SKIDEGATE, British Columbia - If all journeys of a thousand miles begin
with one step, the expansion of the Haida Gwaii Museum has taken its
When construction began in June for the 50,000-square-foot Qay'llnagaay
Heritage Center on the museum's property, the first order of business was
to raise the elevation of the foundation 17 inches. Rains and heavy winds
last winter pushed waters from the adjacent Hecate Strait onto higher
grounds than previously recorded. So, engineers of this project calculated
accordingly to keep the five new buildings a safe distance from any
This reconfiguration didn't even register as a significant blip during the
three decades by the Haida to preserve their culture. Well before the Queen
Charlotte Islands, also known as the Haida Gwaii, became a destination for
eco-tourists and those wanting to know about this First Nation, local band
councils recognized the need to tell visitors about their history to
whoever would cross the sea to enter their land.
After the first logging protest in 1972 by a Canadian indigenous group,
tribal leaders saw then the future of the local economy wasn't always going
to be in natural resources.
"We stopped the logging but what were we going to do at South Moresby [the populated island]?" re-stated Robert DuDoward, CEO of the Qay'llnagaay
Heritage Center Society. "Around the same time we thought about a center to
showcase Haida culture."
Four years later the present 7,000-square-foot museum was built. Though
just up the hill from the BC Ferries dock, the museum is slightly obscured
behind some evergreens along the highway. Now this seven-fold expansion of
the property will immediately catch the eye of travelers heading to the
north end of the island.
Steps for this enlargement began 10 years ago when DuDoward, on the local
council, proposed a motion. Five councils later, the $21.4 million (Cdn.)
endeavor will take about 15 months to complete.
"Community involvement was in-depth and because this is a huge project, we
needed the community on-side and they have given us a resounding yes," said
Besides doubling the size of the Haida Gwaii museum, of the five additional
buildings there will be a welcoming atrium; a performance arts center;
working space for local artists and carvers named after the renowned
sculptor Bill Reid; an eating house and an administration center for the
Archipelago Management Board, a branch of Parks Canada.
Attaining the millions of dollars was no small task for these islands that
are populated by only 5,000 people and located 60 miles from the B.C.
mainland. After the federal government kicked in about half between the
agencies of Parks Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the
Skidegate council itself chipped in another $1.7 million. DuDoward said the
federal assistance has shown some bargaining faith by Ottawa.
"With the agreement we have with government-to-government, it's a
continuation that has honored commitments as occurred 12 years ago,"
DuDoward said about the ongoing treaty process with the Council of the
The isolation of the Queen Charlotte Islands means jobs are scarce at the
best of times and in the past few years the area has been under financial
restraints with the decline of the surrounding natural resources.
Qay'llnagaay will employ 120 construction laborers and after its
completion, the estimation will be another 75 - 80 full time positions in
the various tourist spin-off activities including a luxury lodge and an RV
"Our research indicated many people are looking for the indigenous
experience in Canada," said DuDoward about the sustainability of this
project. "This provides us with an economic light at the end of the tunnel
with the job losses in the fishing and logging [industries], albeit it
won't be as lucrative."
Anticipated to be completed in early fall 2005 with official ceremonies to
occur in 2006, the efforts of the Skidegate council are also occurring in
Old Massett where that village is also preparing for a multi-building
heritage site. DuDoward mentioned both communities are working in
cooperation to insure visitors to the islands can maximize their enjoyment
of the Haida and their culture.