by Aaron Saunders

Haida CultureCourtesy of Destination British Columbia

Located off the coast of British Columbia, just north of Vancouver Island, is Haida Gwaii: an archipelago that is as prized for its natural beauty as for its rich and often complicated history intertwined with the Haida First Nation. In fact, Haida Gwaii literally means, “Islands of the Haida People.”

You might recognize Haida Gwaii better under its former name of the Queen Charlotte Islands. During colonial times, as many as 10,000 people called Haida Gwaii home. Today, less than half of that population exists. The ceremonial totem and mortuary poles that once stood tall on the driftwood-strewn beaches are slowly crumbling, along with the ceremonial longhouses that were the ancestral home of the Haida people.

Much of the archipelago is known as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay (pronounced skung-why). Here, the ancient homelands of the Haida people are slowly being reclaimed by the land. A simple walk through these protected forests (looked after by local Haida residents known as “Watchmen”) reveals the fallen timbers of old ceremonial huts and intricately carved wooden poles, overgrow with moss and vegetation.

Haida Gwaii BearCourtesy of Jon McCormack Photo/iStock

Off to the east of the island archipelago is the Great Bear Rainforest, home to the famous Kermode, or Spirit Bear, revered by the Haida people. This rare subspecies of black bear, with its gorgeous snow-white coat lives in this protected, old-growth forest - and nowhere else in the world.

A visit to Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest, two of Canada's most beautiful and untouched destinations, is an experience that will change the way you see the wilderness.

Originally published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Winter/Spring 2017 issue. 

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