Native American Legends
The Lure in Stanley Park
A Squamish Legend
There is a well-known trail in Stanley Park that leads to what
I always love to call the "Cathedral Trees" -- that group
of some half-dozen forest giants that arch overhead with such superb
loftiness. But in all the world there is no cathedral whose marble
or onyx columns can vie with those straight, clean, brown cedar
boles that teem with the sap and blood of life. There is no fresco
that can rival the delicacy of lace-work they have festooned between
you and the far skies. No tiles, no mosaic or inlaid marbles, are
as fascinating as the bare, russet, fragrant floor outspreading
about their feet. They are the acme of Nature's architecture, and
in building them she has out-rivaled all her erstwhile conceptions.
She will never originate a more faultless design, never erect a
more perfect edifice. But the divinely molded cedars and the man-made
cathedral have one exquisite characteristic in common. It is the
atmosphere of holiness. Most of us have better impulses after viewing
a stately cathedral, and none of us can stand amid that majestic
group of cedars without experiencing some elevating thoughts, some
refinement of our coarser nature. Perhaps those who read this little
legend will never again stand amid those cathedral trees without
thinking of the glorious souls they contain, for according to the
Coast Indians they do harbor human souls, and the world is better
because they once had the speech and the hearts of mighty men.
My tillicum did not use the word "lure" in telling me
this legend. There is no equivalent for the word in the Chinook
tongue, but the gestures of his "voiceful" hands so expressed
the quality of something between magnetism and charm that I have
selected this word "lure" as best fitting what he wished
to convey. Some few yards beyond the cathedral trees, an overgrown
disused trail turns into the dense wilderness to the right. Only
Indian eyes could discern that trail, and the Indians do not willingly
go to that part of the park to the right of the cedar group. Nothing
in this, nor yet the next world would tempt a Coast Indian into
the compact centers of the wild portions of the park, for therein,
concealed cunningly, is the "lure" they all believe in.
There is not a tribe in the entire district that does not know of
this strange legend. You will hear the tale from those that gather
at Eagle Harbor for the fishing, from the Fraser River tribes, from
the Squamish at the Narrows, from the Mission, from up the Inlet,
even from the tribes at North Bend, but no one will volunteer to
be your guide, for having once come within the "aura"
of the lure it is a human impossibility to leave it. Your willpower
is dwarfed, your intelligence blighted, your feet will refuse to
lead you out by a straight trail, you will circle, circle for evermore
about this magnet, for if death kindly comes to your aid your immortal
spirit will go on in that endless circling that will bar it from
entering the Happy Hunting Grounds.
And, like the cathedral trees, the lure once lived, a human soul,
but in this instance it was a soul depraved, not sanctified. The
Indian belief is very beautiful concerning the results of good and
evil in the human body. The Sagalie Tyee (God) has His own way of
immortalizing each. People who are wilfully evil, who have no kindness
in their hearts, who are bloodthirsty, cruel, vengeful, unsympathetic,
the Sagalie Tyee turns to solid stone that will harbor no growth,
even that of moss or lichen, for these stones contain no moisture,
just as their wicked hearts lacked the milk of human kindness. The
one famed exception, wherein a good man was transformed into stone,
was in the instance of Siwash Rock, but as the Indian tells you
of it he smiles with gratification as he calls your attention to
the tiny tree cresting that imperial monument. He says the tree
was always there to show the nations that the good in this man's
heart kept on growing even when his body had ceased to be. On the
other hand the Sagalie Tyee transforms the kindly people, the humane,
sympathetic, charitable-loving people into trees, so that after
death they may go on forever benefiting all mankind; they may yield
fruit, give shade and shelter, afford unending service to the living,
by their usefulness as building material and as firewood. Their
saps and gums, their fibers, their leaves, their blossoms, enrich,
nourish and sustain the human form; no evil is produced by trees
-- all, all is goodness, is hearty, is helpfulness and growth. They
give refuge to the birds, they give music to the winds, and from
them are carved the bows and arrows, the canoes and paddles, bowls,
spoons and baskets. Their service to mankind is priceless; the Indian
that tells you this tale will enumerate all these attributes and
virtues of these trees. No wonder the Sagalie Tyee chose them to
be the abode of souls good and great.
But the lure in Stanley Park is that most dreaded of all things,
an evil soul. It is embodied in a bare, white stone, which is shunned
by moss and vine and lichen, but over which are splashed innumerable
jet-black spots that have eaten into the surface like an acid.
This condemned soul once animated the body of a witch-woman, who
went up and down the coast, over seas and far inland, casting her
evil eye on innocent people, and bringing them untold evils and
diseases. About her person she carried the renowned "Bad Medicine"
that every Indian believes in-medicine that weakened the arm of
the warrior in battle, that caused deformities, that poisoned minds
and characters, that engendered madness, that bred plagues and epidemics;
in short, that was the seed of every evil that could befall mankind.
This witch woman herself was immune from death; generations were
born and grew to old age, and died, and other generations arose
in their stead, but the witch-woman went about, her heart set against
her kind; her acts were evil, her purposes wicked, she broke hearts
and bodies and souls; she gloried in tears, and reveled in unhappiness,
and sent them broadcast wherever she wandered. And in his high heaven
the Sagalie Tyee wept with sorrow for his afflicted human children.
He dared not let her die, for her spirit would still go on with
its evil doing. In mighty anger he gave command to his Four Men
(always representing the Deity) that they should turn this witch-woman
into a stone and enchain her spirit in its center, that the curse
of her might be lifted from the unhappy race.
So the Four Men entered their giant canoe, and headed, as was their
custom, up the Narrows. As they neared what is now known as Prospect
Point they heard from the heights above them a laugh, and looking
up they beheld the witch-woman jeering defiantly at them. They landed
and, scaling the rocks, pursued her as she danced away, eluding
them like a will-o'-the-wisp as she called out to them sneeringly:
"Care for yourselves, oh! men of the Sagalie Tyee, or I shall
blight you with my evil eye. Care for yourselves and do not follow
me." On and on she danced through the thickest of the wilderness,
on and on they followed until they reached the very heart of the
sea girt neck of land we know as Stanley Park. Then the tallest,
the mightiest of the Four Men, lifted his hand and cried out: "Oh!
woman of the stony heart, be stone for evermore, and bear forever
a black stain for each one of your evil deeds." And as he spoke
the witch-woman was transformed into this stone that tradition says
is in the center of the park.
Such is the legend of the Lure, whether or not this stone is really
in existence -- who knows? One thing is positive, however, no Indian
will ever help to discover it.
Three different Indians have told me that fifteen or eighteen years
ago two tourists -- a man and a woman -- were lost in Stanley Park.
When found a week later, the man was dead, the woman mad, and each
of my informants firmly believed they had, in their wanderings,
encountered "the stone" and were compelled to circle around
it, because of its powerful lure.
But this wild tale fortunately has a most beautiful conclusion.
The Four Men, fearing that the evil heart imprisoned in the stone
would still work destruction, said: "At the end of the trail
we must place so good and great a thing that it will be mightier,
stronger, more powerful than this evil." So they chose from
the nations the kindliest, most benevolent men, men whose hearts
were filled with the love of their fellow-beings, and transformed
these merciful souls into the stately group of "Cathedral Trees."
How well the purpose of the Sagalie Tyee has wrought its effect
through time! The good has predominated as He planned it to, for
is not the stone hidden in some unknown part of the park where eyes
do not see it and feet do not follow -- and do not the thousands
who come to us from the nethermost parts of the world seek that
wondrous beauty spot, and stand awed by the majestic silence, the
almost holiness of that group of giant cedars?
More than any other legend that the Indians about Vancouver have
told me does this tale reveal the love of the Coast native for kindness,
and his hatred of cruelty. If these tribes really have ever been
a warlike race I cannot think they pride themselves much on the
occupation. If you talk with any of them and they mention some man
they particularly like or admire, their first qualification of him
is: "He's a kind man." They never say he is brave, or
rich, or successful, or even strong, that characteristic so loved
by the red man. To these Coast tribes if a man is "kind"
he is everything. And almost without exception their legends deal
with rewards for tenderness and self-abnegation, and personal and
Call them fairy tales if you wish to, they all have a reasonableness
that must have originated in some mighty mind, and better than that,
they all tell of the Indian's faith in the survival of the best
impulses of the human heart, and the ultimate extinction of the
In talking with my many good tillicums, I find this witch-woman
legend is the most universally known and thoroughly believed in
of all traditions they have honored me by revealing to me.
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