Gwaii Haanas

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Gwaii Haanas is part of the Tentative list of Canada in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List. It is a proposed extension of SGang Gwaay WHS.

The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site are located on Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago 80 km off the northwest coast of mainland British Columbia, and includes highly diverse living intertidal and subtidal marine communities. It is also strategically located along the Pacific flyway, hosting huge seabird breeding colonies as well as being an important migrant stopover. Two other remarkable former Haida villages, Tanu and Skedans, are located within the park reserve, alongside the SGaang Gwaii World Heritage Site.

Map of Gwaii Haanas

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Zoë Sheng

Chinese-Canadian - 12-Dec-23 -

Gwaii Haanas (T) by Zoë Sheng

Haida Gwaii is in the top 3 of my beloved Canada sites and to think I only visited after such a long time traveling!! I'm also not alone on this and there are quite a few reasons for it which I will get into later. The national park Gwaii Haanas covers the entirety of the southern islands and it's very protected. Therein also lines a world heritage site SGang Gwaay which I am not too fond of by itself because the real unique site is the entire park. Whenever you see Planet Earth and they mention "west coast Canada" they tend to actually show Gwaii Haanas. This is a 5 star site when it ever gets inscribed and I think the main issue is that the Haida nation aren't so super keen on world heritage status and this makes the bureaucracy difficult. It also doesn't need any sort of protection because First Nation protection already supports the area really well.

While you technically can visit the park without a guide there are strict guidelines such as permits, radioing in when driving on the roads and overall unless you do a large tour on your private yacht this isn't going to be worth the trip. Just join a tour it will be worth it, trust me. Therein lies the problem for most tourists: costs! Unlike Siem Riep or Macchu Picchu there are huge cost entries to visit and thus you will not find the gap year students hanging around. The tour alone set me back ~$2k (forgot it that was US or CAN) and doesn't include the trip to get there. I personally drove up to Prince Rupert because afterwards would continue to the Yukon. Driving up from Vancouver takes a day and if you also want to do that then try to get the overnight ferry across and the tour will start the next morning. The BC Ferries are very comfy! At the other end you just take the ferry across to meet your tour guide. Many people just fly in from Vancouver and rent a car to explore the open northern island but it's not part of the proposed site (still nice though). There are 2, 3, 4 day tours these days, with the shortest a new entry so you can technically fly and get a glimpse before flying back out. It's not recommended. You should invest in the four day trip to make it worthwhile.

The general itinerary is done with a zodiac boat and doesn't involve much walking but mobility is still required for getting in and out of the boats. There are several other Watchman sites such as SGang Gwaay on the way which gives you a good insight into how people lived before. The guide also said many things are unknown to them and many cultural heritage has been lost over the ages. I still think the other sites should be used an extension.

But there's more! Cedar forests - wow. From afar it looks a bit like the generic Canadian forest but get closer and you'll spot the difference and once you step inside you'll be in another world. The misty forests overgrow everything with green mosses - it's epic. I was even thinking of hiking around here but with wildlife, Haida protection and the lack of interested ("it's just forest" the guide said hmm) parties made me gave up on that idea although camping IS done here. The main issue with the Cedar trees is that deer have made this place their home and they spread like wildfire (no wildfires here btw - too wet) and while the deer had an easy time swimming over from the mainland their natural predators (wolves) never bothered. So the deer are everywhere and they eat so much - it's not good for the trees. There isn't much one can do about it and hunting deer isn't even a thing here. Racoons and rats unfortunately also made it to the islands.

Aside from deer one can also spot black bears, birds (eagles, puffins among many) and the marine life is even better! Sharks (greytip reef sharks usually), maaaaany whales such as orcas and humpbacks, sea lions, seals, jellyfish and crabs. The marine life alone is probable what should inscribe this site. Sure, you can find these in other places but there is a good reason they all like to come here. The Pacific ocean brings in a lot of nutrients and the surfaces from the west side of the island all the way to the mainland coast is very shallow, 50m or so max. This is like a heaven for these creatures. They can swim in and out in their favorite habitat.

Costs aren't the only thing keeping the masses away. There is only so much to do and it's easily covered in 4 days and that included hot springs and relaxation time. You could stretch it out but in the end the tours are limited. If you come here by yourself and camp it will obviously take longer but then you are also limited in how far you can go. Unless you are seasoned kayaker you will not get far and this limits the demographics and interest by the masses. Third problem is that it's coooold on the island. It's actually hard to image because when you are warm on Vancouver island and go north a bit you would expect it to be almost the same - you know what I mean. Well, NO. it's cold and windy. Again, mass tourism isn't really interested in that. Even in summer on the tour one has to wear 2 layers of just jackets and that is over your regular clothes...

The trip to Gwaii Haans will stay in your memory forever.

Jay T

USA - 30-Sep-22 -

Gwaii Haanas (T) by Jay T

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, located on the southern islands of Haida Gwaii, is a proposed extension to SG̱ang Gwaay, a World Heritage Site marking the cultural heritage of the Haida people who live throughout Haida Gwaii. I have to say right off that I am in favor of such an extension, since the Haida are letting SG̱ang Gwaay return to nature, which means that the remarkable memorial and mortuary poles there will one day be only memories.

What would an extension provide from a cultural perspective? Well, in addition to SG̱ang Gwaay, Gwaii Haanas includes four other Watchmen sites: villages with resident Haida interpreters who live on site during summer months and meet with visitors who come through the park on guided tours. When I traveled to Gwaii Haanas in early September in order to visit SG̱ang Gwaay, the tour I was on also took me to three of the four additional Watchmen sites, and each of them provided a different aspect of Haida history and culture. Here's what to expect at each of those sites:

Skedans (Ḵ'uuna Llnagaay): This is the northernmost and most accessible Watchmen site in Gwaii Haanas, and it includes a good mixture of mortuary and memorial poles (though none as spectacular as those at SG̱ang Gwaay) and several house pit depressions showing the former location of longhouses. The Watchmen couple I met at this site were very knowledgeable and welcoming, sharing quite a bit about Haida history, culture, and their life experiences.

Tanu (T’aanuu Llnagaay): This site has a strong sense of loss, with a cemetery at the edge where many who died in the smallpox epidemic were buried. The site is lushly covered with moss, and includes many house pit depressions, as well as the remains of some mortuary poles. This is probably the best site to get an understanding of the typical layout of a Haida village, due to the number of extant house pits.

Hotspring Island (G̱andll K’in Gwaay.yaay): This island was a traditional source of food for the Haida. Although the hot springs on this island briefly stopped after an earthquake in 2012, the springs are again flowing, and this is a great place to relax and enjoy nature. There are three maintained hot spring pools that visitors can use, including one that is almost like a natural infinity pool, looking out over the Juan Perez Sound.

In addition to preserving the cultural heritage of the islands of Haida Gwaii, the proposed extension seeks to also preserve the natural heritage as a mixed site. On my tour, I was able to appreciate the rich intertidal zones around the islands, with its bountiful kelp forests, and sealife such as sea urchins, starfish, and jellyfish. Offshore, we saw many humpback whales, a possible orca whale, and several harbour seals. Back on land, salmon were running upstream, and we saw evidence that bears had been nearby, although we never saw any. The islands are on the Pacific flyway, and during the long weekend, we saw a variety of birds, ranging from bald eagles and seagulls to oystercatchers and murres.

I would leave it to IUCN to determine if Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site meets the natural requirements to be added to the list, since I am not sure if it is distinct enough from Glacier Bay National Park to the north and Olympic National Park to the south. I am strongly in favor of Gwaii Haanas serving as a cultural extension to SG̱ang Gwaay, though, since it would provide a much richer and more varied overview of Haida culture, particularly as the remarkable memorial and mortuary poles at SG̱ang Gwaay continue to fade away.

Logistics: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site can only be visited via established tour operators operating small tours. Most of these tours run out of Sandspit on Moresby Island. By taking the ferry from Sandspit (via nearby Allisford Bay) across the channel to Skidegate on Graham Island, you can also visit a Haida Heritage Center that was highly recommended by fellow members of my tour group. The two main ways to get to the islands of Haida Gwaii are by plane to Sandspit on Moresby Island or to Masset on Graham Island, or by ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate on Graham Island.

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Full Name
Gwaii Haanas
Extension of
SGang Gwaay WHS
Archaeological site - Pre-Columbian Natural landscape - Marine and Coastal
2004 Added to Tentative List

Unesco Website: Gwaii Haanas
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