Tansy Visits a World Heritage Site


Oh my, so many stairs!

While sailing aboard the schooner Passing Cloud one of the most anticipated stops, if the weather allows, is at the Haida village site called SGang Gwaay Llnagaay.

SGang Gwaay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (formerly known as Ninstints) on the south-west side of the Gwaii Haanas protected area (see this link for a map). Tansy has been here before (see this link for her visit from four years ago) so she was prepared for the boardwalk from the anchorage – it is a short walk for humans, but a demanding outing for a Hitty.


A long walk for a Hitty.

After stopping at the watchman’s cabin, where Harold one of the Haida Watchmen joined the group to give a tour of the site, Tansy continued on past the boardwalk, though a small ravine and onto the beach in front of the old Haida village.


Final approach to the site.


The beach in front of SGang Gwaay

Once in the site the areas where one may walk are marked out with clam shells. Harold gave the visitors a very interesting talk about the different poles and the history of the site.


Watchman Harold explaining the history of the site.

 There are three main kinds of carved poles that stood at this village, though most of those that remain are Mortuary Poles. Mortuary Poles held the remains of an important person in a cavity in the top of the pole, which formerly had a very large panel attached in front, with a carved or painted crest on it.


One of many Mortuary Poles

 Memorial Poles were erected when the body of the person could not be brought home, perhaps they died at sea or were killed far afield in a war.  Memorial and Mortuary poles stood in front of the village, a bit in front of the houses.


A Bear Crest!

House Frontal poles are attached to the middle of the front of the house and usually have an entrance hole in them that serves as a doorway into the house. Carved on them are the crests of the clan chief that resides in the house – the crests tell the clan history and symbolise the rights and titles that the clan holds in their territories. They also allow visitors to see who lives in which house, and to find relatives to stay with.



Rear Corner Post of Chief Xoya’s House

The older houses are usually a bit smaller and only have two main roof beams. The later houses, and the more important chiefs, had six beam houses. You can find out more about Haida houses at this link which also has some historical photographs from Hlñinul Llnagaay or Cumshewa (a different Haida village).


Looking from the back of Chief Xoya’s house across the six fallen roof beams to the poles in front.

A shelter at the end of the village gave Tansy a chance to shed her damp rain coat for a while and inspect some shells.


Someone’s shell collection.

After a brief rest, it was time to head back to the Passing Cloud, and then off to the next adventure.


One last quiet moment at the end of the village before heading back to the Passing Cloud.


It was a lumpy crossing from SGang Gwaay over to Moresby Island but Tansy does not suffer from motion sickness and was glad to watch the ocean from the dry wheelhouse. The video below shows part of the ride during that crossing.

11 thoughts on “Tansy Visits a World Heritage Site

  1. What a beautiful and interesting place! Only imagine – all those tree ancestors and the huge things they have contributed in making here! I feel so tiny just looking at them in photos, it must have been wonderful to be near them.
    Roberta N-Q-Hitty xxx

  2. It’s hard to put into words my experience of viewing this story. It started with the gorgeous boardwalk that was noticeably built to escort the beauty of its surroundings. The beauty was rhythmic and alluringly welcoming. The climax (for me) were the poles. OH MY…. those poles. You know the feeling you get at times when something so profound takes your soul spiraling? That’s kind of what happened to me in viewing this. When I look at my Hittys (everyone’s Hittys for that matter) I am acutely aware of the fact that each one of them started their lives as living, growing trees. My sister recently purchased a large giant sequoia branch and carved two more Hittys for me. I look at them and think, my God, they are 2 to 3 thousand years old…I think that when I view the block twins…as old as the dinosaurs. When I read about trees/poles interring the remains of special people I thought” Humans to trees and trees to human forms in Hittys” …so hallowed. I guess this could sound glib…but it’s the furthest thing from what I am experiencing. Those mythical dolphins surrounding this blessed island is understandable after viewing this amazing island. Thank You.

    • The separation between living and spiritual things is gossamer thin in places like this. Tansy and her photographer friend are so lucky to have experience this, and generous to share it with us!

  3. What a privilege to be able to visit the site and view it through Hitty’s eyes! Thanks to her Photographer for all his attention and wonderful photos!

  4. Thank you for the link that explained so much of the architecture and history. And thank you for these magical photos…that walk way thru the woods….amazing.

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