Tongue Point, Semiahmoo Spit

Tongue Point, Semiahmoo Spit

by | Nov 12, 2023

Tongue Point is at the end of Semiahmoo Spit, a sand bar of 125 acres (51 ha) and about 1 mile (1.6 km) long that partially encloses Drayton Harbor, about 21 miles (34 km) northwest of Bellingham and 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Blaine, Washington. The name of the spit is from the Semiahmoo people and means ‘half-moon’ or ‘water all around’. Semiahmoo Spit trends northeasterly and is the terminus of a drift cell 4 miles (6.5 km) long originating to the southwest at Birch Point. The spit is composed primarily of fine-to-coarse sand, with grain size decreasing toward Tongue Point. In 1857, the spit had an area of 386 acres (156 ha). By 1952, the spit area had increased to approximately 466 acres (189 ha), at a rate of about 0.8 acres (0.3 ha) per year. The spit historically provided access to abundant subsistence foods such as fish and shellfish in Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor. The Semiahmoo people inhabited a permanent village at Tongue Point where ancient shell middens can be seen today along the wave erodes shoreline.

Culturally and linguistically the Semiahmoo people are Coast Salish and spoke a North Straits Salish dialect similar to the Lummi and Samish peoples of Puget Sound and to the Songhees, or Lekwungen of southern Vancouver Island. They are distinguished from many other tribes by their traditional use of elaborate reef-nets to catch sockeye salmon returning to spawn in the Fraser River. Semiahmoo villages were located at Birch Bay, Drayton Harbor, and at the entry to Semiahmoo Spit which was the principal village before the arrival of Europeans. In 1854, U.S. Indian Agent Edmund C. Fitzhugh described the spit village which had three rows of houses with one row facing east to Drayton Harbor, and two rows facing west to Semiahmoo Bay. The Semiahmoo lived in rectangular wooden longhouses, up to 50 feet (15 m) wide and anywhere from 50 to 200 feet (15-60 m) long, which were typically built parallel to the water. A burial ground was located adjacent to the village. The Semiahmoo people also occupied summer camps at Lily Point on Point Roberts and at Crescent Beach just northwest of White Rock, British Columbia. The Crescent Beach location was popular for the tide flats with abundant clams, and the surrounding flood plains that supported berries, fish, and terrestrial mammals.

A trading post was opened on Semiahmoo Spit in 1858 and its owner platted the town of Semiahmoo City; however, the land was instead developed to support the fishing industry and canning salmon. In 1881, the first salmon cannery in Whatcom County was built on Tongue Point and in 1894 the Alaska Packers Association purchased the Semiahmoo cannery and operated the facility for 75 years. From 1892 to 1934, commercial fishing by European Americans using fish traps supplied the cannery. After 1934, a rapid decline in salmon resulted in fish traps being outlawed and many canneries were closed as mobile fishing fleets and tenders expanded the fishery into Alaska. In 1944, the ferry boat Plover was built to ferry cannery workers back and forth across the channel between the cannery and the city of Blaine. Plover has recently been restored and is operational. In 1982, the cannery was sold to real estate developers and was opened in 1987 as the Semiahmoo Resort. Commercial oyster farming as well as tribal and recreational shellfish harvesting declined steadily since the 1980s due to point and non-point source pollution causing bacteriological contamination of Drayton Harbor estuary but was reopened in 2015. Read more here and here. Explore more of Tongue Point and Drayton Harbor here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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