is used to make the famous Bincho-tan white and black charcoal.

Another kiln design is what I call the “tear drop” shape. This design is similar yet larger than the oven/kiln found at the Dolni Vestonice site 20,000 years earlier. It measures  6-meters long , one and a half meters high, 3 metres wide with a 1meter long, wide, high entrance. In the photo below one can see a central air outlet for the smoke . A meter to the right and left of the central outlet and half way up the wall are two holes made for chimneys that go up inside the rock wall. These two flues were a new technology added to this kiln design after the Japanese had arrived.The idea probably evolved from the Japanese working together with the west coast settlers. There are 10 of these tear drop shaped charcoal pit kilns in the Gulf Islands.

The smaller tear drop shaped kilns had a sand mixture for a dome top not ceramic. There was also no evidence of a charcoal layer beneath the surface material outside the kiln. The charcoal was not raked out at the end of the process but remained in the pit, until the smouldering died out from the lack of oxygen after the flues were covered. The charcoal was loaded carefully from inside the entrance of the pit.
There is another amazing design of a circular shaped pit kiln on Mayne Island. It is 3-meters high and 4-meters in diameter.

I would like to thank Mary Ohara, Rose Murakami, Salt Spring Island Garden Society, the B.C. Wakayama Ken Jin Kai and the Sumiyaki no Kai (Japan Charcoal Fuel Association):  without their support, perseverance and determination in promoting the history of the charcoal pit kilns on the Gulf Islands this history would have been lost.

The Canadian Census of Galiano Island in 1901 lists 14 Japanese wood cutters and 9 Japanese charcoal makers. The restorations of the Japanese charcoal pit kilns on the Gulf Islands have become memorials, testaments to the strength, courage and ingenuity of these new Japanese immigrants to Canada.  This article is dedicated to all those Japanese woodcutters and charcoal makers.

2018-04-28T01:34:19+00:00April 28th, 2018|Categories: Club Programs, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Galiano Mushroom Festival

Mushroom Festival 2016 — now better than ever!

This is the 16th year for the Galiano Naturalists’ Mushroom Festival and the Festival is expanding from one to two days — Saturday and Sunday, November 5 – 6 from 10 am to 4 pm each day, at the South Community Hall. There will be artists’ displays, naturalists’ displays, and a display from the Galiano Bookstore at the hall throughout the day on both days.

Saturday events

On Saturday between 11 am and 1 pm four island chefs (Jesse McCleery, Douglas Thistle-Walker, Orion Finnie, and Graham Barber) will offer a sample of their delicious mushroom canapés creations. (Tickets for this event are limited and are $10 at the door – email galianonaturalists@gmail.com to reserve)

At 1:30 pm on Saturday, soil scientist Dr. Shannon Berch from the BC Ministry of Environment will present a free public talk titled “Mushrooms of Galiano”. In her presentation Dr. Berch will highlight the edible, poisonous and non-timber forest product mushrooms and fungi of the island, and encourage island mushroom enthusiasts and naturalists to continue to document the biodiversity of Galiano Island mushrooms.

Following Dr. Berch’s presentation, from 2:30 to 4:30 pm she will lead a mushroom identification workshop along with Galiano’s resident mushroom expert René Zich. This workshop is designed for those who wish to learn more about island mushrooms and about how to tell the difference between those that are edible and poisonous. (There are a limited number of tickets for this in-depth workshop – $10 at the door – email galianonaturalists@gmail.com to reserve)

Sunday events

On Sunday the doors will open at 10 am for the public to view the amazing display of hundreds of kinds of mushrooms and other fungi collected on Galiano by René Zich. Community members are invited to bring specimens that they have collected for René and Dr. Berch to identify and add to the display. Also on Sunday, the always-popular mushroom-themed lunch will be available for purchase at noon.

For further information please email galianonaturalists@gmail.com or call Mike Hoebel at (250) 539-2003.

2018-06-20T16:46:01+00:00October 20th, 2016|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Grain Growing on Galiano by Mike Hoebel

As an experiment, last year I acquired seeds for ten varieties of wheat and four of barley from Salt Spring Seeds and other sources and planted a small test row of each variety in my garden.  After initial watering no further water was provided to the growing grain other than rainfall. Germination rates varied among the varieties but all produced grain, which was harvested in late September.  In addition to the amount of grain produced, I wanted to see how susceptible the different varieties were to “lodging”, i.e. falling over in wind or rain due to height and top-heaviness of the seed head. Wheat breeders for many decades have selected for shorter, sturdier plants, and more recently for hull-less and bristle-less seed heads to make threshing easier.

Wheat varieties tested included Emmer, an ancient Near Eastern wheat, and Kamut, another ancient wheat with high protein content.  Also grown were Ethiopian, Egyptian, Brazilian, and Mexican wheats. A trio of Canadian heirloom wheat varieties was also grown, including Red Fife (originating in 1885), Marquis (1910), and Thatcher (1935), which made up 70% of the Canadian prairie wheat crop in the 1950s.  As expected, yields of the ancient wheats were lower than the more modern (century old) varieties. For example, Red Fife grain produced in my test plot would have yielded almost 3000 pounds of grain per acre if scaled up. (Once milled, that would be enough flour to bake 5000 loaves of bread.)

Wheat and other grains were being grown on the Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands in the late 1880s, but the availability of mass-production prairie-grown grain put an end to the practice.  There has recently been a mini-revival of grain growing on Vancouver Island, and The Roost bakery and cafe on East Saanich Road sells bread made from locally grown wheat. Who knows, we may see a grain-growing revival on Galiano too!

2018-05-20T19:42:54+00:00June 20th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

INDEED A MEMORABLE FEAST, By Lisette Jolicoeur

Little did I know what I was in for when I responded to the email invitation from the Food Program : “Come out for a walk with Dan Persyko and friends to marvel at the abundance of food at its source. The traditional First Nations site at Montague Harbour is the ideal place to learn about living close to the land and sea. Bring shovel, a bucket, a bowl, and fork. 4:30 Thursday, June 9th, 2011”.

What a memorable eveninng, not only because it was a feast, but also because it was such a strong example of how the best, more often than not, comes with simplicity and just getting together for a moment with no agenda. I call that “let’s have a little adventure and see what happens!” I experienced, once again, the natural world as a child would as well as learning many new things.

Having young kids and a dog around is always a treat to watch. To see how they all naturally interact with each other and with the animal, if we trust them enough to admire how they naturally interact and solve simply their differences.

Sea asparagus and bladderack when sautéed with an onion and carrot make a very yummy and healthy serving of veggies (thank God not yet served in those fancy restaurants at a $$$ price, one we gladly pay for with our ignorance).

When you put together pretty big oysters stacked together in a way to allow the juices and sand to flow out with the smaller mussels on top it makes for a 2 part feast. It only took half an hour to gather the food and although at first glance the mussels seemed small they are so tasty. In a big pot with just a little bit of water, steaming on a wood fire right by the beach, the result is absolutely divine.Those big oysters are not that chewy afterall. Both accompanied by our serving of sea veggies, naturally.

When we are still in awe of that fine dinner, Dan and Janice experimented with two different breading for the oysters, so we could have a taste of fried oysters. Dan’s were with flour with garam marsala added. Janice’s were with dipped in beated egg and then rolled in corn flour. Both were delicious and so smooth to enjoy. The little chewiness was even wonderful to get those jaws going.

During the meal, someone mentioned the word ‘wine’ and instantly all said “Naw! Not necessary!” This is as fine as it is! Similarly, at the end, Janice said: “I have a little treat here if you want” (chocolate), and again, all said “it does not belong here”. We simply cleared our plates, and sent the shells back to the beach while watching a couple of grey herons fly over our heads.

Well done, time to go home and stay with that infinite moment of bliss, that is possible to everyone on this island and on top IT IS FREE! NO HST, NO TIPS, NO WAITER, just nature as our generous host!

My conclusion: We live in paradise. Why not work together to enjoy this now and to make it last for all those who come after us.

2018-05-04T15:39:40+00:00June 4th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

FEEDING THE ISLAND FROM THE ISLAND

It is exciting to say that the first gathering of FARMERS AND GROWERS happened last week. Since the Conference on agriculture and food security last spring it has been apparent that opening up a conversation amongst growers could benefit us all.

Topics of interest included: Connecting people without land to available land; Labour, woofing, apprenticeship, subletting, cooperatives; Marketing local organic produce on island ; Cold Storage and processing facilities; Soil and Bylaws.

Another important issue on the table is whether Galiano should form a Farmer’s Institute. It would certainly give us a voice in a world where the small mixed farm faces extinction due to governments favouring the factory farm scale of production through subsidies while introducing debilitating regulations to our traditional more earth-centred growers. The thought of another board on Galiano is a bit daunting but when it comes to feeding ourselves this may be one of the more important places to put energy. Salt Spring and Pender still have their original Institutes. We will connect with them for ideas and advice on this before our next meeting.

Reviving our farming community and having regular gatherings and important topics of discussion would mean that newcomers can join in on the work and the conversation. We know of two pieces of good farmland here that have sold recently and that the buyers are very keen to farm. If we have willing and able farmers and growers of organic food we’ll need to step up to the plate and support them as they attempt to juggle the obstacles to making a go of it. Start-up and equipment costs are an issue as are acquiring skills around soil and livestock management. Let’s face it, we’re reinventing the farming wheel !!!

Shifting our cultural attitude to food to include evaluations of the hidden costs of mass-production such as environmental, humanitarian and health costs seems to be something that we are ready to embark on. Are we as an island ready to embrace our growers and pay them what their hard work and wonderful local, organic produce is worth? Yes yes yes.

The next meeting of Farmers and Growers is on TUESDAY, APRIL 5, at 7 pm in the Activity Centre meeting room at the school. All are welcome.

To give us feedback, please contact Martine or Janice at galianofoodprograms@gmail.com, or phone 250-539-2175, option 2. The Galiano Food program is an offspring of the Galiano Club, funded by the Victoria Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation.

2018-05-04T15:24:48+00:00April 4th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

August 2010 update!

Here’s your Food Program this month in a Nut Shell:

ALL ABOUT APPLES with Salt Spring’s Harry Burton

This Sunday, August 29 from 1:00 at the Community Hall.

Come join one of the Gulf Island’s experts on everything APPLE. Learn how to select, grow, propagate and care for your apple trees. Bring your questions. By donation.

GLEANING

Anyone wanting to share their fruit and nut tree harvests and those looking for fruit can connect through the gleaning project. Contact us with your ideas and fruit.

PRESERVING WITH ALISON COLWELL

Monday evenings of Sept 13 (blackberry jam) and Sept 27 (pickled beets). Small groups so registration is a must. $10.

ONGOING COMMUNITY GARDENS

In this glorious climate we can virtually grow all year round. Join in with one of the 6 growing groups already established and running.

GARLIC CO-OP

It’s time to look for a new place to grow garlic. Anyone with a good-sized stretch of land willing to share with fellow growers is urged to contact us.

EXTRA FOOD

An informal distribution between those with bumper crops and those who could use some fresh produce has emerged. If you find yourself unable to use all you’ve grown or simply want to share the bounty we can get it to those who need it. Do you need food? Contact us and we’ll get some to you.

OLD FASHIONED ISLAND POTLUCK PICNIC

The first annual island-wide picnic will take place Sunday September 12 beginning at 1:00 at the Community School. This is an ‘all organizations and societies of Galiano’ effort bringing us together for fun and good company. Watch for posters and more details soon.

FLOWER AND HARVEST SHOW

Participate in this traditional show and contest. Detailed information on entry rules and categories found in Aug Active Page as well as booklets at Wild Swan, Twirly Tree and the Bookstore. As always, the Garden Club holds this event at the Lions Hall and this year it is on Saturday August 28 from 1 to 4:00. Tea and treats will be available.

SATURDAY MARKET

This year going in to September with up to 6 farm stands, more home baking than ever and a great variety of lunch and savoury snacks. A great place to meet friends, hang out and listen to live music. Lions Field 10 til 2.

A FORUM ON WATER WITH BOB BURGESS

Join your neighbours and learn about ways to save water. Share ideas on Galiano’s precious resource and learn from experts how to set up simple catchment systems. More details soon.

Sunday, September 26 , Community Hall, time to be announced.

2018-05-04T15:11:53+00:00August 4th, 2010|Categories: Food Program, Uncategorized|0 Comments