Friday, April 01, 2016

The surprising history of cannabis in BC

Hiking on the western edge of Pavilion Mountain 1997
Last year I become involved with opening a medical cannabis dispensary in Victoria.   This means I have become a lot more interested in cannabis than in the past.

Meanwhile I also have a passion for history and was recently asked to give a talk about old maps of Victoria BC.   Because of this talk I was looking at some of the oldest maps, HBC ones of BC from the 1830s and this lead me to re-read some of the journals of two HBC factors, Samuel Black and John Tod.   While doing so I came across a line I had read years ago and not never given much thought to
"Even after a brutal and long journey from boat encampment the Canadiens have always managed better on this last stretch to Fort Kamloops.   I had long wondered why this was and Pierre Blanc in the lead canoe said it was because of a plant they were given by the northern Couteau Indians.   He called it plante de guérison et de rêves and said not only did smoking it like tobacco relive the pain, it gave them energy to go on for much longer in a pleasant mood."

It reminded me of an entry of a trade John Tod made at Pavilion in the late summer of 1847

Acq.  350 dried salmon
            35 grns gold
          200 bndles plante de guérison et de rêves
for    15 4 point blankets
          4 copper pots
          3 ax blades
Clearly this plante de guérison et de rêves was worth trading for, but what was it?    I had never bothered to consider what this plant was but I am fairly certain it is a form of wild cannabis.

There are some areas in the southern interior of BC that have a sativa like looking cannabis plant growing right at the edge of the alpine.    This plant has broad leaves normally but I have seen it with the flower or buds one expects from marijuana but at the time I could not have told you what a sativa cannabis plant looked.  Ror years I was not even sure it was related to marijuana.  

In 1997 while I was working for the Ta'kw'aylaxw First Nation I joined a hunt on Pavilion mountain.  It was a beautiful day and Billie I started to get into a long conversation about the plants around us.  Billie was an elder in his early 70s at the time.   The most interesting was what he told me about the cannabis looking plant.   Turns out it is a strain of cannabis that had always grown in BC.   The chinook for the plant was la mestin moosum nanitch - medicine of dreams.    .Billie told me it was a medicine plant that was gathered in about July.  He remember his mother using it on him when he was young after he had broken an arm and was in a lot of pain.

What is interesting is the term the Canadiens and HBC used for a plant,  plante de guérison et de rêves, translates as plant of healing and dreams.   It is now clear to me that the plant referred to in the old HBC journals was the same plant the people at Ts'kw;aylaxw knew and is this wild strain of marijuana that grows in southern BC.

So if today you wander the sub alpine of the southern interior of BC you may run into some wild cannabis.

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