As Camosun celebrates its milestone 50th this year, the college is launching a unique anniversary logo designed by Coast Salish artist Dylan Thomas, which is deeply rooted in the local Indigenous myths and legends behind the Camosun name.
“I started thinking about the word Camosun which means where two waters meet and are transformed,” explains Thomas, who also serves as the City of Victoria’s Indigenous Artist in Residence. “I’ve been digging into the history of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations and some of the pre-history of this area as well. That was definitely my baseline foundation for the design.”
Featuring two bright-eyed herring swimming in opposite directions, framed by stylized streaks of swirling waters in the distinctive green colours of Camosun, the logo visually represents the underlying narrative legend of Camosun.“The explanation of the Camosun legend is that the Transformer, the key figure in Coast Salish mythology, turned the girl Camosun into stone, and told her she had to be protector of the waterways at the Tillicum Narrows,” says Thomas. “The herring comes into it because the Protector offered Camosun herring which she liked, and that’s the reason why herring are there today.”
The Tillicum Narrows on the Gorge waterway remain today the site of the only reversing rapids in Western Canada, where a large quantity of water is thrust forward through a narrow, rocky passage.
“I thought it represented that literal place from the legend where the waters meet and the rapids form under there,” explains Thomas. “The word that refers to the language of the Esquimalt and Songhees peoples, Lekwungen, literally means ‘place to smoke herring’ which is why it is so important to the story and my design.”
Before Camosun College came into being in 1971, the original proposed name was Juan de Fuca College. The Camosun name was chosen at the time due to its association with Fort Victoria, built in 1843 on the site known as Camosun. With this design, Thomas wanted to bring to the surface a longer history that had been obscured at first.
“It wasn’t until many years later that people found out the true origin and deeper history of the word Camosun,” he explains. “The fact that it went unacknowledged so long, I wanted to make sure this design did a good job of bringing that history into the modern identity of Camosun College, because the institution itself and people are becoming more aware of this history now and so I wanted this design to reflect that and promote it.”
Thomas has worked as an artist for over 15 years, doing contemporary art based in traditional Coast Salish design. He range is very versatile, from painting, prints and graphics to jewelry, wood carving and more recently stone carving, which has become his passion.
“Stone carving has been really special to me because if you look at the record of the Coast Salish people, at one point, they were prolific stone carvers,” he says. “And then, and we don’t really know why, about four or five hundred years ago, it really slowed down. I started studying the old piece s and hopefully, maybe, I would be honoured if I can play a role reviving this traditional art form.”
The intense dedication to his craft and passion for the traditions and history of local Indigenous peoples underpins his art and his work in the community. Camosun, for him, is a very special place where many of his interests and values intersect. At one point, he even studied English literature at Camosun and took upgrading courses here.
“I had an excellent experience as a student at Camosun,” he says. “And now it’s been a wonderful experience working on the logo. I think Camosun is doing a great job really making the local Indigenous feel seen and welcomed and recognized as valuable parts of this area’s history. I think that’s one of the most important things you can do on the front of reconciliation. If I can play a part in bridging that gap with this logo, I would love that, and I think that’s great.”
Featuring two bright-eyed herring swimming in opposite directions, framed by stylized streaks of swirling waters in the distinctive green colours of Camosun, the logo visually represents the underlying narrative legend of Camosun.