Hello everyone. Long time no post. After a few weeks of hectic work schedule, it was with enthusiasm that I checked out of work early on Friday to spend an extended May long weekend on Haida Gwaii.
Arriving by plane and renting a car, we travelled the short distance to Port Clements (pronounced cle-MENTS) to Smillie’s Guesthouse. This is located on the Masset Inlet, steps from the water. Port Clements is more or less smack in the middle of the Graham Island portion of Haida Gwaii. This makes it a fairly ideal location for exploring in either direction.
Known as Canada’s archipelago, according to the Visitor’s Guide, Haida Gwaii is home to flora and fauna unique from the mainland due to the glaciers missing a portion of the island during the last ice age. Discoveries of new species and subspecies on the islands are a regular occurrence.
The Haida Gwaii Visitor Guide also reveals that it was a fur trader by the name of George Dixon who dubbed the islands the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1787 upon his discovery of them. The following colonial practices reduced the Haida population from tens of thousands to 600 by 1900. In 2010, the Haida Nation officially returned the name Queen Charlotte Islands to the crown and gave the islands their name of Haida Gwaii - Islands of the People. They have since been actively engaged in reclaiming their culture, language, and art.
Haida Gwaii is comprised of more than 400 islands between 50 and 130 kms off the coast of mainland British Columbia. There are a variety of ways to access it via ferry and air. The two main islands are Moresby, to the south, and Graham to the north. The southernmost tip of the Haida Gwaii is the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, which is accessible only by seaplane or boat. Unfortunately, May long weekend is a little early for most tour companies. Fishing, crabbing, kayaking, hiking are key activities on the islands.
The attendant at the car rental kiosk told the story of a beached whale that could be seen on the way up to Port Clements. It apparently washed ashore only the day before and she advised a stop at the Crowsnest store and ask directions. Having done so, it took only 5 minutes of back tracking to find the site. It was a young grey whale, that marine biologists suspect had died from parasites. The beach was deserted and it was possible to walk right up to the poor beast. While sad to see its demise, it was also fascinating to see the creature up close, its baleen exposed and the size of it, despite its young age.
Finally finishing up in Port Clements, the owner of the guest house suggested the Yakoun River Pub was open for dinner until 8:00 p.m. Since it was already almost 7 p.m., we skedaddled over there to grab food. A few folks came and went and before leaving, I approached a table and asked the people there what a person should consider that isn’t in the tourist guide. Kelly, Sarah, Jean and Angela were very friendly and we had quite the home-town chat. Always on the alert for funny and interesting stories, I made note of Kelly’s comment that the only traffic light on the island is at the ferry junction and it only changes when the ferry comes in. She also told me to be sure to take my photo at the “hitchhiker’s thumb” up at Masset where Mile 0 of Highway 16. There is a lot of hitchhiking on the islands and due to its sparse population, the odds are pretty high that a hitchhiker will know the person that is picking them up! Kelly said Tow Hill was a must-see and there were a couple of lovely trails right in Port Clements. Jean and Angela confirmed that the Golden Spruce Trail was beautiful and Agate Beach was a great place to go beachcombing. Lorette, from the guest house also said that Masset Harbour Day was happening on Saturday and was worth checking out.
So with something of a plan in mind, it was time to retire in the peaceful environment of Port Clements, and hope to rise in good time to go exploring. I'm a day behind in telling my stories, but stay tuned for more Haida Gwaii adventures.