Adventure 2017: Hugh Newton — Sea kayaking Haida Gwaii
March 28, 2017
Sea kayaking through the remnants of a lost civilization was sobering and scintillating for Hugh Newton last summer. On a seven-day trip through British Columbia's Gwaii Haanas National Park along the east coast of Moresby Island, every stroke took them father back in time to when the Haida people flourished.
"It made you realize how well established that civilization was," Newton says. "The park service is trying to preserve what's left of their culture, but there's not much left. It's almost a mortuary."
Known for their craftsmanship, trading skills and seamanship in large red-cedar canoes, the Haida settled in Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands and Inside Passage of Alaska more than 8,000 years ago. But their numbers were decimated upon the arrival of European settlers and smallpox. By 1911, it's estimated only 589 Haida natives remained, a number that has since grown back to 4,000. And the best way to see the lost civilization is by sea kayak.
With a group of friends from Canada, Newton did just that, taking a Zodiac Aug. 25 out of Sand Spit on Moresby Island three hours south to the national park. From there, they paddled 60 miles down Hecate Strait to Rose Harbor, camping among old growth forest and relics of a civilization known as People of the Cedar.
"Every place you could land a boat there was evidence of the indigenous inhabitants, from village sites to totem poles and middens," Newton says. "You could see how great that nation once was. It's sad to realize how quickly it disappeared."
As for the paddling, it was "pretty protected waters most of the way" but still involved several long crossings and negotiating waves. "That area is relatively shallow, which magnifies the wind chop," he says. "You can't take it lightly." On one day, he adds, they had to turn back twice during a three-mile crossing due to six-foot swells and two-foot chop.
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His favorite part of the trip, he adds, was exploring the area's massive, old growth rainforest. "It's never been logged," he says. "It was very powerful and peaceful."
As for sea kayaking among the lost Haida civilization, he says it was unlike any other paddling trip he's ever done. "It's a beautiful yet haunting place," he says. "Given the powerful native culture than once inhabited the area, the village sites now feel like a graveyard."