British Columbia, Canada

June 2016

We traveled by motorcycle for most of this trip.

Tofino at sunset, after a full day of riding.

Seals come ashore to rest.

Balance.

At low tide, black bears come to the shore to flip rocks in search of crabs.

Found something tasty!

Sea lions: each male has a harem of 10-15 females.

We took 7 ferries on this trip. This one took us from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, through the Inside Passage — a 15-hour journey.

Motorcycles get strapped down in case of rough seas.

This far north, the sun doesn’t set until after 10 pm at this time of year.

One of the highlights of this trip was our visit to Gwaii Haanas National Park in the Haida Gwaii islands. This park, which is accessible only by boat, protects a huge area containing pristine wilderness as well as the remains of ancient villages of the Haida native people.

We spent four days traveling around the Gwaii Haanas park on a zodiac boat, spotting wildlife along the way and stopping in villages to learn about Haida culture. We were greeted in each village by a couple of Haida people — members of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program who protect the ancient sites and guide visitors like ourselves. We learned a tremendous amount from the watchmen. They were truly able to transport us to the past, and to immerse us in their fascinating culture.

Traveling at high speed on the open zodiac boat was a thrill (sort of like motorcycling)! One of the days was particularly difficult, though… We endured a storm that brought rain, wind, and rough seas. Let’s just say that the group bonded on that day!

We spent four days aboard this zodiac boat with these crazy people.

Bryan was our excellent captain and guide.

Nick, the Haida watchman at the Skedans village.

He has some cool Haida-inspired tattoos.

According to Haida tradition, humans and animals share many traits: both have personalities and spirits, and both may inhabit the natural world or the supernatural world. Many Haida stories involve animals speaking with humans, or transforming from supernatural creatures into humans, and vice versa.

One of the women serving in the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program told us a creation story, in which Raven discovers the first humans hiding inside a clamshell, and convinces them with her singing to come out and play. Another watchman recounted the story of a woman who goes to live in the realm of the bears for a while before returning to the human realm. We also learned that according to the Haida, people who drown in the waters around Haida Gwaii become orcas (killer whales).

These stories helped us understand the Haida people’s tremendous respect for the natural world around them, and their strong drive to preserve it.

The rusted remains of a steam engine from an old logging camp.

The SGang Gwaay village is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized for being one of the finest examples of a Northwest Coast First Nations village.

Before contact with Europeans, the Haida population numbered about 20,000. External contact brought trade, but also diseases. Smallpox devastated the Haida, reducing their population to fewer than 600 people by the late 1800s. The survivors from the southwestern villages gathered in SGang Gwaay, making it one of the last villages in that area to be occupied.

This village is particularly known for its display of beautifully carved mortuary poles — totem poles that held the remains of a dead person. When a person of high status died, the body would be placed inside a bentwood box which was left to rest in a mortuary house until the carving of a mortuary pole was completed. The Haida people are a matriarchal society, so when a man died, the eldest son of his eldest sister was expected to assume his position in society. The successor also had the task of carving the mortuary pole that would hold his uncle’s burial box.

The mortuary poles in SGang Gwaay are being left to return to the earth, as is done in Haida tradition.

Mortuary poles in SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The carved figures in a mortuary pole represent the crests of the deceased person, describing that person’s lineage and importance.

The crests often include animals and supernatural beings.

Mortuary poles are hollow near the top, to accommodate a bentwood box containing the body of the deceased.

The watchman at Windy Bay lives in a modern replica of a traditional Haida log house.

In 1985, in response to years of unsustainable logging on the Haida Gwaii islands, the local Haida people organized a blockade of one of the logging roads on Lyell Island. Over a two-week period, 72 Haida people were arrested, including the elders of the tribe. According to the story we heard, Haida police officers in particular were ordered to arrest members of their own community.

The standoff between the Haida and the logging industry drew international attention, and eventually led to an agreement between the Haida Nation and the Canadian government. This agreement outlined the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park, which is now protected and cooperatively managed by the Haida and the government. In 2010, the marine area around Gwaii Haanas was also designated a protected area, making Gwaii Haanas the first place in the world to be protected from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the sea.

These days, trees are harvested and replanted using more sustainable methods, and the Haida people are deeply involved in the conservation of the natural habitat.

The Legacy Pole was raised in 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the cooperation between the Haida and Canadian government in managing Gwaii Haanas.

A detail of the Legacy Pole shows “the five good people,” a representation of the community that organized the logging blockade in 1985.

We saw countless bald eagles on this trip.

Seals.

We were just about ready to move here…

Momma bear and cubs in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.

Digging for clams.

Can you see the face?

We spent the rest of our trip riding the motorcycle through the interior of British Columbia.

A totem pole and longhouse of the Gitxsan First Nation.

Relaxing after a long day of motorcycling.

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