.All Trips / British Columbia / North America / Pacific Northwest / Pic of the Week / Western Canada

“Pic of the Week”. January 4, 2013. Skedans Island Totem Poles, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)

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Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands (or “Misty Isles”), is a chain of islands off the coast of northern British Columbia, just below the Alaska panhandle.  The Islands are lush and green because they are wet — frequently foggy, drizzly or rainy.   When I visited, one of the locals told me it’s not unusual to have only have a single day of sunshine a month.  I’m not sure I could live in that type of environment but I did enjoy my visit!

Haida Gwaii has a rich aboriginal history and culture.  Natives in the area lived as tribes, often in large communal houses built of cedar logs.  Food (salmon, game, berries) was very plentiful so the tribes had the time to evolve a rich artistic tradition including weaving and elaborate wood carvings.  Especially famous were their totem poles which stood proudly in their villages, facing the sea.  Totems were not religious objects but rather told a story, often a history of the tribe or tale of its ancestors.  Most totem poles are carved of cedar.  The tradition continues to this day.

Of the totem poles that were erected in the nineteenth century, very few remain.  Some were stolen.  Some were cut down and placed in museums for their preservation, a controversial act but saving these historic and beautiful carvings for future generations to enjoy (such as those you find at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec or the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, B.C.  There are few places where you can visit historic totems standing where they were originally erected.  Haida Gwaii offers the largest and most impressive concentration of these remaining totems in their natural environment.

We visited the Skedans totems as part of a zodiac boat tour of Moresby Island.  There’s about a dozen remnants of totem poles here, most falling over or, as in this photo, being replaced by new life.  I like this photo for it’s contrasts — of the old and the new, the dead and the living, man’s artistry versus nature’s unyielding forces.

(Click on thumbnail to enlarge)

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