Shipwrecks and Pristine Coasts are the Classroom of New SFU Archaeology Course

November 09, 2021
Photo of: the group exploring Brady's Beach

This fall, an SFU Archeology cohort travelled to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre (BMSC) on Vancouver Island’s West Coast to get up-close and hands-on with their course material.

Students, faculty and alumni collaborated with peers and gained first-hand experience doing marine archaeology—the subject of the new course, Underwater Archaeology 200 taught by Rob Rondeau.

The group traded classrooms for rugged coastal ecosystems and temperate rainforests and immersed themselves in exploration and brief lectures to gain a deeper appreciation for Vancouver Island’s rugged West Coast, known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”, and better understand the region’s maritime history, from both a Non-Indigenous and Indigenous perspective.

Photo of: Gemma Rance & Lauren Nease
Photo of: Aitana Baroccio Lecumberri, Colton Saito, Katie Salvador & Damon Tarrant

Rondeau, who is also the Interim Director of SFU’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, shared the history of the Valencia shipwreck and the Dominion Lifesaving Trail (DLT), now referred to as the West Coast Trail. The ship met its end in 1906 and wrecked near Pachena Point where many of its passengers lost their lives due to a lack of resources for ships in danger. In 1907 the DLT was constructed from an old telegraph line trail to prevent similar tragedies.

Rondeau led students on a hike on the now-popular recreational trail and highlighted the role it played in saving the lives of passengers onboard ships in danger. As students walked in the steps of survivors, they discovered evidence that survivors left behind, including trees scarred by cables and the remains of cabins.

“I’m a big advocate of “experiential learning”. A trip like this gives students the opportunity to take the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom and then see it for themselves first-hand in the real word. That has an impact,” says Rondeau.

Field trip participants explored the area around BMSC to gain a better understanding of how past communities used that part of the coast. Rondeau and fellow archaeologist and SFU alum, Rob Field pointed out to the group former First Nations village sites, cultural shell deposits and clam gardens and explained their historic and cultural significance. The trip was also a way for participants to connect with their classmates after almost two years of remote learning.

Photo of: Damon Tarrant, Katie Salvador & Aitana Baroccio Lecumberri
Photo of: Rob Rondeau at Brady's Beach

Rondeau’s extensive background in marine archaeology and decades of ship wreck exploration made him the perfect course lead. Using this trip and course teachings, he demonstrated how archaeology can be used to explore and understand our environments through events such as shipwrecks and shorelines.