Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada's West Coast


128 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55420-023-7
DDC 639'.44'0899707111





Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


Artist and fine-arts assistant professor Judith Williams takes on the
archaeologists by arguing that the Aboriginal people on the northwest
coast (between Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands to Sitka, Alaska)
built and maintained clam gardens. Clam gardens are stone walls
constructed at the low-tide line to improve clam (primarily butter)

This book describes Williams’s visits to the clam beds and recounts
her conversations with Native peoples and scholars. The book, which is
not an academic study, is written in a breezy style that sometimes
undermines the importance of the author’s findings. The evidence
provided in the book suggests that the clam beds were built quite
recently (1920s–80s) to satisfy a commercial market. Williams admits
that no one has yet dated the clam beds.

Clam Gardens is well written and has excellent maps and photographs of
some of the structures Williams identifies as clam beds. It also
contains some information about the life history of the butter clam and
the importance of clams to Native peoples. Although Williams’s
documented findings may be too speculative to satisfy an academic
audience, this book may help generate further inquiry into the subject
of clam beds.


Williams, Judith., “Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada's West Coast,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,