Trip Ideas

Northern BC Aboriginal Culture

Northern British Columbia is rich in scenery, wildlife and especially Aboriginal culture. Paddle a kayak to ancient village sites in Haida Gwaii or admire Tsimshian artifacts in Prince Rupert. You can even join a First Nations guide to hike across a lava bed at Nisga’a Provincial Park. Explore history and art, both ancient and modern, at cultural centres like ‘Ksan Historical Village and The Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the many smaller Aboriginal-run galleries and studios in the area.


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MAP LEGEND
  1. Haida Gwaii
  2. Port Hardy
  3. Prince Rupert
  4. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary
  5. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
  6. Nisga’a Provincial Park
     

Inside Passage Ferry

Inside Passage. Photo Credit: BC Ferries

Start a Northern tour with a ferry ride turned wildlife cruise on the Inside Passage. BC Ferries’ MV Northern Adventure makes the 15-hour journey year-round between Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert on the North Coast. Cruise past deep fjords and forested islands, spotting whales, seals, sea lions and sea birds en route.

Prince Rupert

In Prince Rupert, enjoy the scenery (try an ocean view room at the Crest Hotel) then head out to explore this rugged fishing town. Discover Tsimshian art and technology, and catch a live dance performance at the Museum of Northern British Columbia. Set in a stunning waterfront longhouse, it’s just steps from the shops and galleries of the funky Cow Bay neighbourhood. Order seafood fresh from the boats at Breakers or Cow Bay Café, or grab a coffee and some local news at Cowpuccino’s. From the Cow Bay docks, charter a boat and cast a line for some of the North Coast’s legendary salmon, or join a kayak guide to navigate the surrounding fjords and islets.

For more adventure near Prince Rupert, hike along the newly opened Metlakatla Wilderness Trail, a 10-km/6-mi path of wooden walkways and bridges along the undeveloped coast, just a short ferry ride from Prince Rupert. Or wander the quiet boardwalks and abandoned bunkhouses of the North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site, the oldest surviving cannery on the west coast of North America. In summer, quench your grizzly bear curiosity from a safe distance at the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. Home to one of North America’s largest concentration of grizzly bears, it’s accessible only by boat; chances are you’ll spot Orcas, porpoises and humpback whales too.

Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)

Haida Heritage Centre. Photo Credit: Tom Ryan

Haida Gwaii is a remote archipelago about an hour’s flight or approximately seven hours by ferry from Prince Rupert. It’s also among the most culturally, archaeologically and ecologically rich places on earth.

Make your first stop The Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay and immerse yourself in Aboriginal history. This 21st-century cultural centre in the village of Skidegate is a modern take on an ancient village that once stood on this site. Watch artists at work in the carving shed, try some fried bread or clam fritters in the Eating House and see examples of modern works at the temporary exhibit gallery. Try and catch a live music and dance performance in the theatre, or meet young artists honing skills at the Bill Reid Teaching Centre on site. The heart of the centre is the Haida Gwaii Museum, where artifacts, art and technology reflect thousands of years of settlement on the islands.

You will find that most of the accommodations in nearby Queen Charlotte City are cozy, low key and family run; a favourite is Dorothy and Mike’s Guest House, complete with an ocean view deck and infrared sauna.

Staying a while? Travel about 40 minutes north and settle into a riverside room at Haida House at Tllaal. Pick from day or multi-day packages and join a Haida cultural ambassador on anything from beach hikes, canoe tours and salmon fishing to Haida feasts and helicopter flight-seeing. Come evening, savour traditional foods at the restaurant and have a spa treatment arranged nearby.

Gwaii Haanas

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. Photo Credit: © Daryl Benson/Masterfile

Let your spirit wander in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Travel by boat or kayak through this remote, roadless wilderness in southern Haida Gwaii. Five hundred archaeological sites scattered among 138 forested islands include SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best surviving examples of a Northwest Coast First Nations village site. You can explore this area by taking a boat or kayak tour with Moresby Explorers, by sailboat with Anvil Cove Charters, or tour the park with the First Nations-owned and operated Haida Expeditions.

Nisga’a Provincial Park

Back on the mainland, head east along Northern BC’s storied Highway 16 to Nisga’a Provincial Park, the site of a volcanic eruption 250 years ago. Join a Nisga’a guide to trek across a moonscape of hardened lava, and learn the history and legends of the Nisga’a people and about the villages destroyed by the lava flow.

‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum

‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum. Photo Credit: Peter Langer

In the frontier town of Old Hazelton is 'Ksan, a village of seven houses built to replicate a Gitxsan community that stood on the same riverbank site for centuries. Each of the longhouses, set in a row facing the river, reveals a different aspect of Gitxsan culture. Learn about feast traditions at the Wolf House, hear tales and legends of the distant past at the Frog House, and see dance regalia in the Fireweed House.

Gitxsan guides also help interpret the village’s many totem poles – revealing, for example, that the key figure is at the bottom, not the top, and that the poles have intense connections to the natural world. More poles, both ancient and modern, stand in the nearby villages of Kispiox, Kitwanga and Kitwancool. If you are looking for an overnight stay, try pulling into the Hudson Bay Lodge, a family run hotel in Alpine-themed Smithers.