By: Bruce Amos, Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Haida Gwaii (meaning “Islands of the People”) is an archipelago of islands separated from the rest of British Columbia by Hecate Strait. Formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands, in 2009 the archipelago reclaimed its Haida name.
In early June 2016, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic partnered with Maple Leaf Adventures to host a special journey through Haida Gwaii aboard the 88-foot converted tugboat MV Swell and the 92-foot schooner Maple Leaf.
Gwaii Haanas (“Islands of Beauty”), the southern portion of Haida Gwaii, is rich with culture and natural history. The Haida peoples along with environmental groups opposed the clear-cut logging of the islands in the 1980s, resulting in the creation of a national park. That was followed in 1993 by an historic agreement between Parks Canada and the Haida to jointly manage Gwaii Haanas as a National Park Reserve and a Haida Heritage Site. In 2010, a National Marine Conservation Area, also jointly managed, was established in the waters off Gwaii Haanas.
Having been directly involved in the Gwaii Haanas negotiations in the 1980s, I was especially pleased to be the RCGS’ Ambassador on this educational cruise.
The Haida welcomed us to several ancient village sites, including UNESCO World Heritage Site SGang Gwaay (Ninstints), where Haida poles still stand, and Tanu, where mossy depressions indicate where big houses once stood. We marvelled at humpback whales, sea lions, seals, eagles, dolphins, peregrine falcons and black bears. We hiked on trails in the old growth forest. In kayaks and zodiacs we explored countless estuaries, inlets, bays, beaches and the world-renowned Burnaby Narrows.