The Haida Heritage Center is a gorgeous facility just south of the town of Skidegate. Built to resemble the longhouse villages that were once the center of Haida life, it houses the offices of the Gwaii Haanas Reserve, an excellent museum, and a great hall for hosting potlach celebrations. Towering totem poles rise in front of the center, and the carved cedar faces of Eagle, Raven, Bear, Beaver, Thunderbird, and many others stare out imposingly over Hecate Strait.
Anyone planning to visit the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site must attend an orientation at the Centre, which does a great job of providing both a historical and ecological framework for this stunning area. Some of the world’s most unique cultures and distinctive ecosystems have developed on islands; Easter Island, the Galapagos, Iceland, Tahiti, New Zealand, and many others come to mind. Haida Gwaii, too, is a place where geographic isolation has created unique conditions and pressures that have transformed people, animals, and plants that reside here. A unique subspecies of Peregrine Falcon soars over the storm-blasted west coast preying on the millions of seabirds that nest along the craggy shore. North America’s largest black bears live here too, wandering from the forests out along the low tide, flipping rocks to search for crabs, mussels, and clams to crush in their powerful jaws. Tiny bats roost in the warmth of hot springs ringed by strange endemic plants. The remains of longhouses, half-finished canoes, and totem poles lie hidden under blankets of soft moss, returning slowly back into the ancient forest.
Armed with a better understanding of the area we’re off to visit, we disperse to enjoy the rest of the afternoon on Graham Island before heading out tomorrow on the long trip through the remote southern islands before crossing back towards the continent and the modern world. Marnie, Ken, and David head out in the afternoon with Shawn from Haida Style Adventures for what turns out to be an incredibly productive day of fishing. Shawn drove his well-equipped fishing boat out through the narrows to the wild west coast, where King salmon cruise south along unseen underwater pathways bound for their spawning grounds in the big rivers of the northwest. Five hours of fishing nets them a hold full of beautiful bright eyed kings, a halibut, a flounder, a ling cod, and an unbelievable bounty of large Dungeness crab. Back on the dock, Shawn did a masterful job of filleting the fish while Jordan and Greg cooked up the crab. Looks like seafood is on the menu for tomorrows potluck dinner!