Sunday September 17, 2017
Unreserved visits Haida Gwaii
Along the North Shore of British Columbia is a group of islands that not many Canadians have visited.
Separated from the mainland by Hecate Strait to the east, Vancouver Island to the far south, and Alaska to the north, it is as far west as you can go.
You may recognize it as the Queen Charlotte Islands, so re-named in 1787 by Captain George Dixon who surveyed this archipelago and named it after his ship, the Queen Charlotte.
Her namesake was the wife of King George III of the United Kingdom and likely never even heard of the islands, much less visited them.
But to those who have lived there since time immemorial, it is and has always been Haida Gwaii, which means "Islands of the People."
The name would not be the first thing taken from this place. There is a legend the Haida tell, that a Haida seer had a vision of smoke coming from the many villages on Haida Gwaii.
But then the smoke disappeared and the seer could only see smoke coming from two villages.
Those villages are now known as Skidegate and Masset.
The vision would come true.
Ninety per cent of the population was wiped out during the 1800s because of diseases like smallpox. Church and residential school would come and sweep up what was left leaving empty villages, toppled totems and a devastated culture in its wake.
But the Haida did not die out. Nor did their culture. They rose from the ash to reclaim and rebuild their beloved Haida Gwaii.