Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Monumental Cedar

Monumental cedars are old growth cedar trees of high enough quality to be used in traditional Haida practices such as canoe and pole carving and traditional-style buildings. These trees have become increasingly rare due to logging, so in recent years, forestry practices have been modified to preserve these trees.


  • The two cedar species found on Haida Gwaii are the Western red cedar (Thunja plicata) and the Yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis).
  • It appears that the cedar tree was not part of the landscape of Haida Gwaii until about 5000-3000 years ago, as changes in the climate after the last ice age gradually led to the establishment of the current vegetation of the islands.
  • Cedar trees often grow in twisted or bent shapes and have large branches all the way up the trunk. Because of this, it is challenging to find trees with large sections of clear wood. Clear (knot free) wood is needed to carve canoes or totem poles.
  • In the past, the Haida would cut test holes into standing trees to check the quality of the wood. Cedars often have hollow, rotten centers, so it was important to check the core of the tree before going to the great effort of falling it. Trees with test holes, as well as trees that show evidence of bark stripping or other traditional use, are called Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs).
  • In recent years, the Haida Nation became concerned that logging, if carried on as it was being done at the time, would soon result in a lack of appropriate cedar for culturally significant projects.
  • In 2007, a Strategic Land Use Agreement (SLUA) was signed between the Province of British Columbia and the Council of the Haida Nation. The SLUA covers many aspects of forestry management on Haida Gwaii, with an emphasis on Haida traditional uses of the forest.
  • To qualify as monumental cedar, a cedar tree must be "a visibly sound red or yellow cedar tree that is greater than 100cm dbh and have a log 7 metres or longer above the flare with at least one face that is suitable for cultural use" (from the Strategic Land Use Agreement).
  • Extensive rules and regulations have been put in place to protect monumental cedars and various other species. This has resulted in controversy as some locals feel that the rules are too strict and make it impossible to have a viable logging industry on the islands, while others feel that protecting these features is the top priority.
  • Visit the Cultural Wood program page for information that allow Haida carvers and builders to access wood that is necessary for culturally important projects:

Suggested Itinerary:
To see examples of how large cedar logs are used, visit Old Massett or Skidegate where you will see carved poles and examples of traditional building styles. Look for carvers working on canoes or poles in the carving shed at the Haida Heritage Centre.

Take a walk in the forest to view Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). A convenient spot to find some CMTs is along the easily-accessible Spirit Lake Trail in Skidegate.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

European Contact

Haida Gwaii was "discovered" in 1774 by the Spanish explorer Juan Perez, although the Russians may have been aware of the islands earlier and there has been talk of the Chinese coming on their 1424 expedition. Soon after, the fur trade for sea pelts brought a rush of European and American ships to the islands.


  • In 1774, Juan Perez named Cape Santa Margarita (where the lighthouse on Langara Island now stands). This was the first European place name to be given to a site in what would become British Columbia.
  • The first explorers such as Juan Perez were not aware that the islands were separate from the rest of the coast. The French explorer Jean Francois de la Galaup, comte de La Perouse, was the first to identify them as islands in 1786.
  • Captain George Dixon (English), sailed most of the way around the islands in 1787 and traded for 2000 sea otter furs which he then sold in Asia. This sparked the rush of fur trading vessels to the islands.
  • Captain Dixon named the islands after his ship, the Queen Charlotte. Other names given to the islands in the early years of exploration include Nova Hibernia, the Great Island, and Washington's Island.
  • British and American ships traded for thousands of furs, leading to a steady decline in sea otter populations until they were extirpated (locally extinct) by the 1830's. As many as 250 ships may have visited the islands during the maritime fur trade years.
  • The fur trade was primarily peaceful, but occasional violence broke out including the notorious battle between Chief Koya of SGang Gwaay village and Captain Kendrick of the Lady Washington.
  • In 1851 - 1852, British Columbia's first gold rush took place at Gold Harbour on the west coast of the islands, but the deposits were shallow and the rush was short lived.
  • The first European to live on the islands was copper miner Francis Poole, who prospected in the Skincuttle Inlet area (south of Burnaby Island) in 1862 - 1864.

Suggested Itinerary:
Visit Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate. Port Clement's settlers Museum and the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum in Masset for information and exhibits about early contact between Europeans and Haida.

Further information:
A good overview of the European history of the islands is Kathleen E. Dalzell's The Queen Charlotte Islands 1774 - 1966. (Terrace BC: C.M. Adam, 1968). Her second book, The Queen Charlotte Islands Volume 2: Places and Names (Madiera Park, BC: Harbour, 1973) is a great reference to the history of almost every place name on the islands. They can be found in most local bookstores and libraries.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Welcome to Haida Gwaii!

Located on a series of islands at the most westerly point of Canada, Haida Gwaii is made up of quaint villages, secluded inlets, and white-sand beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. A place so remote that roads cannot bring you here, yet the warmest of welcomes await once you arrive.

Photo Credit: Ian Gould

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Photo Credit: Anvil Cove Charters