|A Copper Sky sailing adventure.
Trip Log - Gwaii Haanas - May 2000
27th - Day 1 - Cumshewa Inlet
trip to Gwaii Haanas, the 'Place of Wonder', began this morning at 7:30 a.m.
Twelve guests, including naturalist Trudy Chatwin, are joining Russ, myself,
Gordon, Mary Ann (Russ' wife) and Roberta, our cook, for the next week as
we travel into the land of the Haida on the Queen Charlotte Islands.
We are almost 500 miles north of Vancouver,
60 miles west of Prince Rupert and 25 miles
south of the Alaskan border in the heart of 150 islands full of so much marine
and terrestrial life that is has been called the 'Canadian Galapagos' and
the 'Galapagos of the North'.
Add in the cultural and historical importance of the 500 Haida
archaeological sites and the diverse recreational opportunities available
and you have Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands, one of the world's
premier adventure destinations. In the south end of this series of islands
is one of Canada's most recent national parks, a unique National park Reserve
called Gwaii Haanas, which in turn is home to Nan Sdins (Ninstints), a former
Haida village with more than a dozen standing totem poles.
October of 1986, a divided Haida nation sat at a cross roads. Forestry on
the Queen Charlottes was a booming industry, employing many of the Haida
men and women in high paying stable jobs. At the same time, ancient Haida
villages and sites were in the line of fire of the logging companies as were
South Moresby and Lyell Islands, traditional lands that the Haida nation
had laid claim to. The situation came to a head with the blockade of a logging
road on Lyell Island splitting island families down the middle in many cases,
some for the blockade, some against it. The tide turned that month when nine
prominent Haida elders and statesmen were arrested for the blockade, drawing
international attention to the Queen Charlotte struggle. In the end, the
island residents and the entire Haida community came together with the government
of Canada and backed a new and exciting partnership that led to the protection
of Lyell and South Moresby Island area of the southern Queen Charlottes,
creating the National Park Reserve, Gwaii Haanas.
It is our pleasure now to go and explore this wilderness, beginning
with a day in Cumshewa Inlet, the first major inlet south of Skidegate Inlet
and the village of Queen Charlotte City.
For a nature cruise/adventure tour, our new guests didn't have
to wait long! The excitement began almost immediately with a mature bald
eagle landing on our main mast before we'd even left the jetty in Queen Charlotte
City. Twenty minutes later we were watching gray whales feeding along the
shore next to the town of Skidegate,(four miles) east of Queen Charlotte
City. While the grays were not as playful as the humpbacks we ran into on
the voyage up from Vancouver, it was spectacular nonetheless
to see them rising and blowing against the back drop of Skidegate's colorful
houses. While the whales were surfacing on one side of our boat, a tine hummingbird
buzzed by us on the other -- whales and hummingbirds in the same place, the
epitome of the Queen Charlottes' incredible diversity of life!
The next few hours were spent traveling towards Cumshewa Inlet
along the east coast of Moresby Island, While I have never claimed to be
an expert birder (or anything even close!), several of our guests are, so
we were treated to sighting of seabirds that someone could actually name
(for more effective than my usual "Look, it's a big black bird...and it's
...flying...hmmmmmm.:): scoters, cormorants, rhinoceros auklets, pacific
loons and pigeon guillemots.
I never though I would say this, but seeing the whales was not
the highlight of my day and I think many of our guests would agree. That
honor would have to go to our visit to the formerly abandoned Haida village
of Cumshewa. Formerly abandoned is a strange way to word things, but it's
as close as it gets -- the village was abandoned, but now has people returning
to it. Hundreds of years ago, Cumshewa was one of the largest Haida villages
on the Queen Charlottes, home to several hundred people in a series of four
and six beam long houses stretched along the beach at a strategic point in
Cumshewa Inlet. In the late 1800s, when much of British Columbia's native
population was decimated by an outbreak of small pox brought by non-natives,
the village of Cumshewa slowly began to dwindle in numbers.
The village was abandoned for good in the early 1900s when the
final members of the community, including Charlie Wesley, moved on the Skidegate
and other native settlements in the Queen Charlottes. This year, for the
first time in almost one hundred years, Cumshewa will again have Haida inhabitants.
On Thursday night, the chief of the Cumshewa Haida, Charlie Wesley,
invited his family and guests from throughout the Charlottes to a pot latch
in celebration of the raising of his new retirement home, a beautiful log
long house on the site of the abandoned village. As is the tradition with
pot latches and the open houses that follow, there is lots of food and gifts
for any and all visitors, including folks off a sailboat!
I left with a new hat with a Haida crest on it and the simple work, "Cumshewa."
Exploring the former village itself was an incredible experience
that is difficult to put into words (but I'll try). The site of the village
is both strategic and beautiful, chosen for both, I imagine. It is a prominent
point in the inlet that culminates in an 'island' of land at the end; imagine
a drop of water hanging from your finger just before it falls - the drop
is the 'island' the tiny thread of water holding the drop to your finger
is windswept beach, and your finger is the old growth forest where the village
houses were located.
On each side of the thin thread of beach connecting the island
to the forest there is a small bay, so that when the Haida villagers had
to launch canoes they could do it to the west of the east, depending on what
direction the wind was blowing in from. For a guy lime me with a vivid imagination,
it was almost too easy to picture a great pot latch ceremony of old, with
traditional dugout canoes arriving on the beach and guests walking up to
the long houses and lodges on the edge of the forest.
One hundred years later, the lodges and homes are no longer there,
the only remnants being log beams and poles lying in the grass amongst the
giant spruce. Here and there, a frontal pole (a greeting pole at the front
on the lodges) or mortuary pole (poles honouring the deceased) was still
standing decaying, yet with faint outlines of carving of family crests and
symbols still evident.
Our visit had to end at some point, so after our initial tour
through the village site and our stop to eat and mingle at the open house,
I took one final wander through the village on my own. I left Cumshewa feeling
overwhelmed and awed at the same time, gratified that I was able to experience
something like this with Copper Sky and our guests.
I am exhausted and ready to eat now, but our day is not yet done.
In an hour, a group of us is off to Limestone Island to take an active part
in a unique 25 year research project...details to come!
to Day 2
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