Welcome to Haida Gwaii. The place is wet, beautiful, friendly, complex, and a must-see place in Canada.
Welcome to Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands since 1787. These lands were renamed for the Haida people in 2010, to represent the indigenous people who have been living here and looking after the lands for nearly 13,000 years. Separated from mainland Canada by roughly 100kms of the choppy Hecate Strait.
The Hadia still exercise their sovereignty over the lands through their own government and in 1985 protest with the locals against loggers to protect old-growth forests sparked international recognition for the area and helped protect the trees for a short time. However, the government of British Columbia are still grating logging permits and this is obvious by the scars of clearcut logging easily visual across the archipelago. Riding through the setting feels like the inspiration for the movie, The Lorax. A beautiful backdrop marred by the sounds of chainsaws and logging trucks running down the gravel roads.
The rainforest lands are home to an abundant mix of wildlife from black-tailed deer, bear, elk, muskrat, beaver, raccoons, and a vast variety of sea life. Talking to locals, there is something like 200,000 black-tailed deer on the island, though they aren’t allowed to commercially process them, and populations continue to soar.
The Haida people have survived persecution and near extinction. In the late 1700s Europeans first arrived to the site of oceanside homes marked with totem poles carved of majestic cedars. At this time their population was around 30,000, through the 1800’s diseases such as smallpox nearly wiped them out, and by the 1900’s their numbers dwindled near 350 people! Today they make up about 45% of the island's 5000 or so inhabitants.
Add to this the years of religious influence hoping to erase their culture and language, which was even further fueled by residential schools, and today the Haida are finally reconnecting with their roots again.
The place is wet, beautiful, friendly, complex, and a must-see place in Canada. Riding through hundred or thousand-year-old, old-growth forests gives it a sort of mystical feeling to the air and you can’t help but wonder what life here must have been like back in the original days of tribes and totems.