Cumshewa

Cartouche by Bill Reid.

Cumshewa was named by Europeans after its chief, Gomshewah, whose name is probably a word from the Bella Bella language meaning “Rich at the mouth of the river.” Symbolic reference to the wealth concentrated at the mouths of rivers is common in the songs and feast speeches of most West Coast tribes.
 
The village is situated near the northern entrance to Cumshewa Inlet on a sandy beach. A long spit joins the village at low tide to Haans Islet, which was both a burial ground and the location of a fort. Behind the village the rocky land rises rapidly to over three hundred metres within two kilometers of the shore.
 
John Work, who completed a census for the Hudson’s Bay Company, estimated that there were twenty houses with 286 inhabitants at Cumshewa between 1836 and 1841, numbers which agree closely with the house list compiled by J. Swanton.
 
When many of the villages were being abandoned in favour of the centralized settlement at Skidegate, Cumshewa was one of the last to be deserted. The panoramic photograph shown below, from the United Church Archives, was taken about 1905, a time when the Methodist missionaries were encouraging the last few inhabitants to move to Skidegate.

Photograph by United Church Archives, 1905.

References: Dawson, 1881; MacDonald, 1983; Swanton, 1909.