I Heart My Island: Haida Gwaii

Artist Patrick Wesley was born and raised on Haida Gwaii, a 155-mile-long torch-shaped archipelago slung off British Columbia’s North Coast. A native Haida, Patrick began honing his carving skills while still a teenager, and has devoted his life to creating beautiful works from wood, silver, gold, ivory, and argillite, a rock formed from lithified clay. One of the highlights of his career was helping legendary Haida carver Bill Reid create Loo Taas, a massive canoe sculpted from red cedar, for the World Expo that was held in Vancouver.

“The world should ‘heart’ my island because of its unique people, culture, and traditions,” Patrick says. “Because it is not easy to get to Haida Gwaii, you must take advantage of seeing everything—our cedar forests, beaches, and waters—[while you’re visiting].”

Here’s a look at Haida Gwaii through Patrick’s unique lens.

Haida Gwaii Is My Island

May through October is the best time to visit my island, as most foods, accommodations, and tour operators are available and working on a regular schedule. For me, March is also an important month on Haida Gwaii because that’s usually when the harvest from the ocean starts.

At the village of SGang Gwaay llnagaay, the remains of large cedar long houses and carved mortuary and memorial poles (above) commemorate the art and way of life of the Haida. (Photograph by Jonathan Kingston, National Geographic Creative)
At the village of SGang Gwaay, the remains of large cedar longhouses and carved mortuary poles (above) commemorate the art and way of life of the Haida. (Photograph by Jonathan Kingston, National Geographic Creative)

My island’s biggest attraction is its seclusion; you don’t have to go very far to be in a place where there’s no one else around, and you’re rarely in danger.

A visit isn’t complete without seeing the Kay Llnagaay Heritage Centre in Skidegate; the big beaches up north (Tow Hill, Agate, the Blow Hole, Rose Spit); the historical totem poles and longhouses of Old Massett; the art galleries and home studios; Rennell Sound on the rugged west coast (Haida Style offers trips there); and old village sites such as K’uuna, Windy Bay, and SGang Gwaay.

My island really knows how to celebrate community. From traditional gift-giving feasts known as potlatches to events like Skidegate Days and the Edge of the World Music Festival, locals relish getting together to spend time with family, friends, and elders.

The dish that represents my island best is our smoked fish, which can be sampled at Haida Wild Seafoods (try the smoked salmon). As for our special drink, it is said that taking a sip from St. Mary’s Spring will guarantee your return to Haida Gwaii!

If you want to experience a real island breakfast, try Jags Beanstalk in Skidegate.

You can tell if someone is from my island if they wave at you when you’re driving or if, when you ask them for their phone number, they give you only the last four numbers.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, check the bulletin boards around town and the post office kiosk.

My favorite “island secret” is that it doesn’t rain as often as most people say it does!

The most beautiful place on the island has to be the miles and miles of shoreline on both sides of the islands.

A grassy stretch of land between islands at Rose Spit, Haida Gwaii (Photograph by David Nunuk, Alamy)
A grassy stretch of land between islands at Rose Spit, Haida Gwaii (Photograph by David Nunuk, Alamy)

Head to Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary in the village of Masset if you want to get up close and personal with island wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a sandhill crane or a trumpeter swan.

Interested in a guided tour? I recommend Christian White, an accomplished artist from the Tluu Xaada Naay Longhouse in Old Massett, because of the Haida cultural aspects he incorporates into his tours. For instance, he’ll sing a song, do some storytelling, and introduce you to his apprentice carvers, craftsmen, and dancers. He also leads authentic canoe tours. The Haida House at Tllaal offers all-inclusive cultural packages led by Haida interpreters as well.

If you’re up for a physical challenge, try hiking the East Beach Trail (from Rose Spit to Tlell, otherwise known as Tllaal) and camping along the way. This is the longest shoreline in all of British Columbia.

To experience the island’s cultural side, try to arrive on the island when we are organizing community celebrations (May to September).

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the youth centers in Skidegate and Old Massett, which host any numbers of activities, such paddleboarding and kayaking.

Watch out for abrupt changes in the weather and be sure to bring proper attire for the many different kinds of weather when you come for a visit.

Near my island, you can visit the British Columbia mainland; Prince Rupert is the nearest port of call.

Before you visit, make sure to check out these great resources: 

> You Might Also Like: 

Comments

  1. Janeen Hartley
    Powell River
    May 28, 2015, 12:09 am

    One of my favourite places in North America. Air so fresh, trees draped with moss & a unique culture. Stunning beauty.

  2. Chris Shank
    Oregon
    May 25, 2015, 3:44 pm

    WOWIE

  3. Franklin Bowen
    United States
    May 22, 2015, 6:07 am

    A beautiful adventure

  4. Franklin Bowen
    United States
    May 22, 2015, 6:07 am

    What a wonderful adventure

  5. carl
    May 21, 2015, 9:31 am

    wow

  6. Jacques le Stafforde
    Whatcom County
    May 18, 2015, 10:18 pm

    My favourite part of Haida Gwaii is the
    old growth forest ….. and Joelle Rabu.