Land, Sea, People

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

The land

Gwaii Haanas is peppered with islands and islets, bays and inlets, tidal pools and beaches.

Pacific temperate rainforest sweeps from sea level up the slopes of the San Christoval Mountains, which form the backbone of Gwaii Haanas.

At lower elevations, rain and moderate temperatures help to nurture dense, mossy forests of immense western red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees.

Isolated and ice free

Through geological history, the shorelines of Haida Gwaii have risen and fallen. Many islands that are now above sea level were once below it and vice versa.

Map showing the geological history of Haida Gwaii’s shorelines

The shape of Haida Gwaii changed as the sea level rose. From left to right: circa 14,000 years ago, ca. 12,000 years ago and ca. 10,800 years ago

The sea

Within Gwaii Haanas’s marine realm there is an extraordinary diversity of ecological features, habitat and creatures.

Under the waters of the Hecate Strait lie the contours of a former tundra-like plain, with meandering rivers, lakes and beach terraces - a landscape drowned when sea levels rose after the last ice age.

Diver swims through kelp
A diver in kelp © M. Heibert

Off the west coast of Gwaii Haanas, the Queen Charlotte Shelf drops away abruptly to 2,500 metres, transitioning dramatically from the up thrust landmass of the islands, to shallow shelf, continental slope and deep ocean abyss. These "ecological edges" make for great biological richness.

Only a fraction of the complex interrelationships between marine plants, animals and their surroundings can be witnessed from the surface.

Wonders of the underwater world

Pacific salmon by the tens of thousands jostle their way up coastal streams to spawn, die and feed the forest each fall.

Millions of herring return to spawn, turning protected shorelines and inlets a frothy milky blue.

Underwater life in Gwaii Haanas
Bat stars

Decades old rockfish meander among hundreds-year-old coral forests in the deep sea. Sablefish, a deep water dweller, spends its adult life at depths greater than 1,500 metres.

Kelp forests are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. They provide habitat for many species, from sea stars and marine worms, to fish and marine mammals.

The Intertidal secrets

Twice a day, the receding tide reveals a kaleidoscope of life – limpets, periwinkle snails, mussels, chitons, and more.

Turn over a rock at low tide and see shore crabs shuffle for cover. Lift the shelter of seaweed and discover a juvenile octopus awaiting the flood tide.

Witness a nudibranch hidden in the eelgrass meadows. Or enjoy the colourful array of bat stars in a sheltered zone.

The people

A home for generations
Visitors guided by a watchmen at SGang Gwaay
Visitors at SG̱ang Gwaay

Archaeological evidence of human habitation on these islands dates back over 12,500 years and generations of Haida have been and still are nourished by the rich abundance of Haida Gwaii.

The Haida developed a complex society on these “Islands of Beauty” thanks to readily accessible food and resources like the mighty cedar tree. World-renowned Haida artist, Bill Reid, describes its significance:

Oh, the cedar tree!
If mankind in its infancy
had prayed for the perfect substance
for all materials and aesthetic needs,
an indulgent god could have provided
nothing better.

Bill Reid
Out of the Silence

Both red and yellow cedars are used for a variety of purposes: the bark is woven into clothing and baskets, and the wood is used for masks, bentwood boxes, houses and monumental poles and the ingeniously designed Haida dug-out canoe.

In the Haida worldview, everything is connected to everything else. Yahguudang is the Haida word that encompasses the idea of "respect for all living things".

Come to Gwaii Haanas to discover more about the complex society, oral histories and artistic expressions of the Haida.

Date modified :