Saturday, May 25, 2013

Carpet Beetles!


Carpet beetles: I have been thinking about these little buggers a lot lately.
These, I think, are the bugs the fur traders found every spring, when they shook out their furs before packing them for the outgoing brigades.
These tiny beetles emerge as adults every year, in mid-April or early May, and crawl out to die on the windowsills.
They do this even today. If you look on your windowsill, you might well find some small, round, red-striped (or black) beetles there.
These are the oh, so-common-everywhere carpet beetles!

I first came to know of these bugs when the staff of the seniors facility my ancient mother lived in noticed a "line of bugs" marching down the back of her couch, and moved her out for a few days to have her room fumigated.
She was furious! She believed her care-givers were calling her "dirty!"Her reaction was a complete throwback to her youth in veddy-English Duncan in the 1920's.
This Vancouver Island town had more than its share of English residents, who were very prejudiced against the Natives.
Even though my English grandmother (my mother's mother) was the laziest and dirtiest housekeeper around, she was English, and therefore was accepted in Duncan society. (Well, almost completely accepted -- her own family members would not speak to her after her marriage because she had married "an Indian.")
But my mother's father was the youngest son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, and Duncan residents knew he carried Indian blood.
Therefore, my mother and all her brothers and sisters grew up with the stain of being called "a dirty Indian."

But we are not talking of my mother's past and the prejudice she endured: we are speaking of the bugs that upset her so much as a ninety year old.
She was blind; these bugs had probably emerged from her couch every year to march toward the window, but she would never have seen them!
They could have lived forever in that sofa; it was old enough to be made of natural fabrics, and its fibres were plugged with the cat hair her old cat shed.
And that is what carpet beetles live on: wools and other natural fabrics such as cotton, fur, animal hair and bird feathers, leather, silk and linens.
They can destroy expensive clothing and furniture, and devastate museum collections.
They can live on dogs (did my mother's "body-rot" dog have an allergy to fleas as the vet told us, or did Carpet beetles make their home in her hair?)

I am now occupying the place where my mother used to live before she moved, and once the carpet beetles were discovered in her couch at the seniors' home, my sister and I both knew that the carpet beetles were where I lived too.
But I never saw them, until one day one wandered out onto the piece of paper I happened to be looking at under a strong light!
I caught it and identified it -- and then worried about the damage these "millions of bugs" were doing.

When I learned how they travelled from one house to another on a person's clothes, I thought I was spreading them to all my friends' houses.
What was worse: when I knew what to look for, I discovered carpet beetles in all their homes too.
But I quickly learned to not worry about my carpet beetles, and theirs.
Let me tell you why.....

Everyone of my friends had more carpet beetles on their windowsills than I had.

Almost everyone has a few carpet beetles, and some people have more than a few.
Maybe even you have some: they are the red and black striped beetles [or small black beetles] that appear on your windowsill every spring from mid-April or early May all the way through June and early July, at least.
Apparently there is another rush of carpet beetles in August, but I haven't seen it anywhere here.
The little beetles are probably dead when you find them, and probably you've seen them a million times and have never worried about them.
But these are the adult carpet beetles, and they have left batches of tiny larval beetles behind them.

Of course, the larvae of the carpet beetles are the beetles that do the most damage.
They are the ones that you do not see -- you do not even know you have carpet beetles until you see the adults dead, on your windowsills.
So, should you be afraid?

Well, not really.
Everyone has them, and if you have three or four or six or a dozen, don't worry about them too much.
If you have a lot more than that, then start considering getting rid of them before they march in an orderly little line down the back of the couch they have been consuming for years!

There are four kinds of carpet beetles, or maybe more depending on where you live.
I think the beetles I see here on the west coast are Black Carpet Beetles, and Varied (or variegated) Carpet Beetles -- these appear to be red and black striped beetles but apparently have other colours as well.

The Black Carpet Beetles measures about 2.5-5mm long; it is dark brown to black in colour.
It is just a little oblong black beetle, smaller (the ones I have seen, at least ) than the apparently more common Varied.

The Varied (or Variegated) Carpet Beetles are about 2 to 3mm long and nearly round. Its top body is gray with a mixture of white, brown and yellow scales and irregular black cross bands according to most descriptions.
Still, on the west coast, they look like red and black striped bugs to me. Almost like tiny lady bugs, in fact.

I don't think I have seen any Common Carpet Beetles, but you might have. They are rounder than the black carpet beetle and about 3mm to 4.5mm long. Its colouration is gray to black with 3 wavy white bands on the wings, and a reddish stripe running down the centre of the back.

Furniture Carpet Beetles are slightly larger than the varied carpet beetle (and I might have seen these once). They are 2.5mm long with an oval, plump shape. It is coloured yellow, white and black and has a definite wing cleft (the stripe down the middle of the back of the beetle).

These things fly! I never knew that.
They are said to be very efficient flyers, in fact.

The larvae of the carpet beetles have visible hairs along their body and may vary from pale to dark in colour, depending on the species. Some are quite big (bigger than the adult) and some very small.
I actually saw one and I can see why no one knows they are there -- this one was tiny, like the tiniest little spiders you see -- and white to almost transparent, similar to those whitish silverfish you occasionally see.
It was almost invisible, and I only saw it because I happened to be kneeling down at a time when it was moving from its food source to its home.
It crossed the tile floor at a good clip, and disappeared under the base board before I even realized what it was.
It was about the size of this semi-colon " ; " -- pretty darn small.

But it makes sense: the adult is about the size of a large bold capital O, or " O " -- again, depending on the species.
The black carpet beetles I see are perhaps this size: " 0 " or a bit larger -- though the information I have given above says they are the same size as the others.
And that's what taught me not to be terrified of these things -- yes, the larvae can be voracious and is described as a big eater, but it is also very much smaller than pest control companies picture it!
It depends on the numbers, I think. If you have a lot of larvae, you have a lot of problems.

How do the first carpet beetles get into your house?
They come on batches of fresh flowers, and don't leave again.
They fly in your windows!
They walk in your doors.
They are outdoor insects, and may be carried into your house on your firewood.
They come in on dried food or pet food -- yes, very common. They are closely related to the bugs that infest dried foods, in fact, and you can probably bring them home from the grocery store!
They also appear in your house after a rat or mouse infestation; perhaps they live in the coats of rats and mice.
They can live in your attic for years before you know they are there, and slowly spread downstairs.
They can live behind, or beneath, heavy pieces of furniture -- and maybe even inside the furniture!

They may be in your mattress or pillow.
If you have what appears to be bed-bug bites (especially if one person in the bed is bitten and the other is not), it could be you are allergic to the larvae of the carpet beetle!

Once they are in your house, the adult females lay eggs.
Depending upon the species of course, the female can lay from 30 to 100 eggs, once a year or more often than that.
One source describes the eggs as small and pearly-white, located near a food source such as the lint around baseboards, or the duct-work of hot-air furnace systems.
Eggs are laid on clothing, in dust-balls or lint in cracks under or behind baseboards, in dusty heating ducts, or on dead insects that have accumulated inside light fixtures! (Obviously, these bugs get everywhere!)
Do you have a dog, and does the dog hair go under your frig? I bet the carpet beetles are there!

Larvae hatch five or six weeks after being laid (again, that depends on the species) and they feed for about nine months before hibernation.
They feed in dark, undisturbed areas like closets, and in areas under heavy pieces of furniture (couches, pianos) where there is no foot traffic.
Carpet beetle larvae tend to be secretive and only come out in the dark to feed.
They live between 250 to 650 days, depending on the species, and most of their time is spent scavenging for protein rich food in dimly lit areas.

Yes, I think these fur traders would have had a problem with these bugs!

When you are searching for the source of your infestation, look at the following:
Search your attics, basements and storage places;
Check rugs next to walls; upholstered furniture; closets; shelves; radiators and the space beneath and behind them; registers and ducts, baseboards; moldings, corners and floor cracks (between tiles, for example).
Stored woolen and flannels in wooden chests or boxes, or in dresser drawers or cupboards.
Around the edges of, or underneath, rarely moved furniture.

If you have holes in your clothes, it could be either carpet beetles, or clothes moths.
The difference between the two seems to be quite apparent -- if clothes moths you will see the adult moths flying nearby, and you will find moths or pupae casings in your clothes.
Carpet beetles are less conspicuous.
They feed, and then they move elsewhere after feeding.
Tell-tale signs of carpet beetle infestation in clothes is: small, irregular holes, especially around the collar!
Why I do not know, but they like soiled or sweat-stained clothing (even if polyester), and so might be attracted to the neckline of the garment.

I am not going to talk about dealing with a carpet beetle infestation, but I will tell you what I did.
I only had three or four on my windowsill last year -- that is not a lot.
However I panicked: thinking that I was spreading these things on my clothes to all my friends' houses!
I did a bit of research, and put borax on pieces of paper which I slid them under every single piece of furniture I had (if you mix borax with sugar and do the same thing it works on silverfish).
I stuffed all the many gaps behind my baseboards with borax or boric acid powder.
That was last summer.
I haven't done a thing since.
And I haven't seen a single carpet beetle this year, in my place, anyway!
Problem solved, I think.

Caution: Do not put borax straight on the carpet, it might bleach or stain it. I don't think you have to worry about boric acid, but check first.
You can buy boric acid in a pharmacy: do not breath in the powder!
Do not put either borax, or boric acid, anywhere your child or pet might lick it up -- it's toxic. That's why I put it under all the heavy, immovable pieces of furniture that go all the way to the floor.

So while this might not sound like a fur trade story, I think it is.
The fur traders shook out their furs every spring to get rid of the bugs: the adult and very visible carpet beetles emerged in the springtime about the same time.
A little research told me that carpet beetles are everywhere in Canada, even in the cities that experience winters much more fierce than Victoria's.
Every article I opened up told me that carpet beetles loved furs -- in fact, furs were at the top of every experts' list.
I have no problem believing that these outdoor bugs moved into Native houses and lived there; they were also in the log houses the fur traders lived in.
I think these bugs, in their larvael stage, were carried in the Natives' furs traded every spring at the various fur trade posts.  
I have no problem believing that the red and black adult carpet beetles were the insects that the fur traders spotted every spring, ant that these are the bugs they shook out of their furs every spring. They may have rid themselves of the adults; the larvae, however, remained in the furs to be shipped to England.

So someone on Twitter called me a nerd the other day; I felt quite flattered.
I later discovered that the definition of a nerd is "a person utterly fixated on a certain subject."
I'm happy with that: I think that when I can take a perfectly common and totally unconnected subject such as modern-day carpet beetles, and turn it into a fur trade post, then I have passed the nerd test.
I accept that I am a fur trade nerd.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My "Story-Teller" talk at St. Stephens Church




I was invited to speak at an event put on by St. Stephen's Trust Society, called "Exploring the Past."
St Stephens is the old church in Central Saanich, where my great-grandfather Alexander Caulfield Anderson is buried. [His worn tombstone is shown, above].
The St. Stephens Trust Society has been established to prevent the old church from being closed down, and so far they have been quite successful in this.

I was only one of the invited speakers, and my talk was about ten minutes long.
The evening began with a video of the retiring churchyard guide taking about some of the people who are buried in the churchyard, and telling his stories of what he knew about them.
Many of the people he spoke of were people he had known many years ago, and he told stories about them that no one else knew.
He also told us all that St. Stephens was a country church and that people from many denominations attended the church in its earlier years, before splitting off to build their own churches in the immediate neighbourhood.
I had never thought of St. Stephens Church in that way.

After the video ran, I was the next speaker, and I was followed by Diana Chown who talked about the neighboring Holy Trinity Graveyard.
Sylvia van Kirk was to close the evening but she had laryngitis, and so the president of the Old Cemetery Society rose to tell the crowd what that organization does in Victoria.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and there were lots of conversations after the night was done -- especially as Diana Chown talked about a few people who appeared in my book, The Pathfinder.

So anyway, here is what I had to say:

"Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the celebrations we are enjoying here tonight, as we say thank you to St. Stephens Church's resident story-teller.

"My name is Nancy Anderson, and I am the great grand-daughter of the fur trader and explorer, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, whose worn gravestone stands just outside the front door of St. Stephens Church.

"So -- who was Alexander Caulfield Anderson, you ask: and why is he important?

"He was the fur trader who, in 1846 and 1847, explored four routes across the range of mountains that separated the fort at Kamloops, from Fort Langley on the lower Fraser River.
"Those of you who have driven through British Columbia know that means he must have traversed the Coquihalla long before any roads existed there, or he walked around the range of mountains that loomed above Hell's Gate.

"In fact he did both -- on foot, and in later years on horseback, with the fur traders' brigades.
"His story is told in my book, The Pathfinder -- and from this book you will also come to understand how significant a figure he was in North and Central Saanich's early history.

"Stories are important, and they are how both family histories, and local histories, are saved.

"For example: you would probably not consider A. C. Anderson's wife, Betsy Birnie, a significant person -- but she was the probable mixed-blood grand-daughter of the voyageur Joseph Beaulieu, who crossed the Rocky Mountains with the North West Company's explorer David Thompson in 1807.
"But after I say something like this, I have to add the line: -- "Not that we can prove it!"

"And this is why stories must be told and retold and, also, written down. It is highly likely that our story is true but it wasn't written down, and so we can't prove it.
"We do, however, know, that Anderson's wife, Betsy, was born into the fur trade at Spokane House in 1822, shortly after her mother's marriage to fur trader James Birnie.

"So, Betsy grew up in the fur trade, and lived a fur trade life until she was forty years old -- she would not have fitted well into the lives of the English settlers who broke land in this valley.
"Still, when she died in March 1872, her funeral at St. Stephens was attended by the many friends of the Anderson family.

"And so the first generation of Andersons who came to early British Columbia are buried in this cemetery -- the next generation is represented here as well.
"The grave of Anderson's son, Walter Birnie Anderson (and his wife and daughter), stands only twenty feet away from A. C. Anderson's grave.

"Walter came to Saanich when he was about twelve years old, and he grew up on the Anderson farm on Wain Road.
"He eventually became one of the early British Columbia policemen, and served the force in Comox and Cumberland for many years.
"He returned to Victoria on his retirement, and when he died, he chose to be buried at St. Stephens.
"This was his home.

"The next two generations are also represented here, in two separate plots.
"The Harveys, who lived on Knapp Island, are descendants of A. C. Anderson's daughter Agnes, who was also born into the fur trade at Fort Colvile, near Spokane.
"Agnes was fortunate, and unlike her older brothers and sisters she adapted well to the civilization at early Fort Victoria.
"She married well, to Captain James Gaudin -- a rather famous man himself, and her grandchildren married into the Dunsmuirs of Nanaimo.
"Hence her family brings representatives of many prominent British Columbia families into St. Stephens Churchyard.

"The final Anderson family member buried here is my aunt, Claire.
"No one but my sister and I could have identified the infant buried in Walter Anderson's grave, and we only managed to do so because of our ancient mother's many stories about her older sister, Claire -- who she never knew! Claire died before my mother was even born.

"Both Claire and my mother, Marguerite Flora Anderson, were children of Alexander Caulfield Anderson's youngest son, born in Saanich in 1864.
"His name was Arthur, and he was less than twenty years old when his father died.
"He remained in Saanich for a few years before going to the Kootenays to log and mine.
"Eventually he returned home with money, and purchased a strip of land west and north of this church.
"If any of you live on Salmon Road or the tangle of roads in that immediate vicinity, you are living on Arthur Beattie Anderson's old property. [At that point a few people put up their hands; they lived there].

"Arthur sold off pieces of his land as his money ran out, and he also rowed across the inlet to work on the Malahat, which was then under construction.
"When he ran out of money in 1917 or so, he sold his last piece of property and moved to Valdez Island to raise sheep.
"Arthur eventually died in Duncan, where he is buried in an unmarked grave.

"But before Arthur left Saanich, he sold one piece of land to his father-in-law, Reverend Frederick Granville Christmas -- the man church members now know as "Father Christmas."
"This gives my family one more very strong connection to St. Stephens Church.

"As I have said, stories are important.
"Tonight we are celebrating the work your resident story teller has done in researching your stories and in bringing them to you.
"He might not have known all the Anderson family stories, but he would certainly have understood who Alexander Caulfield Anderson was!

"In the fall of 1861, Anderson was one of three men who cleared the land so that St. Stephens Church could be constructed the following spring.
"For this reason, if for no other, A. C. Anderson will remain a part of St. Stephens Church's long and wonderful history.
"Moreover, to members of the Anderson family, St. Stephens churchyard continues to hold an important place in our collective memories; it's a special place."

It's odd, but many people are afraid of public speaking -- and so was I when I first started.
I no longer am.
I have a few tricks that makes it all work for me, and for the all-important attendees.
I write my speech for the audience, and so each talk is aimed at the people I think will be attending -- casual for people who might not know who he is, and more detailed for people who are historians.
The Anderson Island people, for example, got to see all the family pictures that never made it into the book -- the image of the school Anderson attended, the maps of Australia and India and London. They also saw images of Fort Nisqually that no one else has seen.

I write my speech and print it out, double-spaced and in large letters. I also staple the pages together so I won't drop a page and lose track of where I am.
In this last talk, I hadn't printed the speech in large enough letters, so I found it harder to follow and, on one occasion, lost my place for a bit.
I time the speech with a timer when I am writing it, and stop a little short of the usual 45 minutes.
I re-read the talk a few times just before I am going to give it; that way I know the talk well enough that I can read, to remind myself, and look at the audience.
I pause at important places. People take in what you said in the pauses (so losing your place for a moment or two is not a bad thing as it gives people time to absorb what you just said).
I plan the pauses, and write them into my talk.
[Pause]
And most importantly: I eat a big pasta meal before every talk.
Pasta and other complex carbohydrates are very calming, and though I am nervous at the start, I am rarely if ever terribly nervous.

At the end of the talk I am willing to answer questions. I carry a "Need to know book" in which I have answers to the questions I might be asked.
At my first talk I was asked the size of A.C. Anderson 1867 map, and I gave the wrong answer.
Of course I should have gone to my book for the answer, but did not, and based my answer on my visualization of the smaller-sized scan I was more familiar with.
I also need to carry a family tree around with me, because someone will always ask about his children.

If you give talks you will begin to learn what works for you, and what you need to carry around with you.
I hope some of what I said has helped you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

B.C. Historical Federation Conference


I am in Kamloops for most of this week, attending the British Columbia Historical Federation Conference, where I will be mingling with many who are interested in writing and reading our province's history. 

It will be fun, and I will report on the conference on my return to Victoria.

While I will be attending a few talks, I will also find time to go to the Museum and view Alexander Caufield Anderson's original 1849 drawing of the fort. 

I might even have time to get into the archives, though I doubt that.

In the meantime, some people at this conference might be looking at my blog to order the book (if we run out up there), or to follow me on Twitter. 
So, for them, here are the important e-addresses they will need to do both:

My Amazon Author Page is: https://www.amazon.com/author/nancymargueriteanderson


My Twitter handle is: @Marguerite_HBC

They may meet my sister, too, and want to follow her on Twitter. Her handle is: @WriteOffTheEdge 

Will we see you at Kamloops?
If so, come over and introduce yourself.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Le Camas



In his book, Trees and Shrubs: Food, Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of British Columbia, [Victoria: Banfield, 1925] James Robert Anderson -- eldest son of A. C. Anderson -- described the two kinds of Camas that bloomed every May in the oak meadows that surrounded Fort Victoria:

"It is commonly called Camas or Le Camas and so the name has degenerated into Lickomas amongst those who are ignorant of the origin of the name. It is a bulbous plant, bearing a spike of beautiful blue flowers, from 6 to 12 inches in height, belonging to the Lily family. The bulb, which is about the size of a small Hyacinth, is a common article of food among the Indian tribes of North America.

"I am not aware of the limits of the territory in which it grows, but certainly in British Columbia, with which I am at present dealing, it is common everywhere where the land is sufficiently clear of trees and the soil rich enough, a rich black loam in open country being its natural habitat. The women go out when the plant is in bloom and with long, sharp, slightly curved and flattened, tough sticks dig up the bulbs, which are from 4 to 5 inches in the ground. These are conveyed to a kiln, 10 feet or less in diameter, and there cooked, after which the bulbs are divided among the contributors, who place them in baskets and store them away for future use. 

"In a raw state the Camas is perfectly white, very glutinous, sweet, with an aromatic and pleasant flavour. The kilns of which I speak are hollows in the ground from 2 to 3 feet in depth, the bottoms of which are filled with large stones, on which fires are built until the stone become red hot. Grass is then placed on the stones, on the grass the Camas is heaped, and in turn covered over with grass and mats, and earth heaped over all. The Camas is allowed to remain in the kiln for several days or until it is quite cold, when, as I said before, the bulbs are divided up. This, before the use of iron utensils became known, was a very common mode of cooking. Besides Camas, other roots were cooked in the same way."

Botanist Nancy J. Turner, in her book Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples [Royal BC Museum Handbook], accurately describes these two flowers, see below:
I saw camas in bloom in Beacon Hill Park a few weeks ago, and so I think those are the Common Camas, while the ones that are just beginning to bloom outside my window are the larger Great Camas -- I hadn't know that till now.
Next year I will be sure to get photos of the earlier Beacon Hill Park flowers, so we can, perhaps, see the difference.

But for now, this is how Ms. Turner describes the camas:
"These [two] species of camas are herbaceous perennials with large, glutinous bulbs, 1.5 to 3 cm. thick and 2 to 4 cm. long, covered by a membranous brown skin. The grass-like leaves are basal, 10 to 20 mm broad and 20 to 40 cm long. The flower stems are 30 to 50 cm long, bearing a loose terminal cluster of showy blue blossoms in late spring. Great Camas (C. leichtlinii) is generally larger and stouter than the Common Camas (C. quamash) and blooms two or three weeks later."

Both camas are common to southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Great Camas may also grow on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, but the Common Camas blooms in the Columbia Valley south of Castlegar and in parts of eastern Washington and Idaho.
Young James would have seen the camas there as a twelve-year old, when he lived with his father at Fort Colvile.
The Common Camas is the plant that early fur trader David Thompson would have known.
I call these fur traders' flowers, and that is why I use their images on both my Twitter and Facebook page.
I wait for them every spring -- so, too, did the David Thompson and the fur traders in the Kootenays, Idaho and Eastern Washington.

From Jack Nisbet's book, Sources of the River, I quote:

"On a fall day in 1809, [David] Thompson had stopped at a bend in the Pend Oreille River to smoke with a small group of Kalispel Indians led by a good-natured old chief. In his diary it amounts to nothing more than a brief exchange: "The oldest man according to custom made a speech & a Present of 2 Cakes of root Bread about 12 lb. of roots & 2 1/2 dried Salmon..." The Kalispel chief has presented the surveyor with his first basket of roasted camas bulbs. They would become one of his trail staples, a food that made his belly grumble but kept it full. Thompson had saved some of these roots, and from his desk in 1847, when he was seventy-seven years old, he could take time to savor the moment, to focus his rheumy eye on a few small tubers."

Nisbet continues with the lines that David Thompson wrote: "These Roots are about the size of a Nutmeg, they are ... near the surface, and are turned up with a pointed Stick, they are farinaceous, of a pleasant taste, easily masticated, and nutritive, they are found in the small meadows of short grass, in a rich soil, and a short exposure to the Sun dries them sufficiently to keep for years. I have some beside me which were dug up in 1811 and are now thirty-six years old and are in good preservation ... but they have lost their fine aromatic smell."

"As he sniffed the camas roots, Thompson transported himself back to the blue-petaled meadows of the Pend Oreille, and the shriveled relics on his desk brought back the taste of the whole place..."

Camas bulbs were a staple food for the Coast Salish on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. "Although the natural range of camas in the interior is extremely limited," Nancy Turner writes in her book, Food Plants of Interior First Peoples, "its distribution was significantly increased through trade with aboriginal groups of Washington, Idaho and Montana, where it was a staple food. Hence it was known not only to the Kutanaxa but also, at least in dried form, to the Okanagan, Nlaka'pamux and southern Secwepemc of British Columbia."

At one time I had a description of a fire pit for camas in the Thompson River district -- and after quite a search I finally found it.
This description is included in "Notes on the Shuswap People of British Columbia," by George M. Dawson, in Transactions of Royal Society of Canada,

In the section labeled "Plants used as Food or for Other Purposes," Dawson wrote:
"Several native roots still constitute notable items in the food of the Shuswaps, though their importance in this respect has much decreased since flour and other farinaceous foods have become common, and particularly since the cultivation of the potato has become customary among the Indians.
"Roots are always dug and cooked or cured by the women.
"In digging the roots a pointed stick about four feet in length, with a crutch-shaped handle, is used.....

"In some places on that part of the Columbia which is included in the territory of the Shuswaps, the camass (Camassia esculenia) is abundant, and forms an important article of diet.
"This following excellent description of the mode of cooking the camass in this district is given by Mr. J. M. Macoun.
"It will serve equally to explain this process of cooking roots of other kinds: --
""The bulbs were collected by the Indians before the seed was fully matured, at which time they consider them at their best.
"The party I speak of had between twenty and twenty-five bushels of them at the lowest estimate.
"For two or three days before cooking was begun, the women of the party were engaged in cutting and carrying to camp branches of the alder and maple.
"Several bundles of the broad leaves of skunk cabbage, and two or three of the black hair like lichen that grows in profusion on Larix occidentalis (Larch?), had been brought with them.
"Everything being ready, the men of the party cut down a huge pine for no other object, apparently, than to obtain its smaller branches, as no other portion of it was used.
"A hole about ten feet square and two deep was then dug in a gravelly bank near the lake shore, which was filled with broken pine branches.
"Upon these were piled several cords of dry cedar and pine, and this was covered over with small boulders.
"The pile was then lighted in several places, and left  for some hours to take care of itself.
"When the Indians returned to it the stones lay glowing among a mass or embers.
"The few unburnt pieces of wood which remained near the edge were raked away, and the women with wooden spades banked up the sides of the pile with sand, throwing enough of it over the stones to fill up every little crevice through which a tongue of flame might be thrust up from the coals that still burned beneath the stones.
"Then the whole was covered with the maple and alder boughs to the depth of a foot ore more after they had been well trampled down.
"Over these were placed the wide leaves of the skunk cabbage until every cranny was closed.
"Sheets of tamarac bark were then spread over the steaming green mass, and upon these the bulbs were placed.
"About half of them were in bark baskets closed at the mouth, and each holding about a bushel and a half.
"These were carried to the centre of this pile.
"The lichen of which I have spoken was then laid over the unoccupied bark, having been well washed first, and over it were strewn the bulbs that remained.
"The whole was then covered with boughs and leaves as before and roofed with sheets of bark.
"Upon this three or four inches of sand was thrown, and over all was heaped the material for another fire, larger even than the first one.
"When this was lighted the sun was just setting, and it continued to burn all night.

"The next morning our camp was moved away, and I was unable to see the results of the day's labour.
"I was told, however, by one of the Indians who could speak a little English, that their oven would be allowed a day in which to cool, and that when opened the bulbs in the baskets would have 'dissolved to flour' from which bread could be made, while those mixed with the lichen would have united with it to form a solid substance resembling black plug tobacco in colour and consistency, which could be broken up and kept sweet for a long time."
This method of cooking differs from others in this post, as you will see.
It also appears that this last, written by J.M. Macoun, was published in Garden and Forest, July 16, 1890.

Turner has much more information in her book Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples, because, of course, the camas grows on the coast more than it does in the BC interior, excepting the Kootenays.
And all this is new to me!
"Camas bulbs were a staple article of diet for many indigenous groups of the northwestern United States and were also widely used in British Columbia in areas where they were obtainable. 
"They were especially important to the Coast Salish of southern Vancouver Island, but were eaten to a lesser extent by the mainland Halq'emeylem, Squamish, Sechelt, Comox, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka'wakw.....
"Methods of collection and preparation of the bulbs vary according to tradition, but most groups dug up the bulbs during or after flowering, between May and August, and steamed them in pits.... 
"Among the Vancouver Island Coast Salish, aboriginal harvesting and crop maintenance practices for camas can be termed semi-agricultural. 
"Large areas around Victoria, such as the grasslands of Beacon Hill Park, and the small islands off the Saanich Peninsula, were frequented each year by the Saanich and Songhees peoples. 
"They divided the camas beds into individually owned plots, passed from generation to generation. "Each season, the families cleared their plots of stones, weeds and brush, often by controlled burning. 
"Harvesting took several days, with entire families participating. 
"The harvesters systematically lifted out the soil in small sections, removed the larger bulbs and replaced the sod.
Even in this century, families would collect four to five potato-sacks full at a time; most of these would be used for a communal feast upon returning to the villages."

Now she describes the pits the camas were cooked in -- and it is the same, but also differs, from the descriptions I have already given you:
The Natives "cooked the bulbs in steaming pits usually 1 to 2 metres across and almost a metre deep.
"The cooks lit a fire in the bottom and allowed it to burn until the rocks lining the pit were red hot.
"After removing the ashes, they levelled the bottom of the pit and placed seaweed, blackberry and salal branches, fern fronds or Grand Fir boughs in the pit.
"Then they added the camas bulbs -- as much as 50 kg at a time.
"Sometimes they mixed them with Red Alder or Arbutus bark to give the bulbs a reddish colour.
"Finally, they covered the pit with more branches, then with soil or sand and old mats or sacking.
"Water was poured in through a hole made with a stick, and the bulbs were allowed to steam for a day and a half."

"When cooked," Nancy Turner finishes her story, "Blue Camas bulbs are soft, brownish and sweet.  They were often used to sweeten other foods, such as Soapberries, in the days before sugar was available.
"Contrary to popular belief, the bulbs do not contain starch, but a complex sugar known as inulin -- the same substance found in the roots of the Spring Sunflower and Jerusalem Artichoke. 
"Slow cooking promotes the conversion of inulin to its component units of fructose, a sweet, digestible sugar.
"This is why cooked camas bulbs taste sweet."

So now you know.
You can purchase these bulbs for planting in some gardening stores.
However, I have friends that planted many at great expense on their island property, and not one came up.

In his above mentioned book, Trees and Shrubs, A. C.Anderson's son, James, also talked of the Death Camas, or what he called Zygadenus venenosus.
In the Poisonous Plants section of the book, he writes this about the bulb:
"This is the variety which grows about Victoria in company with the real Camas; it also occurs quite commonly in the open parts of the Province... Both have the same grass-like leaves as the ordinary edible Camas, but are to be distinguished by the colour of the flowers, the former being of a yellowish-white, whilst those of the edible Camas are blue. Nevertheless, care has to be exercised by the natives in digging up the bulbs of the edible Camas on account of the resemblance of the bulbs. This is a well-known poisonous plant both to human beings and animals, the poison being contained both in the leaves and bulbs. According to United States reports, in the State of Montana 3,030 sheep were poisoned in 1900, of which 21 per cent died. Experiments in the United States show the poison to be an alkaloid related to the violent poison of hellebore. One-fiftieth of a grain killed a frog in two minutes. The dose of strychnine fatal to a frog is twice that amount. From this some idea of the intensely poisonous nature of the bulbs may be gathered."

Nancy J. Turner also warns against eating the Death Camas.
She says: "Care must be taken never to confuse the bulbs of the Blue Camas with those of the closely related Death Camas. The bulbs are similar in size and shape... Death Camas has cream-coloured flowers that are smaller and in a tighter cluster than those of the two Blue Camas species. Death Camas commonly grows together with the Blue Camas, and the leaves are difficult to distinguish. Anyone wishing to sample Blue Camas bulbs should dig them up at flowering time to avoid any possibility of misidentification.

Every year at about this time, I begin to post pictures of the Camas on various Facebook pages where the fur trade descendants gather, and we all tell our stories of Le Camas.
I will do the same this year.
It is our tradition.