Lions? No. Sisters!

29 November 2018 – My original plan, some 20 minutes ago, was just to get all goofy wide-eyed about clouds on mountains. Two photos; hello/good-bye.

But then … I got drawn in.

Backstory is that I have just moved within the city and now have an even more stunning view north across downtown Vancouver to the magnificent Coast Range Mountains beyond — mountains that rise in southwestern Yukon and then trace their way south through the Alaska Panhandle and down the  B.C. coast right to the Fraser River.

The cloud formations here are a daily wonder, dancing with the mountains whatever the weather or time of day. They humble my camera; they humble my vocabulary.

A little earlier this afternoon, from my balcony …

Then I shifted my angle ever so slightly to the west, and captured those two iconic mountain peaks, the peaks that say: Vancouver.

Of course! The Lions!

If you know anything about Vancouver geography and skyline, you know that. As Wikipedia points out:

The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks (West Lion – 1,646 m (5,400 ft);[1] East Lion – 1,606 m (5,269 ft))[2] along the North Shore Mountains in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They can be seen from much of the Greater Vancouver area, as far as Robert Burnaby Park in East Burnaby, south to parts of Surrey, and from the west on the Howe Sound Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Along with the Lions Gate Bridge named in their honour, these twin summits have become one of the most recognizable Vancouver landmarks. The city’s BC Lions CFL football team is also named in their honour. Lions Gate Entertainment which was founded in Vancouver in July, 1997 is also named for the peaks.

(An aside: Having just made my first-ever donation to the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, I feel entitled to quote verbatim.)

But here’s the catch. “The Lions” is just our — the outsiders’ — name for these peaks. They are known to the indigenous peoples here, the Haida and the Squamish, as the “Twin Sisters.”

Wikipedia picks up the story:

The Indigenous Squamish people named these two prominent peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn” (translates as ‘Twin Sisters’). These mountains remain sacred for their legal marker of a peace treaty, family lineage histories, and spiritual value. The two peaks were transformed by the Sky Brothers, or Transformers, after twin sisters that had married with Haida twins created the path for the war to end between the Squamish and Haida people. The families that made the Peace Treaty and married together still live in the Squamish and Haida Nations.

The peaks received their English name in the 1890s, Wikipedia goes on to explain, when Judge John Hamilton Gray proposed they be renamed something classier, something … heraldic. Result: lions couchant.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re right.

But the Twin Sisters legend reached our English ears anyway.

Canadian poet E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), of Mohawk and English descent, spent her last years in Vancouver and heard this legend, among others, from Chief Mathias Joe. She wrote it down as “The Two Sisters” and included it in her book, Legends of Vancouver, published in 1911 by McClelland and Stewart.

Please spend a moment with that cover art. It is the work of another Canadian icon, J.E.H. MacDonald, a founding member of the Group of Seven.

I am equally impressed by the images for the 2016 reissue of the legend.

This time it has been published as a children’s book by Strong Nations (“We bring indigenous books into your lives”), with drawings by B.C. artist Sandra Butt.

If you now want to hear this legend for yourself, here it is — of course — on You Tube.

I now see these peaks as the Two Sisters, and I honour them as a tribute to strong women, making peace.



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  1. Makes one want to put on some hiking boots…

  2. The ‘Legends’ book cover art is stunning. Love your cloud shots. My wife spends a big chunk of each day photographing clouds — she can see all sorts of things in them.

    • Thanks, Terry — I’m not sure which “Legends” cover you mean, both are strong and good for their audience & time… but yes, for me the truly powerful one is still that 1911 work by J.E.H. MacDonald. I’ve always loved all the early commercial graphic-arts work by those founding Group of Seven members. My greetings to your wife, clouds are endlessly fascinating.

  3. Can you be homesick for a city that is not, and has never been, your home? My daughter lives in Vancouver and we are there a lot and I love that city. We were there for her wedding this summer and sadly the mountains were all shrouded in smoke. Such a tough summer for the environment. I recognize so many spots in your photos – I stayed near Main and 6th after the wedding and wandered Main and the side streets all day, hanging at The Juice Truck and going to the gym on Main.

    • And now I live virtually at that same corner! I’m glad my blog brings back good memories for you, thanks for telling me that

  4. When I was in Vancouver I found that the mountains didn’t look real to me . There were no clouds! In Whistler I loved to see how, like a fluid, they would spin off the mountain tops in lovely swirls. Did you know there is a Cloud Appreciation Society of which I am a member? We cloud watchers are everywhere.
    Thank you for the link to the video and the history and for your donation to Wikimedia.

  5. A wonderful post, Penny….congrats on moving somewhere with an even better view – how wonderful that you can watch those clouds coalesce and dissipate all day long. Yesterday I drove into town (Anacortes) and Mt. Baker, our snowy peak, was beginning to turn a little pink as the sun went lower, and wore a lovely bit og gray chiffon around the shoulders. Then as I came home, the cloud had disappeared and the peak was a gorgeous filigree of pinks and grays – pink overall with grays in the textured parts. Oh, words don’t work for these things, but you get it. And thanks for the education about Lions Gate, the peaks, and the indigenous story and name – I’m always interested to hear indigenous names for places. Love the book cover art too, and the mention of the Cloud Appreciation Society in the comments. Take more pictures! Looks like a good week for it, weather-wise!

    • Thank you for this description of all that you saw & felt as you drove home that day — each of our countries is full of wonderful geography, but we certainly each live in one of the better bits…


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