.All Trips / British Columbia / North America / Western Canada

A visit to Skedans, Haidi Gwaii

QCI Skeedans 2003 044  Skeedans Island Totems and Guardians

One of the most memorable day-trips I’ve ever been on was to the remnants of the Haida village of Skedans.  It’s a remote and rarely visited place.  Sadly, not much remains of the village, captured near its prime in the image below this paragraph (from 1878), rich with great totem art and beautiful longhouses.

1878 photo of Skedans village. Courtesy the Library and Archives of Canada

1878 photo of Skedans village. Courtesy the Library and Archives of Canada

Skedans is located on the northeastern shore of Louise Island, at the head of Cumshewa Inlet in Haida Gwaii (formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands), off the coast of North Central British Columbia just south of the Alaska panhandle.  That sounds really confusing, so to help you better orient yourself to this remote place, here are a few maps I think will help:

Overview of Haida Gwai's location

Overview of Haida Gwai’s location


Location of totems and old Haida villages, Haida Gwaii

Location of totems and old Haida villages, Haida Gwaii

Skedans is also known variously as Koona, Q’una, Koona LLnaagay, and K’uuna Llnagaay and several other names, all variants of its original name in the traditional Haida language.  The name Skedans was given to the village by Anglo captains of the maritime fur trade who tended to refer to a village by its chief’s name.  In recent years the original native names have become popular and replaced the Anglicized titles.  That’s quite reasonable, but I find this grouping of names hard to pronounce so we’ll stick with Skedans in this blog.

Skedans village is located at sea level on a small peninsula framed by a sheer mountainous cliff.   It was a good location for the Haida, a seafaring people who moved about in massive cedar canoes.   In the summer they headed to temporary camps to hunt and fish, but in the winter they returned to their established villages, like Skedans.  Fish and food were so plentiful that gathering sustenance didn’t take that long.  So with time on their hands, the Haida turned their talents to wood-working and crafted some of the most beautiful and unique art in the world (note: the author is a huge fan of northwestern native art).

Skedans had more than 40 totem poles facing the sea, with sixteen long houses sheltering its residents.  You see little evidence of that when you visit today.  Most of the beautifully sculpted totem poles have fallen to the ground from rot; a few specimens were removed for preservation long ago (you can see examples in some of Canada’s finest museums, including the Royal BC Museum in Victoria).  The longhouses are also gone, although you can still see the outlines of where they were situated.  The village site is part of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and is a Canadian National Historic Site.

These remote Haida villages are not easy to get to, even today, as they are only approachable from the sea.  Many people fly in by seaplane, then boat the last stretch to the villages. I was staying in Skidegate and took a ferry to Moresby Island where I engaged a guided tour on a Zodiac boat ride out to Skedans, with stops along the way to enjoy the rainforest and beautiful scenery of the area.  Here’s what some of that trip was like…..

We saw some amazing scenery as we made our way to Moresby Island…

We came across this abandoned railroad bridge, itself returning to nature.  In World War II the lightweight but strong sitka spruce were harvested and used in the manufacturing of aircraft.  Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” was made of sitka spruce…

Abandoned railway bridge, Moresby Island. Used to harvest sitka spruce trees, important in the manufacture of planes in WWII

We passed kelp forests, one of the richest ecosystems on the planet….

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii. Kelp forest

And landed on several beaches.  On this one these moose tracks….

Moose tracks, Louise Island, Haida Gwaii

And everywhere a thick lush moss-covered forest with many ancient trees….

Louise Island Rainforest, Haida Gwaii

We came across ‘Seal Island’, appropriately named as you can see.  The swells were large and powerful, but did not wash the seals off their perch…

Seal Rock, Haida Gwaii

Seal Rock, Haida Gwaii

Before landing at Skedans.  Our guide gave the Haida Watchmen (a married couple during our visit) warning so they could put on their traditional costumes, and we waited for them to prepare themselves.  As we waited, I took a photo from the beach….Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village

About 5 minutes later, exact same spot and same view, the “Misty Isles” showed how they got their nickname as this thick fog rolled in from seemingly nowhere, obscuring the beautiful mountains….

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village, with fog

A Haida Watchman  (or in this case, a married couple) live at the site and welcomed our group….Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans VillageTotems

They walked us around the village, their hand-embroidered robes so very beautiful….Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Totems and Guardians

And ended up at the best-known totem pole in Skedans, the Eagle Mortuary Totem, made famous by Canadian Group of Seven Artist Emily Carr in one of her many Totem paintings.  The watchmen sang a song in Haidi, a prayer perhaps, a special ceremony I felt privileged to see…..

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Eagle Mortuary Pole and Guardians

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Eagle Mortuary Pole and GuardiansAnd then we could wander through the site on our own, taking photos and more importantly gathering precious memories….

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Totems

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Totems

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Skedans Village Eagle Mortuary Pole

Our stay ending with a pleasant visit from a gentle group of deer….

Louise Island, Haida Gwaii, Deer

It was a very special day, not only because we had some sunshine (not common on Haida Gwaii) but mostly because of this amazing place!  Skedans is just one of a number of sites that contain relics of old villages, including totems.  It’s well worth seeing these if you can (and before the totems have all fallen).

Thumbnails of this trip follow which you can enlarge for more detailed views if this interests you.

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