The Man, The Bear, and The Eagle

In Nanaimo harbour, on the seafront walkway, is a three-sided sculpture that captures the imagination. It is by the artist A.G.J. Johnny and was installed in 1985.

The descriptive plaque says:

SWY-A-LANA. The eldest son of of the first man in (Snanimoch) Nanaimo.

THE BEAR (Spa-Ach). Represents food and clothing to Swy-A-Lana.

THE EAGLE (Yuqh-Will-La). Represents Swy-A-Lana’s good luck, protector, and guardian.

What more could a first child of a first man or woman ask?

And then, on the waterfront side, away from most of the foot traffic, is a plaque commemorating a visitor from Spain.

The word “the” is significant here because the Juan Sebastian De Elcano was a ship, not a person. At first I tried to find reference to the explorer (I read too quickly sometimes) and realized he had lived long before the ship sailed. The ship itself, used for naval training, was quite something:

“At 113 metres (371 ft) long, it is the third-largest tall ship in the world, and is the sailing vessel that has sailed the furthest, covering more than 2,000,000 nautical miles (3,700,000 km; 2,300,000 mi) in its lifetime.” (Wikipedia)

Without getting into all the political, naval, and military history around European claims to the lands and seas of the Pacific Northwest, suffice it to say that some impressive vessels have visited Vancouver Island. It intrigues me, though, that the Nanaimo Heritage Committee chose to put this plaque on a sculpture that celebrates indigenous culture.


  1. Possibly, considering this was a ship (quite a ship), and this area faces the beautiful blue water, maybe that is why? Hope the Heritage Committee wasn’t overlooking the man, the bear, and the eagle.

  2. I, as you know, love that you share your discoveries. And it looks like you had a spectacular day for photographs while you were there.

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