Blog 5: Adventures in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Totem Pole (© Morten Bo Johansson)© Morten Bo JohanssonFSC Denmark annually hosts a Design Award competition for Danish design and architecture students based on their use of wood and sustainable practices. The winner of the 2014 FSC Denmark Design Award, Sigrid Juel Jensen, has won a trip to Canada, where she will visit FSC-certified forests, develop a version of her winning design at a local workshop and get a close look at FSC and responsible forest management in Canada.


We have moved right across Canada from the eastern shores of Nova Scotia to the outer islands of British Columbia. We’re in Haida Gwaii (once known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) which is home to the Haida. The Haida are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America and Haida Gwaii is located just under Alaska, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

‘Haida Gwaii’ literally means ‘Islands of the Haida People’ and consists of about 450 small islands, located 80 km from the coast of British Columbia. There are around 5,000 inhabitants, of which half are Haida. 



Bald Eagles and Blue Mountains

Sigrid arrives on the island where the weather is warm, but the journey on the boat means that we still have to be dressed warm. Along with two local Haida, we sail at high speed from the town of Skidegate and into the blue Pacific to look at the surrounding area. 

We see bald eagles flying across the horizon, scanning the shallows for fish. In the water, we see sea lions who are preparing themselves a good meal. "It is so magnificent it here," says Sigrid. "Before I would have been happy to see an eagle from a distance, but here they are in such large quantities,” she says.  



Totem Poles & Ancient Villages 

After a few hours on the water we float into a bay. There’s a pebbled beach with driftwood where forests and cliffs rise behind. K'uuna Llnagaay (also called Skedans) is known as one of historical significance for the Haida. You can only get here by boat but it’s where one of the larger Haida clans lived for more than 11,000 years until the Europeans arrived in the 1800s. 

In 1962, conflicts and a smallpox epidemic nearly destroyed the Haida. Many died or left their villages and moved together in public areas. The same applies to this area, which was abandoned in the 1880s. 

Along for the ride is the Jags, who is the great-grandson of one of the last survivors from the village. He tells stories about how he sailed to the island as a child, when the totems still stood with fine carvings and where you could find secret treasures and burial boxes in rock caves on the island. 



Along for the ride is the Jags, who is the great-grandson of one of the last survivors from the village. He tells stories about how he sailed to the island as a child, when the totems still stood with fine carvings and where you could find secret treasures and burial boxes in rock caves on the island. 



Humpback Whale in Sight

The sun is beginning to set so we pack up and sail out again to see if we can spot whales. In the background are blue mountains in many shades. "The color here is just so nice," says Sigrid. "These blue tones from the mountains that changes from completely dark blue to very, very light." 

Suddenly a large burst of water comes out of the ocean. A humpback whale has announced its arrival and then is gone again just as quickly.  We follow it for a while before we sail for home. "Everything looks so magnificent and overwhelming out here. It can almost be difficult to take it in, " says Sigrid. Tomorrow we look at rainforests here on Haida Gwaii and learn more about how FSC plays a role in the timber industry. 



What’s next for Sigrid? 

Read Blog #6 where Sigrid goes into an FSC-certified temperate rainforest, dicovers canoes in the forest and comes across a bear cave.


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