Canoes on Fidalgo Bay and the Salish Sea

Canoes on Fidalgo Bay Interpretive Panel - v1.2

Naming of Cap Sante

Anna Curtis Bowman, the namesake of Anacortes, reached back to her childhood to name this point Cap Sante (Cape Health in French) after a rocky promontory on Quebec’s St. Lawrence River, where the Curtis family lived for a time.

From here you can see the surrounding waterways navigated since time immemorial by the people of Coast Salish tribes who created and paddled dugout cedar canoes to connect their homelands across the Salish Sea.

At a time when Anacortes consisted of “three or four houses, a store and the Northwest Enterprise office,” its newspaper of January 19, 1884 included the following under Fidalgo Items: “Great numbers of canoes, containing entire families of Indians, the women and girls dressed in the brightest colors, passed Anacortes on Tuesday, on their way home from the potlatch held at their rendezvous on Guemes Island.”

Sutil and Mexicana meet Native Americans in 1792, painting by José Cardero1792 - Artist rendering by José Cardero on Spanish expedition

“Samish people are depicted in 1792 paddling out to meet explorers on the ships the Sutil and Mexicano in the Guemes Channel.”

Samish, Since Time Immemorial

"Near midday of June 11, 1792, two small Spanish ships, Sutil and Mexicana, under the commands of the young Frigate Captains Don Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano and Don Cayetano Valdés y Flores, sailed into Guemes Channel near the present city of Anacortes, Washington. Their mission was to explore and chart the waterways inside Juan de Fuca Strait and, if there would be such a channel, locate the fabled "Northwest Passage" to the Atlantic. The two little ships (about 45 feet on the waterline) had sailed here from Acapulco in southern Mexico, via Nootka Sound, where they had been refitted and provisioned. The evening before they had anchored off the southeast point of Lopez Island, and a party had gone ashore to observe the emergence of the first moon of Jupiter in order to correct their longitude. This observation was probably made on the artist's property at Watmough Head, Lopez Island!
Mexicana and Sutil in Guemes Channel by Bill HolmThe light, following breeze was not strong enough to allow the two ships to buck the tidal current in the centre of Guemes Channel, so they stayed close to the south shore to take advantage of the side eddies along Fidalgo Island. Four young Indians and an older man from the village on Guemes Island paddled expertly out to the ships and traded blackberries, dried clams, and a dog-wool robe lined with feathers, for buttons and beads. The young artist on Mexicana, José Cardero, captured the incident in a spectacular artwork now in the Museo Naval in Madrid. His view of the two ships in Guemes Channel, with Mount Baker looming on the horizon, was the inspiration for this painting of a setting very familiar to me."

Bill Holm (1925 – 2020), Professor Emeritus of Art History, and Curator Emeritus of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum

On July 11th, 1792, the ship passed by what are now known as Burrows and Allan islands, Galiano and Valdés named them Islas Morros. They continued around Fidalgo Island, stopping in the Guemes Channel. This is the moment that Cardero took inspiration from, painting the meeting between the Spanish explorers and the Samish people. Galiano wrote about the experience in the Sutil’s log:

At 7 in the morning a light breeze from [south southeast] made itself felt and we set sail with it to utilize the rest of the favorable tide. The sky was overcast and the visibility barely a mile. We hauled to the wind to cross to the eastern shore, not only in order to follow it and not lose the mouth of the Canal de Guemes which runs between the island of that name and the coast, but also to weather the islets which lie in the middle of the channel where we now were and upon which the current was rapidly setting us. The more we approached mid-channel the more the breeze freshened and drew aft. We bore away as we were approaching the east shore, and coasted along the two Islas Morros (Burrows and Allan islands) with the help of the sea breeze which settled in the [south], from 8 in the morning and cleared the sky. We reached the southwest point of Canal de Guemes and entered it, steering at first in mid-channel to avoid the calm under the shore. Once within the channel the wind followed its direction. We therefore neared the southern shore, so as to escape the strength of the contrary current. Here we stemmed it to good advantage all the time, as, although the breeze was light, we were making 3½ miles per hour. The sailing was very agreeable owing to the greenery of the shores. On the northern one (Guemes Island), which has a beach at the entrance, we saw a village close to the northwest point (of Guemes Channel) and upon examining it with the telescope found it to consist of two large houses. Several Indians ran down to the beach got into a canoe and steered for the schooners, pursuing them with as much skill as the most experienced sailor could do. In it an old man and four young ones of pleasant appearance came boldly alongside and gave us brambleberries. With a shell of three to four inches in diameter they took some of the quantity they brought and tried to hide those they did not offer. We gave each a metal button and they repeated their gifts in small portions to obtain something else in exchange, seeing that we gave them a string of beads or piece of ship’s biscuit for each present. They also gave us dried shell fish of the sort sailors call verdigones, threaded on a cord of bark, and others of different kind on slender skewers. We accepted a sufficient quantity of them and also obtained from them a blanket of dog’s hair, quilted with feathers, and a tanned deerskin. Meanwhile we followed the shore of the channel in 5 fathoms of water, sand bottom, as far as the southeast point. From this we crossed over, steering to the steep northeast point, very close to which we passed in order to follow the shore of the Isla de Guemes, and along this and the Tres Hermanas (Saddlebag, Dot and Huckleberry Islands) to proceed to the Seno de Gaston (Bellingham Bay).

Spanish Explorations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Henry R. Wagner, p. 246-247