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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Queen Charlotte City to St John's Harbour

Sunday June 5th 9:00 am we headed up to the Purple Onion for free Internet and breakfast. The people in this town are so very friendly. Next stop was the Tourism Information Center there we met a great couple, Sergius and Mavis. Sergius is 94 years young and has lived on the Island for 90 years.
He has seen many changes and was a great source of knowledge, as was Mavis, who taught school here for years.
Next, it was up town to do our laundry and take a walk, checking out the car rentals and town sites. 5:00pm back to Steel Eagle for steak dinner and some guitar with Bill and Lyn.
On July 22, 1908, Queen Charlotte City became the first registered town site on the Islands and incorporated as a village in 2005. Population: 948. The village offers the ambience of a small town by the docks with supplies, liquor store, post office, interesting shops and cafes.
On Monday we picked up our rental car after Wayne and Gracie did up the necessary paper work and we were on our way. (Gracie is looking for a husband if any of you are interested.)
We actually had wheels again. Our first order of business was to get to the Gwaii Hanaas National Park office and Haida Heritage Centre for our registration and orientation, which is mandatory before entering the park.
After the orientation and viewing of the beautiful Haida Heritage Site we headed north, our first stop, Skidegate. Although the village has changed over the years, this is now and has been for hundreds of years, a home to Haida families.
Skidegate is home to about 800 people, including some world famous carvers and artist. The Sitka Longhouse Gallery and Gift shop gave us our first taste of unique native art, and Haida designs. Bill Reid, (one of Haida Gwaii’s famous artist) has his dogfish totem pole on display here.
Next stop the balancing rock.

Off to Tlell and the beautiful Tlell River.
This settlement began in 1904 when Mexican Tom set up his ranch here. Other homesteaders soon followed. In 1919 Eric Richardson bought what is now the Richardson Ranch and was joined by other members of his family from England. Sergius, whom we met earlier, was one of them.
Heading west from Tlell, brought us to the quaint little town of Port Clemments, population of 440. During WW1 the town boomed to about 1000 and was a supply center for the many logging camps. Today the main industry is still logging but on a much smaller scale. We visited the Port’s Museum and had a look at life in earlier days. We were told the stories of the famous white raven, and the malicious act of one man cutting down the Golden Spruce, a famous land mark and important entity in Haida culture. Grant Hadwin, the tree slayer, was making the point: “Wake up people, the logging industry is destroying your forests”.
On our return trip back to Queen Charlotte City, we were told we must stop for coffee and see the lovely Sitka Studio, located on the Tlell River and well worth the stop.
Tuesday June 7th at 8:30am, we were back on the road and headed 103 km north to visit Massett, Old Massett, Tow Hill and North Beach.
The village of Old Massett faces the turbulent waters of Massett Sound and has a population of about 600 residents. We loved the street signs in this village.
As we toured the town we found Sarah’s Haida Arts and Jewellery shop, as well as many totem poles.
Next stop was Tow Hill Park and campground for a picnic lunch. Thank goodness there was a cookhouse for us to use as the wind was howling out on the beach.
Tow Hill itself is a towering landmark of basalt visible for miles. We took the boardwalk hike up to the top for a breathtaking view of Rose Point and North Beach.
Last stop before heading back to Massett for provisions was Wendy’s “Moon Over Naidoon”, Bakery/Coffee shop, cute place, great lattes. Not your average Starbucks!
Wednesday June 8th Wayne returned the car and took our used oil up town, as it was time for an oil change on Steel Eagle. Then off to Queen B’s to meet Mavis and Sergius for lunch. Great food; and wonderful entertaining stories from our new friends.
Shopping in town, a few last minutes items to pick up, mail the post cards, and then off to the Pub for the Hockey game.
Thursday June 9th 7:00 am. Under sunny skies we departed Queen Charlotte City. The seas were calm with 1 foot swell out on Hecate Straight. By 1:00pm we had coasted our way through the lovely Cumshawa Inlet and dropped the anchor in Gordon Cove, and were enjoyed the sunny afternoon on the deck.
Friday June 10th 7:30 am departed Gordon Cove to traverse the tricky Louise Channel.

We had a look at Trotter Bay then decided to anchor in Cecile Cove as it gave better protection from the wind. After lunch we took out the prawn trap to try our luck once more.
Bill and Lyn stopped over in their dingy to take us to shore for a hike. They have dingy wheels, so it is easier to land the dingy on shore. Just as Lyn and I got on the beach, Wayne whistled for us to come back as he had spotted a big black bear, down the bay, coming our way. The Queen Charlottes have the largest black bears in North America because of the readily available food supply. This one was a huge boar and we did not intend to be part of his food supply. So our walk was very short to say the least, more like a sprint back to the dingy! Later, we all enjoyed Hockey Night in Canada on XM Radio aboard Steel Eagle.
June 11th saw our first visit to a heritage site. We anchored off the beach at Taanuu and radioed in for permission to come ashore. We were greeted by Sean, a native Haida, and walked through the remains of the old village, which at one time included 25 to 40 longhouses along with 31 mortuary columns and 15 mortuary houses. The house depressions and fallen, moss grown house posts give a vivid sense of the layout of the whole village.
Sean, an archaeologist, and Helen, an anthropologist, gave us a most informative tour, answering all kinds of questions while making us feel most welcome. Many of the poles had been removed by the Government, in their wisdom, or treasure hunters and carried off, some to be sold around the world. Recently, a number of them have turned up in a warehouse in Victoria and the Haida will pursue having them returned. We exchanged Alberta farm honey for some of Helen’s Taanuu huckleberry jelly. Well worth the visit! That night we anchored in Echo Harbour, were we stayed and waited out the impending storm front with winds forecast to 30 knots.
Pot luck supper with 3 other boats we had met in Queen Charlotte City. Last Mango ( Dave and Susie ) from Panama, Dave has worked doing forensic accounting all over the world; Ibis ( Bill ) from Camano Washington who has worked as a photographer and writer all over the world and Estrellita ( Carol and Livia ), Carol, a Canadian Forces Sea King Helicopter pilot, who mostly flew off frigates and took his early retirement at age 38.
We reunited on Last Mango the following evening as we found out we had 3 guitar players in the crowd, although Dave shone with his lightning fingers, adding lead licks to anything Bill ( from Canik ) or Wayne could strum.
Although our permit to Gwaii Haanas starts June 12th, we will stay put one more night, waiting for the weather front to pass. We are finding that travel is one of the laziest ways on earth to pass the time. It’s much harder to stay home and be polite to people and face things (like the sewage back up at Alana and Kevin’s ). Better the boastful charade of pretending to be an adventurer. We are never in a hurry, in a distant place, where no one knows you; nearly always a plus. And you can pretend to be different from the person people know you are at home.

Sunday; some went fishing and we tried our luck again for prawns but none to be had. I think we need Al and Irene to bring us some luck back. Monday we hosted the group for fresh cinnamon buns on the Steel Eagle. Yum, Yum!
Wayne made a quick repair to remove a blockage in the vacuflush sewage pump then tried it out a few times to make sure all was functioning. Lesson learned – Don’t ever, ever push the button while still seated! A quiet afternoon was spent reading and snoozing before the Hockey Game.
Tuesday June 14th we headed down Darwin Sound, through Faraday Passage and into the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. This is a place of great natural beauty. It’s a place of contrasts: wild, open seas and calm, secluded bays, fierce winter storms and in turn perfect summer days. Gwaii Haanas is located in the island chain known as Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands. For more than ten thousand years, the Haida have been and intregal part of this remarkable landscape. The Haida knowledge of the land and water was intimate and stretches deep in time. Because of their connection to the environment the Haida led the effort to stop logging in Gwaii Hannas to protect its natural, cultural and spiritual values. In 1985, a standoff took place on Lyell Island between the Haida and the logging industry. This brought the conflict to a head and drew national attention. Hlk├Żah Lllnagaay (Windy Bay) was one of the sites where the protesting took place and the “Blinking Eye House” was constructed to house the people during the blockade.
We anchored in the protected waters of Murchison Island so that Windy Bay and Hot Springs Island were easily accessible.
Wednesday June 15th we decided the best way to get us all to Windy Bay, to see the sights, was for everyone to board Steel Eagle and just take one boat over. Upon our arrival we were greeted by the Watchman, Marina, Karla and her son Antony. We visited the Blinking Eye House and were greeted by six BC parks employees, who were having a conference on some of the issues that need to be addressed in the area. The Watchmen had just arrived the day before and had not walked the trails yet, so we had some trouble finding the trail to one of the largest Sitka spruce still standing in the area. There had been a lot of blow down in the winter and a crew was also on scene to clear the trail out. One of them rescued our dingy while we were on the trail. The tides here range about 20 feet, and it takes no time for such things to just float off.

Thursday June 16 10:00 am Dave’s dingy taxi service, arrived to pick everyone up and we boarded Last Mango for the trip to Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay (Hotsprings Island). Here the small hot spring system that gives the island its name, warms the thin soils and keeps the forest at bay. The spring seeps from at least 26 small vents, at temperatures ranging from 89-170 degrees F. Once again the watchmen greeted us with a warm welcome. Michael, his girlfriend (whom we did not meet) and Irene are stationed there for six weeks, we think they have been allocated the best site as the hot pools are so rewarding. A great place to sit around showing off one’s breeding while eating up the family fortune. This place would get working for a living out of your blood early.

There were three pools, the upper pool, the view of the bay pool, and the beach pool. We found the beach pool to be the hottest. After a long soak and warm showers we headed back to the cabin to visit. Michael is an avid fisherman and had caught a nice halibut which he estimated about 40lbs. He claimed his freezers were full and graciously offered it to us. A rather large trade for the farm honey that I had to offer them. Ah, just another small taste of paradise.

Wayne at the helm Last Mango

Friday June 17th 10:00am and we headed to shore for some beach combing and bird watching. We found a pair of oyster catchers with a nest on the rocks and they were not happy that we were invading their territory, so we stayed well back. 2:00pm the tide was high enough for us to depart Murchison Island and make our way south to Matheson Inlet. It was Susie’s birthday so Lyn made a beautiful chocolate cake and we had a halibut feast aboard Last Mango. The evening ended with guitars and singing, lots of fun.

Saturday June 18th having to wait for high tide to depart, we scooted off to the beach for a hike.
2:00pm we departed Matheson Inlet and headed for Island Bay. On route Lyn and Bill spotted a humpback whale but we missed it. It was a nice sunny day and a good time to do some waxing on Steel Eagle. Chile for dinner and then movie night.
Sunday June 19th HAPPY FATHERS DAY! 10:00am Once again Dave’s dingy taxi service picked us up and we were off to reconnoitre the infamous Dolomite Narrows. These narrows are locally known as Burnaby Narrows. They are very poorly charted and a significant challenge for navigators. Our first attempt at the narrows was quickly abandoned as it was much too shallow so we turned back and walked the beaches while we waited.

Parks’ surveys have found 293 species of tidal and intertidal life here; they calculate that more protein per square meter exists here than any place in the world. We observed many unusual and beautiful creatures. Once the tide came up we were able to take the dingy safely through the narrows. Then the three captains (all in one dingy) debated taking the big ships through. It was decided to take the outside route around Burnaby Island and leave the narrows to those with nerves of steel.
Monday June 20th 7:00am hauled up the anchor and sailed back out on Hecate Straights. With such calm waters, we decided to keep going the full distance to Rose Harbour. In route we finally spotted sea lions barking away on Joyce Island. (Must have been named; after my Mom!) What a site!

Rose Harbour is located on Kunghit Island and was the last anchorage we stayed at in Gwaaii Haanas. We were able to pick up a mooring buoy. Our books told us there were many along the way but not true. Entering the Harbour, expecting to see a community, you wonder where it is. There are a few small dwellings, which include Patrick Lemaire’s guest house and kayak rental. Susan Cohen’ raises vegetables and caters dinners for any visiting boats or kayakers; if you call her “Old Squaw”ahead. Just east of Susan, Gotz Hanisch, runs a guest house and guided tour operation. Airplanes are not permitted over SGang Gwaay so the planes land at Rose Harbour and Gotz or Patrick ferry them, by zodiac over to Anthony Island. We jumped in the dingy and for a trip to shore to meet Susan and have a look at the old whaling station ruins. Susan is one of the long time residents and has been here for over 25 years. Rose Harbour is owned by a private company with 14 shares and 11 shareholders, it’s the only privately owned land in Gwaii Haanas.
The Whaling Station was active until 1942, employing a hundred men seasonally and processed an estimated 2000 whales. The smell was apparently so bad, that some supply ships demanded an extra fee just to stop, as the smell clung to their clothes. The boiler and whale bone digesters are still rusting on the beach.

Tuesday June21st 9:30 am we boarded Last Mango. They graciously offered to take us over to SGang Gwayy, as there was only one small protected anchorage area. This was our last stop before leaving the Queen Charlottes and the most impressive. The remains of the mortuary poles, from before 1900, still remain standing. However the totem poles and house frontal poles were removed in the 1950’s. Mortuary poles are sacred, as important tribesmen were laid to rest in a box at the top. This village has been abandoned for many years as small pox had decimated the Haida people. Once thought to number 15 to 20,000 individuals, the small pox epidemic reduced them to 3 to 500. Consequently many villages were abandoned as the remaining Haida moved to the two centers, Skidegate and Massatt.

As we waited for Jordon to return to give our tour, Shirley, his mother, recounted much of her history including her stay at the residence school in Edmonton. The removal of native children from their parents to “whiteanize” them is a tragic part of Canadian History.

Jordan gave us a very informative tour, as he has spent many summers as watchman at SGang Gwaay. The old village site was located behind a rocky outcrop, barely visible from the sea. This also provided protection, through a narrow entrance, from warring enemies and winter storms.
Wednesday June 22nd we were up at 4:00am to depart and cross Hecate Straight to St. John Harbour. The 97 mile trip takes you far enough out to sea that land is no longer visible in any direction. However, about half way across, over the northern horizon, came the cruise ship Crystal Symphony. She was a big ship – bigger than our home town!

7:00 pm as we lay anchor in St John’s Harbour,
Bill and Lyn radioed us with the great news of the safe arrival our new granddaughter, Leah Isabelle Casement 8lbs 3 oz we were so happy that all was well. Congratulations Alana and Kevin!