Walking into a Harrison Painting – Day Trip from Whitehorse, YT

Here is a nice day trip from Whitehorse, Yukon.

On a clear day, it is fun to do this 200 KM round trip. We took the trip in early September when the hill sides were just turning brilliant yellow. But even on a sunny winter day, this is a nice drive. carcross map

We drove to Carcross first because of the views if you drive it counter clockwise. Carcross may be a speck on the map but it is steeped in history. Short for ‘caribou crossing’ this is where prospectors came of the famed Chilkoot Trail, and many hikers still do. The Caribou Hotel was built in 1898 and still remains, although I hope it will soon be restored and protected. The hotel and other buildings were painted by famous Yukon artist Ted Harrison. Walking into this tiny town is like walking into one of his paintings. I chuckled to think that people who see his paintings might comment that “buildings don’t lean that way,” or ‘the sky isn’t really like that.” In Yukon, and in Carcross, they are!

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Carcross has a bakery and coffee shop. It also has a new area with First Nations crafts, artists, coffeeshop and tourist information centre. Tagish is pretty but doesn’t have many services. We brought a picnic along to eat at the Marsh Lake Campground. Jake’s Corner has a gas station and restaurant.

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Northern Exposure – Whitehorse, Yukon

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Yukon River in Whitehorse

A long, long time ago we had two little boys, aged 1 and 3, when Kees was offered the position of director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Whitehorse, Yukon. We packed up our belongings and left the Kananaskis region of the Rocky Mountains where he had been a park ranger, and where we had lived in the wilderness at the foot of the Continental Divide.

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Log ‘skyscraper’

Many people must have thought we were crazy to go to the Yukon. We drove north in our blue camper van along the Alaska Highway. We drove and drove… the trees got more and more spindly, the terrain turned to rolling hills, the mosquitoes got bigger and the bears and moose more frequent.

When we finally reached Whitehorse we could have easily missed the city of, then, 15,000 people. It lay tucked into the Yukon River valley, well below the highway escarpment. But we did take the Two Mile Hill turn-off and started a whole new life. People in Whitehorse were friendly and outgoing. Most had come from far away and it was easy to make friends. We chopped firewood, went tobagganing and fishing. We watched native dances and ate bannock. Yukoners celebrate everything! They have to because without celebrations, life is dark and cold and dull. So we celebrated the ice break up, the midnight sun and especially the winter carnival that heralded the end of winter. We celebrated the Gold Rush, the poems of Robert Service, we watched tubing races down the Yukon River and outhouse races down Mainstreet. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In all the years since we moved south again, I went back three times but Kees never did. We decided that this was our year to go north and visit Whitehorse. Fast forward 27 years!

Whitehorse now is a city of 30,000 people. It has a McDonalds and a Walmart. It has 3 (three!) Starbucks. I’m not sure that this is progress but it certainly is change. We fondly remembered the little supermarket from way back when, as we shopped at the Great Canadian Superstore that made me shake my head in disbelief. Groceries here now are cheaper than on Salt Spring Island. This did not feel like Whitehorse!

There are many restaurants, sushi places and trendy shops now. But some things haven’t changed. There are still shacks with stovepipes sticking out of the roof, leaning helter/skelter against each other. There are still husky pups waiting for snow. And there are still unique, friendly people walking the sidewalks near the Yukon and White Pass railway station. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whitehorse chosen subtitle is ‘The Wilderness City’ and that is an apt description. We hiked the beautiful Millennium Trail along the fast flowing Yukon River. Watching the water rush by it is amazing to realize that this force will soon be overtaken by the even stronger force of the cold. All the rushing water will be frozen and immobile in winter. Once you have seen the Yukon River freeze, been here during the winter months and watched it thaw and flow again in Spring, you are declared a Sourdough. If you’ve never spend a winter here, you remain a Cheechako.

We watched in fascination the many dozens of trees along the river bank felled by beavers. Leaves and wood chips were everywhere. We followed the drag marks where entire trees had been hauled to the water and saw how these amazing engineers had maneuvered the trees, using the river’s force, to their dam that blocked off a good part of the river. So glad the city does not blast these dams apart of trap those busy beavers! Upriver of the bridge is the Yukon River fish ladder where you can watch salmon jumping up the ladders, in Fall.

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Canada Games Centre

Yukon is a federal territory and receives federal funding for many projects, ensuring quality programs and facilities for the residents of this remote corner of Canada. The Canada Games Centre, for instance, has an aquatic centre with a leisure pool, lane pool, NHL rink, leisure skating rink, hot tubs, running track and many other facilities and services. All for $7.80 per day.

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The SS Klondike

If you spend time in Whitehorse be sure to visit landmarks like The S.S. Klondike, one of the last remaining paddlewheelers of a bygone era. You can tour the old wooden boat to get a sense of what it was like to travel up the river. Reading Pierre Berton’s book Drifting Home, and his mother Laura Berton’s book I Married The Klondike is also a wonderful way to learn more about this unique history. The McBride Museum preserves many artifacts important to Yukon’s history. We stopped into The Chocolate Claim, a great local coffee shop, because of many memories tied to this place and also because I was Miss Chocolate Claim! There are strange things done in the midnight sun, which is why many moons ago I was involved in running for Miss Yukon and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous and was crowned Miss Congeniality! Being here brought back many fond memories. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The house we designed ourselves and built here, some 30 years ago – yikes – is still gorgeous. It overlooks the Yukon River and is now a B & B! I found the website and it was fun to see this gorgeous photo of “our” house and the Northern Lights!Gallery_Exterior006-300x200

Another must if you visit Whitehorse, is the Takhini Hot Springs. Not cheap ($11.- for seniors) but a fabulous soak in hot, natural water. One side is large enough for slow swimming in comfy, warm water. The other side is HOT. It was weird to visit it now, without snow and ice. In winter your hair freezes with the steam coming off the water and you can have wild, white hairdo’s! They also have a fantastic créperie now where we enjoyed gigantic fresh fruit and chocolate crepes!10945814_314972205362986_2535773757389503556_o

Special thanks to our Whitehorse friends who lend us their condo during our time up north.

Sights to visit:

http://takhinihotpools.com

http://www.macbridemuseum.com

https://www.yukoninfo.com/whitehorse-yukon/ss-klondike/

http://www.yukonwildlife.ca

http://www.whitehorse.ca/departments/canada-games-centre

 

Alaska Adventure: driving 700 miles

The Drive from Anchorage to Whitehorse, Yukon (700 miles/
1,100 KM)

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Once you get off a cruise ship in Seward, Alaska, you need to shake off the remnants of relaxation and being pampered… It is a rude awakening to having to make your own decisions again. The first one: how to get anywhere from here?

Hopefully, you’ve planned ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we planned this trip, the cruise itinerary listed Anchorage as the last port of call. But it doesn’t get anywhere near this city. Seward is a good 2 hours on a bus from Anchorage. It can also be reached by train. Being the thrifty, budget travellers that we are, I spent time searching for the most economical way to get from the port of Seward to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. It turned out to be Alaska Cruise Transfer (https://alaskacruisetransfer.com) The one way ride was $50 per person, considerably cheaper than the transport offered by the cruise line or other companies. The bus was very comfortable, we had a good driver and the best part was the informative, and humorous, commentary audio track. It gave us stories of the area’s history, colourful characters, politics, events, wildlife and more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kenai Peninsula is absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend a whole holiday here, exploring, hiking, fishing and seeing beautiful scenery. The highlight for me was learning about Turnagain Arm – a wide arm of the Gulf of Alaska reaching inland from Cook Inlet. The arm got its name from British explorer James Cook, who was forced to “turn again” when the waterway didn’t hold the fabled Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.

The bore tide here, a wave of water that rushes down the arm, can top six feet tall and is an unusual, awe-inspiring sight. Formed by the area’s huge tidal range and focused in the narrow channel of Turnagain Arm, the bore tide tops speeds of 20 mph. We heard stories of near drownings because the bottom here is quick sand and when the water comes in at that speed, it is very dangerous.

You can see the tidal bore coming in here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY-qekro1dI

The best thing was seeing many Beluga whales who hang out in this Arm. Beluga Point, a rocky outpost jutting into the waters of Turnagain Arm, is just south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway. Belugas are often seen from mid-July through August when salmon are running in Cook Inlet where their numbers have hovered between 300 to 375 whales since 2000. Belugas use sonar to find their way and catch fish in the silty waters of the inlet. Beluga whales are relatively small, often measuring less than 16 feet. Younger whales look blue-gray in color and then turn white by age five or six. Belugas are the only all-white whale and have no dorsal fin.

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We reached the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and were dropped off at the airport where we picked up a rental car. What can you expect when driving across the vast expanse of Alaska? The highway was flanked with many, many signs warning us of moose and cariboo. But for all of the 700 miles (1,100 KM) from Anchorage to Whitehorse, the only wildlife we saw was a handful of chipmunks and a few ravens.

There is still very much a ‘last frontier’ feeling here. Towns have few services and buildings still have the gold rush type fronts. There are about as many saloons as there are churches. The main streets are often paved but side streets are full of potholes. Our rental car was not allowed on dirt roads so we had to change our plan of driving the Top of the World highway to Dawson City, Yukon. Gas prices are the same as down south but gas stations are far and few between.

The most beautiful view was overlooking the Matanuska Glacier, lower than the highway, as it creeps out of a southern valley on blue icy toes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent the night in Tok, Alaska. There are several motels and RV Parks with cabins along both the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway (it is interesting to note that highways in Alaska are referred to by name in addition to the number). It costs at least 100.- for a room. The place most recommended for meals is Fast Eddy’s. We had fun sitting in this bustling truck-stop atmosphere and watching big burly hunters, truck drivers with long bears and pony tails, and an odd mix of tourists from all over the world. The great food was reasonably priced: https://www.fasteddysrestaurant.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe highway got noticeably worse once we crossed the border into Canada. But we were very lucky with blue skies and sunshine that set the golden trees ablaze. Early September is definitely one of the most gorgeous times to see this area as aspen and other deciduous trees turn bright yellow, orange and red, dotting the evergreen hills like a fluffy quilt, framed here and there with the first white powder on mountain tops. Especially the drive along Kluane Lake is gorgeous. It inspired me to write a poem:

Fall’s soldiers
In their golden uniforms
Stand guard
Between summer and winter,
Marching south
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the return trip from Yukon back to Anchorage, we were lucky enough to see a large flock of snow white Dall sheep in the Kluane Range. Then two curious coyotes walked across the road and peeked at us from the brown grass. The sun was out part of the time, turning the hillside brilliantly yellow for most of the way. In fact, it was so gorgeous that we kept on driving. Instead of spending the night half way, in Tok again, we drove all 12 hours back to Palmer. We saw a large moose up close and even saw our very first caribou.

Hunting season is now in full swing. I’d hate to hike or camp in the bush. We see huge numbers to trucks parked along the road where hunters have taken off into the bush. At a remote outpost, we stopped at the log cabin country store to buy native crafts, when a truck drove with the large rack of a moose in the back. I could see an enormous cooler and bulging garbage bags of meat. So I walked over and had an interesting conversation:

Me: “Hi! How are you? Nice moose! Can I take a picture?”

Guy: “sure.”

Me: “Wow. It’s huge. Bet that will be all your meat for the winter, eh?”

Guy: “yup. you canadian?”

Me: “Yeah! How’d you guess?”

Guy: ‘eh.

Me: “Ah. I said eh! I guess so. So how much did it weigh, like how much meat did you get? Like 500 pounds?”

Guy: “more.”

I guess by then he had really warmed up to me because he added “maybe double. gonna use it all, bones, sinew, organs”.

Me: “Wow, that’s great. Well thanks a lot. Have a good winter.”

Guy: ” ‘kay.”

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We were still just in time but wouldn’t to go a week later: the US/Canadian Border closes on September 15 on the Top of the World Highway; many hotels and lodges shut down as of September 15 and the first snow was sprinkled on the surrounding mountain tops.

A tool that helps with planning is the downloadable app: http://www.thealaskaapp.com

In our next blog we will take you around Whitehorse, Yukon.

Vancouver with Children

IMG_5750.jpgHappiness is getting to spend time in Vancouver BC with a 7 year old grandson. For a long time now, I had promised Nico a trip to the big city to explore and have fun. I cut up tourist brochures and glued images and words on 5 blank pages. These would act as his guide to activities and attractions. He was in charge of deciding which page we would do first. These five pages plus a city map became his most treasured possessions for our five days in Vancouver.

IMG_5835On the first day, Nico decided, we would explore Granville Island. We left our car parked in the quiet street where we stayed, bought a Compass card for public transportation in a nearby drug store, and boarded our first bus. It took us within a block of Granville Island. This small island, attached by bridges, used to be an industrial island. It still houses a cement factory and other businesses but is also home to an Art College, a hotel, and many businesses. We toured the Kids Market first. The building is painted bright yellow and houses lots of toy shops. There are fancy clothing stores for kids, a magic shop, a bookstore and more. An arcade on the top floor lures kids in to spend more money. Ultimately there is not much more to do but to shop and spend money. We rode the glass elevator and discovered the huge water playground behind the building. Now this is fun! And, best of all, it is free. Nico spent hours running in water spouts and screaming in delight as water poured from different places. IMG_5756

We also visited the Market, a huge covered market hall where you can buy foods of all kinds, including moon grapes. We had our morning coffee (and milk) with a Nutella croissant outside overlooking False Creek while buskers played music, aqua busses and pirate ships floated by and pigeons tried to steal our crumbs.

IMG_5763Instead of taking a bus to Vanier Park where the Space Centre and Planetarium are located, we opted for a water taxi. It took us under Granville Street Bridge and through a whirr of boats, large and small, to the park. We strolled to the Space Center and dished out the admission price. We watched a show in the Planetarium on the domed ceiling, about the MilkyWay and other galaxies. Nico loved every second of it and remembered much of the information about black holes and newly discovered planets. He also climbed inside an “astronaut’s suit” and touched a moon rock ad a meteorite.IMG_5795

The telescope was supposed to open at 8 PM and we passed some time after the closing of the Centre and the opening of the telescope by hanging around in the park. But when we arrived at 8 PM we were told that it might happen at 9 PM. At 9 PM they said maybe by 10 PM it would be dark enough but Jupiter would not make an appearance and it was getting cloudy… By 9:30 a disappointed little boy agreed that we would try to come back in winter when it would be dark around 6 PM….

IMG_5847Science World was high on our list and we reached it by taking an Aqua Bus from Granville Island, an ideal way to travel – cheap, fun and no parking! We cruised all of False Creek until we reached the famous landmark: the shiny multifaceted globe that is Science World. And it lived up to all expectations. We spent the entire day playing with light flashes and optical illusions. There was so much to try and explore, and Nico never slowed down or got tired of any of it. From sabertooth tiger and T-Rex skeletons to balls bouncing on air, Science World was a big hit.

IMG_5912We had originally planned to explore Stanley Park when we visited the Aquarium, since it is located in the park. But parking proved so difficult that we had to forego the totem poles, sea wall and playgrounds. The seawall is a great place for hiking or biking, but in our case of limited time, we opted for just the Aquarium. And it, too, was better than expected. We touched stingrays, admired real sea horses, watched sea otters and, the highlight of the day, saw a penguin poop.

One of the most memorable things we did was have a bento box in a tiny neighbourhood sushi place: Moon Sushi. For under 10 dollars we had a great dinner, including tempura and teriyaki. Nico was thrilled when the waitress recognized him on our second visit.

IMG_5974.jpgWhile the entrance fees to places like the Aquarium and Science World are very high, we also found some wonderful free entertainment in the city. The Pacific Museum of Earth on the UBC campus offered fun, hands-on exhibits including a meteor and a dinosaur skeleton. Nico’s favourite was a huge omni-globe where he could turn the moon into earth, into Mars, and much more. While at UBC, you can see an entire blue whale skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, beautiful totem poles at the central mall and find a nice water playground at the Westbrook Mall.

One attraction that I would not have known about without my Vancouver friends, is the Kitsilano Showboat. This permanent stage on the beach offers free entertainment all summer long. Music, fireworks, concerts… Be sure to check the schedule if you are visiting the Kitsilano area of Vancouver.

And, of course, no visit to Vancouver is complete without a stop at KidsBooks. Their two locations offer to most fabulous selection of (Canadian) children’s books for all ages as well as anything book related. The best place to find a gift for your favourite child!

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• Vancouver public transit pass: https://www.compasscard.ca

• To plan your public transit in the lower mainland (the entire region around Vancouver): https://www.translink.ca

• Vancouver Aquarium: http://www.vanaqua.org

• Planetarium/Space Centre: http://www.spacecentre.ca

• Granville Island: http://granvilleisland.com

• Museum of Earth: http://pme.ubc.ca/exhibits/

• Beaty Biodiversity Museum: http://beatymuseum.ubc.ca

• Kitsilano Showboat: http://www.kitsilanoshowboat.com

• Moon Sushi: http://moonsushivancouver.com

Pacific Rim, Canada’s true West Coast

 

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Parksville BC

You would think that we, on Salt Spring Island, live on Canada’s west coast.

But the true west coast along the open ocean, is one more ferry ride and about a 3 hours drive away.
Cutting across the mountainous heart of Vancouver Island, Highway 4 winds through Port Alberni to the Pacific coast. On this particular trip, we spent one night in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island’s east coast. We roamed the wide sandy beach, picking up a sand dollar here and a polished rock there. We sipped tea on the gorgeous patio of The Beach Club Resort right on the beach in Parksville. And we had a beautiful AirBnB booked in Qualicum Beach. The very private cottage was in the heart of town, allowing us to walk to shops and restaurants.
IMG_0554The next morning we made the mandatory stop in Coombs. This tiny town has only a few services but made a huge tourist attraction out of a former farm stand. Some 30 years ago it was a farm stand with local pumpkins and apples in the fall. Now it is a huge supermarket/deli with lots of shopping options. Stores have sprouted up around it, selling icecream and t-shirts. 
But the reason for all this is likely the goats on the roof. Yes, you read that right. The old farm stand and now the beautiful supermarket, sports a grass sod roof on which various goats roam and graze at will. This is enough of an attraction that hordes of tourists stop and take pictures. It’s a fun and interesting stop. And after gazing at grazing goats, you can pick up a tye-dyed t-shirt or a giant lawn ornament next door.
IMG_5609The next stop is even more popular and also more natural. Cathedral Grove, also named McMillan Provincial Park, is an awe inspiring place. Huge towering trees block out the sun, filter the rain and support an intriguing eco system. Some of the trees are 800 years old and 75 meters tall, making you feel like a tiny dwarf. Fallen trees support new ones. I doubt that there is much wildlife left since every car and motorhome stops here, but it is gorgeous and definitely worth the loop walk through the grove. I just hope that BC Parks will spend the money and effort to provide a safer way to park. The tiny parking area along the road is not nearly enough and cars parked along the shoulders, with people crossing the road at will, is an accident waiting to happen.
Port Alberni is a large town with many services and lots of camping, hiking and fishing nearby.
We continued on, past the picturesque Sprout Lake to the junction where you turn south to reach Ucluelet or north to reach Tofino. 
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Tofino used to be my favourite of the two isolated towns – with a cozy coffeeshop and a relaxed hippy atmosphere. Now Ucluelet feels more like a nice small town while Tofino is overrun with people and sky high prices. We couldn’t find affordable accommodations even when booking two months ahead. So this time we ended up staying in Ucluelet.
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It used to be a bit run down fishermen’s village. Through the inevitable evolution along BC’s gorgeous coastline, Ucluelet has morfed into a friendly town of a few permanent residents and a surging summer population. We found a lovely cabin, complete with fireplace and jetted tub, in the woods and near the coast. Both towns have a nice Coop Supermarket with fresh produce and lots of choices. Since we had a kitchen we made our own meals but had to find a coffeeshop to get wifi.
Unfortunately we had two days of rain, out of our three days on the coast. But a walk in the rain forest does feel more authentic when the trees are dripping…
IMG_0562Pacific Rim National Park stretches between the two towns and beyond (including the Broken Islands group). One of Canada’s most splendid coast lines is protected in this national park. Several long beaches offer a great place for a brisk walk, watching foamy waves and mist, scenic rocks and outcrops dotting the shore.
Equally impressive are the short rain coast walks. Here a sturdy wooden walk way allows visitors a glimpse of a unique ecosystem. Ancient logs serve as nurseries for new growth. Giant skunk cabbage leaves and tiny unfurling ferns live side by side, thriving on the more than 3 meters of rain that falls here annually.
Immense cedars and spruce form a green canopy that filters the sunlight, if there is any. IMG_5651
Another must-stop is the Kw’istis Visitor Centre with an interpretive display of both natural and First Nations histories. We even watched spouting whales from the upstairs room. Be sure to ask the front desk staff for one of the movies listed. This is a great way to learn more about this beautiful area – one of Canada’s most scenic natural places.

Exploring Haida Gwaii

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Our zodiak adventure ended with whale sightings on Hecate Strait. After returning to Sandspit, I did readings in the local elementary school, hosted by Haida Gwaii Literacy. I find it so impressive that people in this remote, northern location have opted to sponsor Syrian refugees. Haida Gwaii is one of the most peaceful locations in earth. I can’t begin to imagine how the Syrians feel to be here. I met a lovely young couple, both of them working hard on learning English and holding jobs. In Queen Charlotte City I met a gracious family with young children, one of whom lost her leg in a bombing. It is heartwarming to see how the community has adopted “their” family. Friends drive the children to ballgames, the parents to English lessons, they bake cakes and help with shopping. The Syrian family may have left behind relatives, but they gained many new aunts and uncles in Haida Gwaii.

I did readings and presentations in lovely schools and libraries all along the coast from Charlotte in the south to Masset in the north. I walked into one school to find that the power was out in the entire village. “Yeah, that happens often,” the principal said with a shrug, “probably an eagle that flew into a power line.”

In another village I asked directions to a house. “Turn right after about three pole lengths,” was the answer.

Charlotte has a great Visitors Centre with information and maps. The Haida Gwaii tourist guide has a lot of useful information. Too bad shops and restaurants are not really geared at visitors: the information centre, the coffee shop and most other places are closed on Sunday. The whales, however, don’t go by at the calendar. They circled and spouted along the shore every day.

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One of the most impressive places to visit is Skidegate’s Museum and Intepretive Centre. This massive wooden longhouse, has a museum that houses ancient totems and other carvings, paintings, photos, costumes, woven hats and tools. The place gives you a great glimpse into Haida history and culture. I highly recommend visiting here before exploring the island: http://haidagwaiimuseum.ca

Skidegate has a First Nation’s village with beautiful longhouses and totem poles along the water front. A long house is a traditional house – often a community centre – that has massive ceiling beams and square posts on each corner. The Unity Pole of Skidegate was just recently erected. Driving north, the tiny village of Tlell has several art studios and a great bookstore. We spotted sandhill cranes in a field nearby and walked on pebbly beaches, including Balance Rock where we looked for crabs while eagles watched us.IMG_5407

Port Clements is a logging and fishing village with a great library. We hiked the Golden Spruce trail. If you ever go here, be sure to first read the book The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant.

Finally we reached the northern town of Masset. It is small but full of colourful characters and history. I was surprised to find market tables full of produce and bakings in the middle of town. Traditional Mennonites live on homesteads nearby and bring their garden produce, cakes and breads into town to sell. The library in Masset is a gorgeous old log cabin. I enjoyed doing a presentation surrounded by honey coloured logs lines with books. Be sure to pop into the Secret Garden behind the RCMP office, where you can sit on a sold wooden bench among flowers and blossoms.

IMG_5517From Masset it is only about 2 KM to the First Nations town of Old Massett. Again, longhouses and totem poles indicate that you are now in a traditional village. I stayed in the spacious Haida Lodge, which looks like a small bungalow from the street but turned out to be much larger with spacious rooms. The very kind lady who made our breakfast, told us that her husband is a carver. How lucky we were to be invited into the carving shed. Here we watched in awe as two men carved a 60’ cedar. They each had a tiny chisel and carefully worked along the pencil lines, making figures appear. 10’ of the pole will go into the ground, and many tonnes of rock will be used to keep it firmly in place. We were told that it will take 400 people to raise the massive pole. Besides several poles, there were also longboats in the shed. Their traditional paintings in red and black make for an awesome sight. We felt very privileged to see this ancient art in progress. IMG_5496

From Masset we drove to the end of the road. First we passed an icon: an old, painted hippy school bus in the bush, famous for the cinnamon buns that are baked and served here. Next, we strolled along agate beach, of course picking up several agates.

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Then came Tow Hill – an important spot in Haida culture. We climbed the hill to admire the view of the open West Coast sand beaches and learned more Haida legends. The view here is of Rose Spit, where the first Haida people originated. I found it fascinating to learn that a clan can own a story or a song. Stories and songs can be given to another clan, and then the original clan that gave it away can no longer sing the song or tell the story. IMG_5525

We walked on North Beach and saw the outline of Alaska’s most southern islands across the water. Haida Gwaii is a fascinating place. I was lucky to have almost no rain. It can be cold and windy. But it’s people and their culture make this a heart warming place, of gracious hosts and intriguing tales.

IMG_5547On my last night, I was honoured to be poet laureate during a fundraiser evening for Haida Gwaii Literacy. The dinner included herring roe and rice with seaweed, as well as three different kinds of salmon. What a thrill to share the stage in the gorgeous longhouse with a traditional Haida storyteller who spoke in Haida, and with award winning musicians. As I left the islands to come home, I got hugs in the airport from newly made friends. Haida Gwaii is a very special place and, some day, I hope to have the opportunity to return to this magical land.

For more info, check out:

http://www.gohaidagwaii.ca

http://www.moresbyexplorers.com

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Totem Poles and Bears

IMG_4934Our Haida Gwaii/Gwaii Hanas adventure continued:

On our way by zodiak to the most southern tip of Gwaii Hanas, we visited ancient village sites and remnants of totem poles in several sites: Skedans, Tanu, S’qang Gwaii, Rose Harbour and more. Each site has its own intrigue and charm. Skedans is a village site with house remnants and totem poles, but not as many as in the most southern tip S’qang Gwaii. Here, a mystical and misty atmosphere enhances the site where old spirits dwell and history is tangible. The bleached and weathered totems lean against moss covered house beams. The beach still tells stories of canoe runs between rocks, where the “Vikings of the Pacific” showed their power by rowing their long boats far east, north and south, taking slaves as they encountered other nations.

IMG_5109I was intrigued to learn that a Haida Chief could marry a slave woman, thus making the former slave the most powerful matriarch of the clan. In this matriarchal society, men do as the leading woman dictates and children are part of their mother’s lineage.

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I also learned about different totem poles: the shortest one were usually house poles, depicting the family’s clan and history. Tall plain poles with rings are potlatch poles, showing how many potlatches, or celebrations, have been held. Some poles are a memorial for a particular person, sharing his life story while yet others have a hollowed out square opening at the top housing a bentwood box of bones: a burial pole. Their silent stories are impressive and pay tribute to a society that lived here long before “contact” – as the period after the arrival of European explorers’ ships is called.

Houses were large, sometime dug down to allow for more space. Immense ceiling beams were held up by corner posts and closed by cedar walls. Now, all that remains is rounded beams covered in soft green moss, often with a new cedar tree growing on each corner as the trees reseeded. Slowly and silently, history is swallowed up by the rain forest. The Haida people have chosen to let their history return to the earth, as it always has, rather than have Parks Canada follow their usual mandate of preserving history.IMG_5093

We were most impressed by the Watchmen. This ancient term refers to Haida who spend the summer in each historic location. They are provided with a small house with a wood stove and basic comforts. Here they work for the summer, hosting visitors. They are extremely well spoken, gracious hosts with a wealth of knowledge about their people. Each host told us amazing stories. Haida Gwaii is made up of stories and the oral history seems alive and well. We heard stories of how people first came to populate the earth when Raven found a clamshell full of little people on Rose Spit. He pried open the shell and the people spilled out. Raven also brought light to the world.

IMG_5011Bear married a woman who gave birth to bear cubs and in return he gave hunting powers to humans. There are many tales of super natural beings in this land. Mostly, these are people wearing animal cloaks. Eagle, Raven, Whale, Bear – they all have specific powers and fascinating stories. Haida also strongly believe in reincarnation.

One of the men who told stories, told us of the impressive oral history. “When I was about 10 years old,” he said, “my uncle called me into his house and told me a 2 hour story. The next night I had to come back and tell the story back to him without embellishing, best as I could.”

This repeated night after night until he had memorized much of his own history. The tradition continues today as he tells his daughter the ancient tales and makes her tell them back to him.

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We learned to chew spruce tips and licorice root. Even ate herring roe on kelp… As far as wildlife goes, we saw many, many eagles. A few glimpses of whales as well as two bears.

IMG_5132One overnight was spent in Rose Harbour, an old whaling station. Much debris, buildings and rusty tools remind of an era when people caught and processed whales for oil. I found it a sad place to be. The lone woman who lives here, offer a guest house and meals to Moresby Explorers. We ate green from her immense garden and freshly caught ling cod. In the morning she ground grains on her converted exercise bike to make us pancakes with rhubarb sauce from the garden. An outhouse and wood heated shower made it into a rustic adventure.IMG_5175