The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole

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Guest post by Heather Ramsay, Parks Canada

After more than a year of preparation, with three carvers transforming a 500-year-old tree into a work of art chip by red cedar chip, the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole finally stands.

Always a beautiful place, Hlk’yah GawGa or Windy Bay on Lyell Island, is now even more distinctive. Visitors who make it to this bay on the exposed east coast of Gwaii Haanas (or Haida Gwaii), are welcomed by Haida Gwaii Watchmen, the guardians of historic village sites. The Looking around Blinking House has stood for more than two dozen years as a monument to the Haida blockade in the mid-1980s that led to the protection of Gwaii Haanas. A short walk into the forest, has led thousands of people to an enormous Sitka Spruce tree … a tree so big that a party of eight can barely join hands around it.

Windy Bay Haida Gwaii Watchman Site, Gwaii Haanas, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada.

Photo: Neil Ever Osborne

Photo: Neil Ever Osborne

But the beautiful Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole, the first pole raised in Gwaii Haanas in over 130 years, provides a new compelling reason to visit. In August, the pole, which celebrates 20 years of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada working together to protect one of Canada’s most special places, was raised with the help of the 400 people.

Raising the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole in Haida Gwaii, BC

Photo: Jason Shafto

Carved by Jaalen Edenshaw, Gwaai Edenshaw, Tyler York and John Brent Bennett, the pole tells stories that celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement in 1993, an unprecedented coming together of First Nations and federal government to protect terrestrial, marine and cultural features in the southern third of Haida Gwaii. The Sculpin at the bottom and the Eagle at the top represent the protection from seafloor to mountaintop that Gwaii Haanas enjoys. The Grizzly Bear represents work done by Parks Canada and Haida archaeologists to reveal the ancient past of the area where people and bears roamed 12,000 years ago. The Five People Standing Together represent those who stood on the line at Lyell Island in 1985 and all those who’ve worked to protect the area ever since.

Raising of the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole in Haida Gwaii, BC

Photo: Neil Ever Osborne

That cooperation among partners was at play during the pole raising. Parks Canada staff, and representatives of our partner agencies, the Council of the Haida Nation, the Haida Gwaii Watchmen, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the RCMP and the Province of BC, helped shuttle people to the site from the many tour operator and personal boats anchored off shore. We served jam, a traditional Haida soup, set up speaking areas, wrapped the ropes around the pole, kept people safe on the lines, and cleaned up the site after everyone went home.

The ceremony was powerful and for many people, including those who watched via Livestream, seeing the pole go from horizontal to standing was the defining moment of this celebratory event. Many hands pulled and steadied the carved monument as it creaked and teetered and finally slid with a thud into the prepared hole. After our year of preparations, it all seemed to happen so fast.

Watch a video of the raising of Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole: