“You're going to love Haida Gwaii.” We heard it over and over again as we cycled through British Columbia. Everyone sang its praises, heightening our anticipation for the finale stretch of our Yellowhead Cycling Tour.
Two months ago I'd never heard of the place. While studying our planned route on Google maps, I zoomed in on Prince Rupert and the ferry landing. I thought that was the end of the road for us. But oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued into the water. Seriously? So I followed the dotted line. Out, out, out into the ocean it went, and ended on a group of Islands called Haida Gwaii. There the highway continued another 70 miles to its end. Or beginning. Kilometer zero is at the top of the northernmost island. One quick Google search was all it took to convince me. We had to go there.
Haida Gwaii is about 60 miles off the coast of mainland British Columbia and is made up of two large islands and over 400 additional islands. Graham Island to the north hosts six communities and the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway. Moresby Island to its south has one community on its north edge. The remainder of the archipelago is wilderness. 4,500 people live on Haida Gwaii, and about half of those are native Haida people. Theirs is a long and difficult history during which their culture and language were nearly wiped out.
Fortunately they have succeeded in reclaiming their heritage which now thrives on these islands. Long known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, in an official Giving Back the Name Ceremony in 2010 the Haida Nation literally returned that name to the Crown to become Haida Gwaii. It means Islands of the People.
Logging, fishing and tourism are the primary means of earning a living. And there is a thriving arts community, creating and selling both traditional and modern art based on native designs.
This land of wilderness surrounded by water with a passionate native culture and community peaked my interest.
My first views of the island were from the ferry then cycling the few miles to the village of Queen Charlotte. It was a small quiet road that meandered along the calm inlet between the two large islands. The first words that came to mind were lush, green, peaceful and natural. I already sensed the slower pace of life. The focus on the outdoors. And the lack of commercialism. I couldn't wait to explore this intriguing land.
We settled into our lodgings which hid behind a veil of flowers. Dinner was on the deck of a small restaurant overlooking the harbor. Boats bobbed in the quiet waters as the sun dipped low. There were no gates to bar us from the docks, so we meandered among the motley collection of fishing and pleasure craft. Moresby beckoned across the water.
Morning brought more calm views from our balcony. I should have lingered to soak it up, but I was too anxious to get on my bike to explore the island.
Cycling on Haida Gwaii would take us from the southern end of Graham Island to the north and back again. We had four days of discovery ahead of us. I'd had enough of an introduction. I was ready to experience the real thing.