Tuesday, 5th September, 2017

Another moving day. We had to be in Canmore by noon and the drive is over four hours so an early start in order. We checked in but couldn’t get the key card until later. So we waited to meet with Marc and Jill. Marc is Jennifer’s cousin from the other side of her family. The two had had several adventures together as children but hadn’t seen each other for  over 30 years. Fortunately we all hit it off at once. (Strange expression that – “hit it off” – don’t you think.)

It was another warm day – over 30 C. We went into town and sat on a patio for lunch and beer and wine. We talked. Then we went for a walk through the town and ended up on a short trail along one of the creeks. We talked. Then we came back to our hotel and sat on our little balcony and we talked. Finally, about 4:30 or 5:00 it became clear that as they had a four hour drive home through the mountains, they had to leave. It can’t be another 30-odd years before we meet again.

There are several small creeks running through

We two shared a small pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. I should add that this town, right on the border with BC is also shrouded in a light haze of smoke. The mountains are hard up to the town and just indistinct shadows. The smoke is often lighter in the morning. Perhaps we’ll get a better view then.

The mountains are right up to the town but no details are visible due to the smoke from forest fires in BC.

Monday, 4th September, 2017

Moving day. We checked out of the hotel and drove up to Medicine Hat where we checked into the Hampton Inn.  Brand new hotel and very nice.  After lunch we met Keith and Val again (this is where they live) and they drove us the 65 km to the Cyprus Hills Interprovincial Park.

View over a part of the Cypress Hills Park

The park straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is an area of highlands that were never glaciated.  The land was built up of alluvial deposits and eroded by streams.  We had a vantage point to look down into Montana in the US.  The land is steeply hilly chopped up  by ravines, but soft, not sharp. One starts to understand the independent nature of people who have to ranch on that land.

On the way out we saw a small herd of antelope. There seems to mostly ranching here. It is too hilly for grain farming. The park is divided into sections, with on being reserved for nature and another for camping and recreational use.

Later we met for dinner before saying our goodbye’s.

Sunday, 3rd September, 2017

We went to meet the whole gang again for brunch at an old family watering hole. Once again, a lovely time had. At the end of the meal it was hugs and photos and goodbyes, except for one couple we will see later.

Entrance to the Nikka Yaku Japanese Garden on Lake Henderson in Lethbridge.

Jennifer and I went back to Lake Henderson so we could tour the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens. These were a Centennial project and of course now 50 years old and nicely mature. The Japanese designer used Japanese style together with Canadian themes and plant material in his design.  The Japanese style pavilion is used for events such as tea ceremonies, although this long weekend there was nothing going on.

Tree and rocks in the Nikka Yaku Garden

Following that we went to see Fort Whoop-Up museum. Situated on the Oldman River and built as Fort Hamilton, it was the first of the whisky trading posts in the Northwest Territories. The two partners made the equivalent of $800,000 in today’s dollars in their first winters. No wonder it became the model for so many more such posts before the Northwest Mounted Police were formed and sent out to shut them down.

Nearby is a walking trail with a nice view of a spectacular railway bridge and the Oldman River. This steel viaduct was built 1907-1909. It is 1,624 m long and 97.5 m high and the largest of its type in the world.

One end of a 1,624 m long railway viaduct over the Oldman River near Lethbridge

Later we met Keith and Val again for dinner before returning to the hotel for the night. A violent wind suddenly sprang up and the metal patio furniture several floors down swirled around, corralled by the fence around the patio.  I went out to experience a prairie wind and noticed the sky which had suddenly turned a threatening colour. Within ten or 15 minutes it was over. Next morning the cars had ash on them.

Threatening sky during sudden wind at Lethbridge

Saturday, 2nd September, 2017

After leaving Toronto at 9:00 we arrived in Calgary around 11:30 local time. After collecting the luggage we went to secure the rental car. They upgraded us to a Chevrolet Traverse. This is a bigger car than we need, but is quite nice. 

We followed the Google Maps directions and after two-and-a-bit hours got to Lethbridge where we checked into our hotel. Being Gold members of the loyalty programme, we got the second upgrade of the day to an executive suite.  Not expecting that too often as we go.

We were to meet some of Jennifer’s cousins and their families for a picnic so the first order of business was to find some picnic food. That accomplished to went off the Henderson Lake in the city to find the others. It was a great get-together with some lovely people, only one of whom I had met before.

Forest fire smoke and ash in the atmosphere turned the moon over Lethbridge red.

The air was a bit smokey as the forest fires from Montana have moved into BC. Although they are two hundred kilometers and a mountain range away we are getting smoke here. The moon was bright orange and an extreme air quality alert issued.

Tuesday, 2nd August, 2016

No pictures today. After breakfast we checked out and rolled our bags across the street to the terminal where a shuttle took us to the airport.

The airport is on Digby Island, about 20 minutes by ferry. All flights were on time and in fact we arrived home about 30 minutes early. And so ends one of the best vacations we’ve had.

We were away twelve days. One was on the bus, three were on ferries and one was flying. We were not nearly as active as usual and with all the good food I put on three or four pounds. That is the first holiday this has happened for a long time. It will come off pretty quickly so I’m not worried.

The wedding was the best except our own I think. The lodge in Parksville was well run and on a pleasant site, but it is not our sort of place. Way too many people, like a suburb in the woods.

We both very much enjoyed the trip up the inside passage. We had hoped to do a cruise to Alaska but the cruise schedules didn’t work. So this was the next best thing. I’d still like to get to Alaska, especially Glacier Bay, but that will have to wait. Next trip to Haida Gwaii we will fly to Prince Rupert as it will save a couple of days we can spend where we want to be.

We found the islands to be completely relaxing. The islands are over 10,000 sq km with a population just over 4,000, about half Haida. The largest community is the village of Queen Charlotte City at 950. The people that we encountered are friendly and seem quite willing to talk about their lives.

The Haida House is a comfortable place with nice rooms, simply furnished. The staff is excellent. It is owned by the Haida Enterprise Corporation (HaiCo) and it has several aims. One is to provide employment, and to that end the staff works hard to bring visitors outside the main tourist season by hosting small conferences, workshops and retreats. The other is to train people to a high level in the service industry.  They do very well at that.

We made friends there. I’ve never checked out to hugs all around before. I did not observe that to be standard practice. I know we’ll keep in touch and I know we will go back.

In Canada we are used to First Nations bands having to be consulted on issues that affect their land. There is a constant theme to resist development, particularly if it will put at risk traditional hunting lands. I think it is easy for the rest of us to read that as being just another bunch of tree huggers who have been around longer and have better credentials.

I developed a very different view in Haida Gwaii. A large percent of people’s protein comes from the sea and from hunting (we heard over 85% from several sources). This applies to most of the residents. People fish, have crab traps and forage in the inter-tidal zone and if you don’t, you have friends or family who do.  There is lots of barter – you do someone a favour and you may get a salmon. Adam (from kayaking) get his quota of 15 black-tail deer each year. From each he gives half to his parents, keeps a quarter and gives a quarter to someone in need. As they say, we live from the sea, not from the Co-op.

Bringing things the 93 nautical miles from Prince Rupert is very expensive. Our rental car was $168 each way. A trailer of goods is $31 per foot. Food like milk at over $8 for four litres, and flour double in price. So any kind of spill from increased tanker traffic would devastate not just the commercial fishery but the lives of everyone on the islands. So now I understand why there is so much concern.

Monday, 1st August, 2016

Today we start back. We had to leave by 7:30 a.m. in order to cover the 30 minutes drive and be at the ferry line 2 hours in advance of leaving. One other couple was also leaving and several were head by seaplane to Moresby Island. They got a take-away breakfast and a boxed lunch. Those heading for the ferry got an early breakfast. Normal service starts at 7:30.  They are so accommodating here. Here is the Haida House at Tllall with our car. Our room is at the right above the dining room.

Haida House at Tllaal

Haida House at Tllaal

After goodbyes we head off to the ferry. Once aboard we went on deck as usual and I spotted an eagle hunting in the shallow water. He did catch something.  Other than that, the seven hour trip was pretty uneventful. Oh, we did see three whales, but there were no good photo opportunities.

Eagle Hunting in the Shallows at the Skidegate Ferry Terminal

Eagle Hunting in the Shallows at the Skidegate Ferry Terminal

Once back in Prince Rupert, we checked back into the hotel and then went looking for dinner. We ended up at probably the best restaurant in town, where we found the other couple who left the Haida Lodge this morning.

After dinner we repacked for the flight home. This was not a day with much happening.

Sunday, 31st July, 2016

It was clear when we got up but soon there were light clouds.  After breakfast we changed to kayak clothing and drove further north to Port Clements on Massett Inlet for 9:30. To the locals it is simply known as Port. Here we met our guide for the next four hours, Alan Lore. The weather here was dark skies with a strong wind out of the north. The water was very choppy.

We climbed into his truck and towing the kayak trailer, made our way along a few gravel logging roads to our first stop. This is an area with a few old growth trees, mostly cedar and hemlock.  It is an easy 10 minute walk to the Yakoun River to a spot across from where once grew an utterly unique golden  Sitka Spruce. This 300 year old 60 meter specimen was cut down in 1997 by a man with mental problems to protest the clear-cut logging practices (which had spared this tree). Some protest. There are a at least two trees growing from cuttings taken from before it was destroyed. The 40 year old one is only three meters tall. We did see a river otter.

Yakoun River at the Spot Where the Golden Spruce Once Stood

Yakoun River at the Spot Where the Golden Spruce Once Stood

We drove on to where we got kitted out and launched the kayaks. Here we were protected from the wind and the water was quite calm.  We paddled in a big loop among small islands. It was very peaceful and we had a wide ranging conversation on topics from climate change, wind energy, pyrolysis of wood and other biomass, the environment we were paddling through, fertilizer in the river compared to the land and the local economy. This was a continuous conversation that started when we met him and ended when we said our goodbyes. Alan is an interesting character.

On the way back to Port, (see, we’re locals now) we stopped in at an old cedar canoe that lay unfinished and rotting in the forest. They were usually abandoned when one of the main builders died before completion.  There are dozens in the forest, but their locations are not well known except for one that is signposted for tourists. This was a treat. We got back about 1:30.

Roughed Out Canoe Abandoned in the Forest

Roughed Out Canoe Abandoned in the Forest

Alan is like a lot of local young people. He has a post-secondary education, in this case a degree in psychology, but turns his hand to many things to make a living. Besides being a guide, he runs a hostel above his mother’s shop, has a couple of islands he lets out for camping, is a part-time ambulance attendant, and a social worker. He is certainly not living hand to mouth, but it is just part of the way things are to have a plan B and a plan C.

Entering Old Massett

Entering Old Massett

We continued north to Massett and Old Massett. From there we turned  on the road to the north beach and on the way we stopped for lunch at the Moon Over Naikoon Bakery for lunch (it was 2:30 by then). This is an old school bus on a stub of dirt road off the highway. The front half is the kitchen and the back has a few tables. There are more tables outside under a gazebo with a clear roof to let the sun in. As we arrived, other guests from the lodge were just getting up from their lunch. We had Mexican bean soup, pizza and a salad, all home made. It was very good. Jennifer bought a square of cake for later.

Moon Over Naikoon Bakery

Moon Over Naikoon Bakery

Tow Hill is in Naikoon Provincial Park.  A trail goes up the hill, another goes to a blow hole that, with the right tide, shoots water like a geyser. Not the right tide when we were there.  The hill itself is a 125 meter volcanic plug of basalt columns on North Beach. The water side is eroded to a vertical cliff. The trail side is just very steep. The trail is all a wooden boardwalk, but as this is the height of a 40 story residential building you are puffing a bit at the top. The views along the beach are spectacular.

View Along North Beach From Tow Hill

View Along North Beach From Tow Hill

On the way down we took the cross-trail to meet the one to the blow hole. It was, as I mentioned, not blowing, not even a snuffle, so we walked back to the car for the drive home. By now we were an hour-and-a-half away from the Haida Lodge. By the time we got back we had time to change, have a drink and then dinner at 7:00. Another excellent meal. The restaurant seats about 30, even though there are only 10 rooms. They don’t do two complete turns a night but they are certainly busy. The chef at present is French.

ow Hill From the Beach Side

ow Hill From the Beach Side

 

Saturday, 30th July, 2016

Another cloudy morning, and cool with a fine rain blowing in the wind, just enough that you notice but not enough to make you wet.  It didn’t last long. Today we were supposed to go on a Zodiac trip down to an old village site, have a picnic and then tour around on the Zodiac.  The weather there is too rough for this to happen. So, it is off. However, all is not lost. A couple of very important local activities were postponed two weeks ago and are to take place today. More on that anon.

In the dining room of the lodge there is for sale a print by a local artist of some repute called Guujaaw. The print is called Dragonfly and we both loved it. So off we went to a nearby gallery known to carry it.  In fact she had two. We managed to get nearly 20% off the price and she is shipping it home.

Dragonfly by Guujaaw of Masset

Dragonfly by Guujaaw of Masset

From there we moved on to a little open space on the water in Skidegate and waited for the main event – which was a totem pole raising.  This pole replaces a pole at another location in Skidegate that was removed as it was deteriorating. The pole, called the Dogfish Pole, was carved by Bill Reid and is now kept horizontal at the Heritage Centre.

The Unity Pole has the crests of all the clans in the villages that moved to Skidegate after the third smallpox epidemic. Before the first traders arrived  there were over 30,000 Haida on the islands. By the end of the 19th century there were fewer than 600. Those remaining moved to Skidegate for survival. In some cases only a family or part of a family was left from a village.

The Four Carvers

The Four Carvers

This is a hugely important event and businesses closed so everyone can be here and there is a decent crowd.  The pole is blessed by the matriarch, then dancers see off evil, the hereditary chiefs parade down, all the matriarchs throw beads in the hole and then the carvers arrive on the beach in a cedar canoe and are introduced. Then is it all hands to the ropes and up it goes.

All Hands to the Ropes

All Hands to the Ropes

After the raising there is a potlach with hundreds present. All are invited so off we went with some fellow guests from the lodge. It was due to begin at 5:30 but started more or less an hour late.  Once we got up for food it was unlimited, mostly seafood as the food is gathered locally.  Everyone had a small plastic bag at their place in order to collect food to take home. There was just so much – as is tradition.

Starting to Rise

Starting to Rise

After the meal we had speeches – lots as the hereditary chiefs from each the consolidated villages spoke as did every other possible dignitary – carvers, band council, you name it. Only one guy went on way too long. Then started the singing and dancing. It was a great performance. All was over by 10:30 and there was a call to take more food home.

Upright

Upright

On the way out we were handed our gift – each person got an embossed, colour print that had been done by Bill Reid. This is a lovely piece of art and not inexpensive. Traditionally, the potlach is village’s business and legal meeting, and strangers are invited as independent witnesses. Along with the meal they are paid with gifts.

Singers and Dancers Preparing

Singers and Dancers Preparing

We made the 30 minute drive back to the Haida Lodge, dodging the deer in the dark. Not every one managed it. We passed a dead deer, a car in the ditch and people stopped to give assistance. All eyes on the edges of the road after that.

When we got back, Joelle, the manager was up to make sure all her guests got back safely. There is not place like this place. And so ended a set of experiences that only an infinitesimal percent of people will ever have the privilege to share.

Friday, 29th July, 2016

Slept like the dead, and didn’t wake up until nearly 7:30. I think it rained a bit overnight. Breakfast was the chef’s special omelette which was really good. We got a cooler with ice packs for a bottle of wine we’d need later and set out for the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay which is not far from Skidegate (pronounced SKID-i-gat).

Balance Rock Near Skidegate

Balance Rock Near Skidegate

On the way we stopped at Balance Rock and walked along the beach for a while. The beach is an interesting mixture, with a sedimentary base embedded with with harder boulders which seem to be left behind as the softer sedimentary rock erodes. We spent some time walking along the beach looking at the rocks and roots of large trees uprooted and cast on the shore.

Rocks in Roots of Upturned Tree Stump

Rocks in Roots of Upturned Tree Stump

At the interpretive centre we wandered around a bit looking at the six large totem poles. We had a bowl of excellent mushroom soup in the little restaurant (another highly recommended eating place) before meeting our guide, Aay Aay (Andrew) Hans. He took a group of 11 of us, most from the Haida Lodge, on a four hour tour of the museum and site. He explained every totem on each of the six poles. Aay Aay is a weaver and had a piece in a show going on at the centre. He explained a great deal about the Haida, their traditions and myths and culture. It was a long afternoon but well worth the time.

Face of Dog Fish Woman from Totem Pole

Face of Dog Fish Woman from Totem Pole

By the time he was done we had only a short wait before we and several of the group went for dinner at the house of Roberta. She is a famous chef in these parts and has been featured by National Geographic. She provides traditional food which is mainly from the surrounding sea, but includes venison. This is why we needed a bottle of wine, as she is not licensed to sell it but as she works in her home, guests can bring their own.

Face on Beaver Tale from Totem Pole

Face on Beaver Tale from Totem Pole

After dinner we went back to the lodge and went for a nice walk along the river bank. We spotted one of the Black-tailed deer that are so common here. They are an introduced species and have not predators save man. As a result of their being no natural selection pressures they have got smaller and their flight instinct has dulled.

Black-tailed Deer

Black-tailed Deer

Thursday, 28th Juy, 2016

We were able to go for breakfast at a reasonable time today. After checking out we walked across the street and picked up the rental car and drove back the fiver or six minutes to the Prince Rupert BCFerry Terminal.  Prince Rupert is a town of between 10,000 and 11,000. It lives off fishing, tourists and transportation. Apart from the ferry terminal which services a number of runs, there is a Via passenger train station, a container port and around the point, a bulk terminal for grain and coal. Most tourists just pass through as there is little to hold them. The town seems a little down at the heel.

Harbour at Prince Rupert

Harbour at Prince Rupert

It was overcast and the temperatures in the mid-teens. By the time we left port there was a fine drizzle, which didn’t last long. The trip out to Haida Gwaii was uneventful. It is seven hours, part of which is through a group of islands and the bulk across the Hecate Strait with nothing to see but sea and sky. Half the people on the ferry were from the islands and seemed to know one another. If they didn’t know you they quickly made it their business to do so.  We got lots of advice on what to see and do.

Looking Back Whilst Crossing the Hecate Strait

Looking Back Whilst Crossing the Hecate Strait

The archipelago is made up of 150 or so small islands and two large ones, Moresby Island in the south and Graham Island to the north.  We were headed for the ferry port at Skidegate on Graham Island. The islands were a refuge during the last ice age. That is, they weren’t glaciated.  This means the floral and fauna (including humans) have been there far longer than on the mainland. As a result there is a much greater diversity in the number of species.

Turning into Skidegate Channel - Moresby Island in the Background and Graham Island to the Right

Turning into Skidegate Channel – Moresby Island in the Background and Graham Island to the Right

Once landed we drove half-an-hour north to Haida Lodge at Tllaal. The lodge is small as these things go, with only 10 guest rooms. It is a lovely building and famous for it’s cuisine. We met Kathy, the event organizer at dinner and she set out the agenda for the next few days, Turns out she and Jennifer were at both Trent University, and their time would have overlapped by at least one year. It was like old home week.

The meals was fabulous. People come from all around to eat there. After dinner we went a short walk along the river and then over to the beach where we filled out sandals with sand.  We got to bed at a reasonable time for a change.