The Haida Nation’s ancestral home is Haida Gwaii. This 150 rocky island archipelago off the West Coast of British Columbia has been pummelling by storms, making it more alluring. Everyone may learn something new from the region’s rich biodiversity of plants and animals (known as Canada’s Galapagos), enormous poles, and longhouses.
With more than 500 archaeological sites, the islands are home to some of the world’s richest cultural history, spectacular scenery, and abundant wildlife. The climate in Haida Gwaii results in luxuriant vegetation and a wide variety of fauna. Along Highway 16 (the Queen Charlotte Highway), herds of Sitka deer forage in the grassy clearings, and in the spring and summer, eagles can be seen soaring overhead, frequently in large flocks.
The mist-covered peaks of Haida Gwaii rise from the ocean like mystical kingdoms, at once exhilarating, tranquil, and mysterious. They are home to a richness of unique species seen nowhere else on earth and even a people whose rich culture developed in seclusion over more than 12,000 years.
The islands’ serene coves, quiet forests draped in moss, miles-long beaches, and cultural resources are mainly unexplored yet ready to welcome travelers enticed by the prospect of an extraordinary encounter.
1) Renewal of a Legacy
By the 19th century’s end, settlers’ spread of smallpox and other diseases had decreased the Haida community from an estimated 20,000 to less than 600, threatening to wipe out the bold designs and expert craftsmanship seen in these historical poles.
The traditions of the Haida people were lost, even though collectors so highly valued their carvings, weavings, baskets, and jewelry that they ended up in museums worldwide.
The islands are experiencing a bright rebirth, with a younger breed of wood and stone carvers, weavers, canoe builders, and other artists rediscovering old artistic traditions and advancing them in fresh and fascinating ways.
2) A Spirit of Discovery
It’s imperative to see the islands’ granite crags and pine-sheltered inlets from the water, whether via a wind-whipped zodiac expedition, an adrenaline-pushing kayak adventure, or a contemplative fishing trip.
Naikoon Provincial Park, located near the northeastern end of Graham Island, is one of the most incredible spots to take in the untamed beauty of the area’s rocky shoreline.
The trail ascends a series of steep switchbacks to Tow Hill Lookout, where a platform protrudes from the mountainside over a canopy of pine trees below, after crossing a boardwalk over swampy and lushly green wetlands. The 1.5-mile climb continues to the Blow Hole, where spray foams geyser-like it through rock when the tide is just right.
3) Rare Experiences with Wildlife
Haida Gwaii is distinguished by its location on the edge of the continental shelf, with its western shore plunging precipitously to the deep sea below, and has an ecosystem that is as diverse and rich as its culture.
More than 20 whales and dolphins have been identified here, including orcas, whose nutrient-rich fjords and channels provide an essential feeding habitat.
It’s usual to witness playful sea lions squabbling on the rocks, otters lazing around in the kelp beds, hear a grey whale’s tail slap, and see a porpoise breach.
Due to the island’s separation from the mainland, a variety of indigenous species have emerged, including the pine marten, bat, otter, and, most notably, the Haida Gwaii black bear, the biggest of its kind in the world with powerful jaws enough to break salmon bones and sea urchin shells.
While bald eagles, which are so abundant they accompany fishing boats like seagulls, may be observed nesting in the treetops, visitors may come across soft-eyed Sitka black-tailed deer looking unafraid from the darkness of the forest.
Approximately 1.5 million seabirds are thought to breed among the rocks in this area, including the endangered marbled murrelet, which is noted for its reliance on old-growth woods. In reality, this is a birdwatcher’s heaven.
The Haida Gwaii northern goshawk, a raptor whose numbers have decreased to less than 50 adult birds, is the rarest of all.
4) Automobile and Riding Facility
The fastest method to get to Haida Gwaii is via driving. Either drive your vehicle to the island on the boat or rent one when you get there. It’s also common, but not advised, to hitchhike.
There are only roughly 140 kilometers of paved roads on Haida Gwaii. The paved roads link Sandspit, Allford Bay, and Queen Charlotte to Old Massett and Masset.
Numerous roads provide access to forests, although their conditions vary. Some of them are so damaged that driving them is impossible! Also, logging trucks use many roads, making driving hazardous without a two-way radio.
You’ll need to call most of these businesses if you want to reserve a vehicle because online reservations aren’t always possible. Additionally, most rental agencies forbid you from driving on logging or beachfront roads. The vehicles frequently include GPS trackers, so they will be able to tell if you break the regulations.
The best way to explore Haida Gwaii is by bike! You can stick to the paved roads or take the forest service roads into the bush. Make sure you are knowledgeable about bike maintenance and have all the necessary equipment before venturing into more isolated locations.
4.2) Mass Transit
No public transportation is available on Haida Gwaii. Taxis and auto rentals are available, and shuttle services can be scheduled.
The Sandspit Airport, Masset Airport, and the BC Ferries station in Skidegate are the primary means of transit between the Islands and the mainland of British Columbia.
The westernmost section of Highway 16 connects Masset and Skidegate on Graham Island, and the MV Northern Adventure provides regular BC Ferries service between Skidegate and Prince Rupert on the mainland. For the ferry, reservations are strongly advised.
The Haida people, whose traditions and culture are closely entwined with the land, air, and sea, have their ancestral home on the islands of Haida Gwaii. The Haida tribe has resided on these islands for countless years. The archipelago is filled with evidence of Haida culture, from moss-covered totem poles in old woods to culturally preserved trees to the thriving populations still residing there.
The Haida people put a lot of effort into preserving Haida Gwaii, which resulted in the establishment of Gwaii Haanas, one of Canada’s most beautiful protected areas. One of the few parks preserving the interdependence of everything, from the sea to the land to the people, is Gwaii Haanas.
Haida Gwaii epitomizes the real spirit of British Columbia with its stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture. It’s a mysterious, fascinating, untamed location providing the pinnacle of outdoor adventure and real cultural encounters.
5.1) Aesthetic Arts
Canadian $20 notes printed between 2004 and 2011 have Bill Reid’s “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” artwork on their back. A Haida chief is shown paddling a canoe with the legendary messengers Raven, Frog, and Eagle. Along with dugout canoes and massive cedar totem poles, handcrafted silver and gold jewelry, and even cartoons in the style of Haida manga, Haida art is frequently seen on these objects.
5.2) The Haida Tongue
On the grounds of a few parallels to Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit, the Haida speech was suggested for categorization as a member of the Nadene group of languages. However, many linguists believe the evidence is insufficient and still view Haida as a linguistic isolate. The remaining 50 Haida speakers are all over 70 years old. A 150-kilometer microwave relay built by Tellus and the Gwaii Trust just brought internet access to the island. This makes it possible to conduct interactive research on more than 80 CDs of spoken language, folklore, and human history.
The economy is diverse, focusing on forestry and commercial fishing as well as the arts and natural resources. Additionally, around one-third of occupations are in the service sector and government. Tourism has grown in importance recently, particularly for fishery and tour guiding, cycling, hiking, and adventure tourism.
According to research from Simon Fraser University, circa 55,000 BCE, Haida Gwaii was probably covered in tundra and low meadows with grazing species like caribou and mammoths. The investigation revealed dung-eating fungi underground in old peat by the Cape Ball site in Naikoon Provincial Park on Graham Island, despite the absence of mammoth or mastodon bones. After that, the tundra-like environment changed into a combination of alpine forests and meadows.
Variables exist in soils. Mature soils are podzols, with typical development in unaltered locations where drainage is good. Peat is widespread in flats with poor drainage and on sloping terrain in wetter regions. The Ae is mingled with various horizons and is only intermittently visible when there has been a history of disruption, such as forestry or windthrow. The biggest river on Graham Island, the Yukon, was close to the genetically-variant, yellow-colored Sitka spruce tree known as Kiidk’yaas (Golden Spruce). Before it was unlawfully felled in 1997 as a form of protest against commercial logging methods, it was a well-liked tourist destination.
A male albino white raven was a well-liked attraction for island visitors from the summer of 1996 until November 30, 1997. He frequented the Port Clements area and was frequently spotted accepting food donations from locals and tourists. After coming in connected to an electric transformer, he passed away. The white raven is on exhibit in the Port Clements Historical Society museum after being conserved by taxidermists Roger Britten Sr. and Jr., who were once inhabitants of Port Clements.
School District 50 Haida Gwaii, which runs elementary and high institutions in Masset, Port Clements, Daajing Giids, formerly Queen Charlotte, Sandspit, and Skidegate, is responsible for providing public education. In collaboration with Coast Mountain Colleges, the University of Northern British Columbia, and the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society, the Haida Heritage Centre provides higher education programs.
About 30,000 individuals, living in many settlements and including slave populations from different Haida clans and other countries, were there at the time of the European encounter in 1774. Over 70% of the Haida tribe perished due to the smallpox pandemic in the Pacific Northwest in 1862. Smallpox is thought to have killed 90% of the population during the 1800s, but other illnesses like typhoid, measles, and syphilis also spread and affected many more people.
There were barely 350 individuals left in 1900. Communities were abandoned as residents moved to Skidegate and Masset, cannery villages on the mainland, or Vancouver Island, leaving their homes behind. Two communities with a combined population of roughly 700 each, Skidegate and Old Massett, are home to about 70% of the indigenous (Haida) population. The Haida constitute approximately 45% of the entire population of the islands.
In the 2006 decision designating Anthony Island and the Ninstints Haida town site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reduction in population brought on by sickness was cited as evidence of the “vanished civilization” of the Haida.
10) Medical assistance
Northern Health, the regional health board in charge of the province’s northern part, offers publicly supported healthcare services.
Two hospitals serve Haida Gwaii: the recently finished Haida Gwaii Hospital in Queen Charlotte and the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital, as well as Health Centre in Masset.
There are four British Columbia Ambulance facilities on Haida Gwaii. They are staffed by one part-time community paramedic located in Masset and about 36 sporadic emergency medical responders (EMR).
11) Destinations in Haida Gwaii
The Haida Gwaii islands are bursting with natural splendor. Everywhere you look, this stunning archipelago and its people will astound you. Here is a list of some of Haida Gwaii’s must-visit locations. On your visit to this remote archipelago, don’t forget to stop at these places!
11.1) Gwaii Haanas National Park
The heart and soul of Haida Gwaii are the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. This isolated protected area with 138 islands lies 130 km off the coast of British Columbia and is situated at the southernmost point of the archipelago. The park extends down to Kunghit Island at the southernmost point of Haida Gwaii, from Moresby Island, with Tanu Island in the north.
The park’s full name is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area, and Haida Heritage Site. The Haida name for the park is Gwaii Haanas, which translates to “Islands of Beauty” in English. Given how magnificent these islands are, it’s a very appropriate name.
The only way to get to Gwaii Haanas is via boat or float plane, which was most challenging without planning. Most visitors take multi-day kayak tours in Gwaii Haanas while camping or using motherships (a ship that serves as your home base). Alternatively, some visitors take a shorter safari boat excursion or rent a floatplane to discover Gwaii Haanas.
Tours on kayaks through Gwaii Haanas typically last three to ten days. You should schedule these tours well in advance because they can sell out up to a year in advance.
You will be fully immersed in a cultural encounter in Gwaii Haanas. The Haida Heritage Sites, holy village sites dispersed around the island of Gwaii Haanas, are your principal targets on the trips.
11.2) Hlk’yah G̱awG̱a (Windy Bay)
On Athlii Gwaii, Hlk’yah G’awG’a (Windy Bay) is a critical Haida cultural site. Gwaii, which once housed the prosperous settlement of Hlk’yah Llnagaay Athlii, also served as the site of the Haida people’s protests against the harvesting of their islands, which finally led to the establishment of Gwaii Haanas.
11.3) Naikoon Provincial Park
Most of Graham Island, Haida Gwaii’s northeastern side, is protected by Naikoon Provincial Park. A hundred kilometers of flat, sandy beaches, incredible surfing chances, a wide variety of fauna, old shipwrecks, plus ocean water that spouts into the air may all be found here. There is even a sizable volcanic plug with breathtaking ocean views of Alaska!
Naikoon Provincial Park is an economical option that delivers breathtaking scenery if you can’t pay for the tours of Gwaii Haanas. Massive (69,071 hectares), the park is also highly diversified.
i. North Beach
North Beach is situated amid Tao (Tow Hill) and Rose Spit Ecological Reserve on the northern border of Haida Gwaii and Naikoon Provincial Park. Since the beach is primarily made of sand, it’s a great place to unwind and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views.
North Beach is ideal for endless beachcombing, hiking, relaxing, surfing, and fishing because it is long and flat. If you’re adventurous, you can even dive in the frigid waters. Even ATVing is permitted on North Beach during low tide on the compacted sand.
12) Villages in Haida Gwaii to Visit
A little over 4500 people call Haida Gwaii home; they reside in towns on Graham Island and Moresby Island.
1. Old Massett and Masset
On the north end of Graham Island, close to Masset Sound, are the neighboring settlements of Masset and Old Masset. A road and walkway connect Masset to Old Massett, which is just the east. There is an airfield in Masset where occasional flights to Haida Gwaii land. Old Massett was one of the two village locations where the Haida inhabitants were compelled to relocate when smallpox ravaged their settlements in the 1800s.
The sportfishing in the waters of Masset and Old Massett is fantastic. The adjacent Naikoon Provincial Park has beautiful beaches and hiking paths. For information on the major local attractions, check by the Northern Haida Gwaii Visitor Center.
2. Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte)
West of Skidegate, near the southern tip of Graham Island, is Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte). There is a tonne of art in this quaint community, from sculptures by the sea to murals on the exterior of buildings. Also, gorgeous Haida art is found in the village’s gift shops and coffee shops.
Take a stroll along the Queen Charlotte Seawalk in the village and take in the stunning ocean views. The pathway, about a kilometer long, leads past various distinctive sculptures with ocean themes and Spirit Square, where regional events are held. Additionally, you’ll pass the Queen Charlotte docks, where you may enjoy seeing the many vessels.
13. Where Is Haida Gwaii Located?
The collection of stunning, uninhabited islands known as Haida Gwaii is off the Canadian province of British Columbia’s northern coast. This archipelago has over 200 islands and an area of 10,180 km2 (or 3,931 square miles). That resembles Vancouver Island in size by roughly a third.
The incredibly deep Pacific Ocean is to the west of Haida Gwaii, perched on the continental shelf’s coast. Massive waves and strong winds from storms in the open ocean pummelled the western, unprotected margins of the islands. As a result, most settlements are located on Haida Gwaii’s eastern, protected side.
14. When Is the Ideal Time to Visit Haida Gwaii?
Haida Gwaii often experiences warm weather. It seldom gets really hot or excessively chilly. The range of temperatures is from 2°C to 18°C. Additionally uncertain and varied is the weather. You may go from a rainy day to a sunny one pretty rapidly. Even in the summer, it often rains, and there is wind.
Summertime, from May and mid-September, is when most people travel to the islands. Haida Gwaii can be visited throughout the year, though.
Because summer is the driest and warmest season, July through August is mainly the busiest travel period.
15. The Haida Gwaii Management Council: what is it?
The Kunst’aa guu: Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol specifies a framework for decision-making that includes the Haida Gwaii Management Council (HGMC). The Haida Nation and the Province of BC organized it in 2011 to improve their working relationship through a collaborative decision-making process.
One of Canada’s greatest assets is a collection of mysterious islands called Haida Gwaii, located off the northwestern coast of British Columbia. This 250-km long archipelago, made up of more than 200 islands, is situated upon this continental shelf’s outermost edge and isolated from the rest of British Columbia by water.
This untamed, remote archipelago is unknown to many people. However, once they are made aware of this isolated collection of islands, they frequently feel compelled to visit Haida Gwaii to experience its untamed, dramatic beauty. Visitors who do go will have a memorable time and come away yearning for more.