Gulf of Georgia
The Gulf of Georgia is located between Vancouver Island and the southwestern corner of British Columbia's mainland. It extends from the San Juan Islands, Washington State, to the southern tip of Quadra Island.1 On his expedition to the coast, Captain Vancouver gave this body of water the name “Gulphe of Georgia” after His Majesty King George III. But, by 1800 the name was simplified to “Gulf of Georgia.” However, it was Captain Richard of the Royal Navy, 1865, who changed the name to “strait” after he was appointed as chief hydrographer, seeing strait as a more accurate description of the body of water.2
In 2008, there was lobbying to have the Strait of Georgia changed to the Salish Sea. This was done, in part, to recognize the Indigenous history over the waterscape. The term “Salish” refers to Coast Salish, the original language group spoken by the Indigenous inhabitants of this inland which connects: Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the lower parts of the Fraser River, and Puget Sound.3
By recognising the Strait of Georgia, along with the Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound as the Salish Sea, Canada and the United States now acknowledge the unity between the Coast Salish peoples that had been divided due to the colonial creation of physical borders/boundaries.4 The Coast Salish Aboriginal Council articulates the importance of their rights to both land and water; as well as, their view that water is a sacred resource. In the Salish Nations' declaration, it states that they are the rightful claimants of the areas that lie within the bodies of water that make up of the Salish Sea -- including the Georgia Strait.5
George Harris of the Stz'uminus First Nation first suggested that the Georgia Strait should be changed to Salish Sea, but then later agreed with a Canadian scientist, Bert Webber, that all three bodies of water should be included in the new term as they compose a unified ecosystem.6 The official name change occurred on 15 July 2010. Although this seems to be a step towards recognising Indigenous ownership of this body of water, there are still questions and debates of whether or not this is truly decolonizing the map or if this is a neocolonial geographical imaginary designed to assuage colonial guilt by paying a token acknowledgement to Coast Salish peoples while maintaining the political status quo.7
  • 1. BCGNIS Query Results, Archive Today.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. British Columbia: Strait of Georgia could be renamed Salish Sea, The Canadian Press, 9 March 2008.
  • 4. Emma S. Norman, Cultural Politics and Transboundary Resource Governance in the Salish Sea, Native Environmental Science Program, vol.5, no.1, 2012, 150.
  • 5. Ibid., 146-148.
  • 6. Brian Tucker and Reuben Rose-Redwood, Decolonizing the map? Toponymic politics and the rescaling of the Salish Sea, The Canadian Geographer, vol.59, no.2, 2015, 202-203.
  • 7. Ibid., 194 and 203.
Mentions of this place in the documents