Haida Gwaii

Islands on the edge of the world

photo by toque & canoe

Not long ago, my family took a trip to Haida Gwaii off the northwest coast to celebrate my Mom’s 70th birthday.

Often called the Canadian Galapagos – and historically referred to as Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai meaning “Islands on the Edge of the World” – this archipelago is an extraordinary place to visit.

Our zodiac trip to Skedans was a highlight. We were thrilled to visit the village made famous by the late painter Emily Carr and located in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

Emily Carr once wrote of her visits to Skedans – well-known for its tilted, majestic totem poles – that “memories came out of this place to meet the Indians. You saw remembering in their brightening eyes and heard it in the quick hushed words they said to each other in Haida.”

The boat ride to and from this haunting village, where we had to navigate through wild, post-storm Pacific waters, was exhilarating and the extremely cool fried egg jelly fish that we passed along the way made the journey even more fun for the kids.

The Haida Heritage Centre was also worth visiting – both to hear local interpreters bring Haida Gwaii’s history alive and to see totem pole carvers, the air rich with the smell of fresh cut cedar, busy at work on site.

But what I remember most from this trip, aside from my my Mom’s continuous smile given that she’d dreamed of coming here all her life, are the eagles.

My brother and nephew spent a day fishing with Haida carver Myles Edgars off the shores of Graham Island—an invitation that followed after a visit to Edgars’ art studio in Masset.

When the boys returned, triumphant, with their boat load of halibut, the fish were cleaned with the remainders tossed in a bucket.

Edgars suggested we take this pail of fish guts to a nearby beach as an offering to the resident bald eagle population.

We threw the remains high into the air and watched, gobsmacked, as eagles swooped down from the overcast sky – their muscular legs outstretched and their talons splayed – to catch these bloody treats mid-air.

Yes, it’s the eagles I’ll remember. Masters of the sky, precise and athletic and flying so close to us we could almost feel the wind off their magnificent wings. — Kim Gray

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  1. Emma Mabilia commented:

    You’ve earmarked some remarkable places – the Haida Heritage Museum at Skidegate, in particular. I recall watching a vignette describing how bentwood boxes were made. How fascinating was that!

    Those interested in other types of Haida art will want to research well known artists such as Bill Reid and the two grandsons of Florence Edenshaw Davidson, Robert and Reginald Davidson.The Haida depended upon the natural world of plants and trees for many of their necessities.

    I recommend “DURING MY TIME: Florence Edenshaw Davidson, A HAIDA WOMAN” by M.B. Blackman and PLANTS OF HAIDA GWAII by Nancy J. Turner – as well as gathering plants for food and medicines, the process of removing a strip of bark from a cedar tree and its subsequent preparation for weaving baskets and hats and functional items is described in detail.

    A reminder of how life was long, long ago – everything needed to exist was there – for food, clothing and transportation. Only what was necessary was taken from the land and the sea.


  2. Haida Gwaii Tourism commented:

    Great article Kim! The award winning Haida Heritage Centre is definitely an amazing place – the museum, canoe tours, the carving shed and more! Thank you for sharing. You have a great website and Facebook page – I look forward to your future articles.

    Other ‘Places to Go and Things to Do’ in Haida Gwaii might include a visit to the Port Clements Settlers Museum and Masset’s Maritime Museum, beach-comb on North Beach or East Beach, visit the BLOW HOLE (!!!) and the artisan galleries in Tlell, rent a kayak or take a kayak tour…just come visit! http://www.gohaidagwaii.ca/what-to-do/


  3. Trish Boyum commented:

    We have just had a cancellation for our July 21 – 27, 2012 tour into Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site! We have space for 2 people.
    Visit our website http://www.oceanadventures.bc.ca and click on Haida Gwaii in the side bar for a description of this trip.

    “Gwaii Haanas” means Place of Wonder… a very fitting description for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve… that was named #1 Park Destination in North America in 2005!

    Thank you Kim for bringing this awe inspiring archipelago to everyone’s attention. Great ideas for reading from Emma M.!

    Happy travels!


  4. Linda commented:

    Several years ago in 2008 my daughter and I visited Joyce Bennett, grandaughter of Florence Davidson, at her home in Old Masset. Joyce created beautiful button blankets and garments, some of which her son Jonathon, designed, and exquisite spruce root baskets. On her kitchen table was a wonderful display of lengths of red and yellow cedar bark and a spruce root hat in progress. Hats were often painted by men upon completion. Our visit to Joyce was a highlight of our trip to Haida Gwaii. Joyce told us that traditional duties of women were weaving with cedar and spruce roots, gathering and processing food and rituals relating to births and deaths. Men were traditionally the carvers and jewellery makers but women are now creating beautiful things of wood and argillite.


  5. Leigh commented:

    Haida Gwaii has been on my bucket list for a long time but I want to see it from the seat of my kayak. There are supposed to be huge – and non threatening – basking sharks off the islands. I’d also like to lower my body into a natural hot-spring after a hard day of kayaking – which is on the route of many a tour company.
    I HIGHLY recommend reading The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant – a sad story of an ancient spruce tree cut down on what was called the the Queen Charlottes. Hard to believe a book about a tree could be so mesmerizing.


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