In July & August 2007, Shawna Franklin, Leon Somme, & Justine Curgenven circumnavigated the main 2 islands of Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) in single kayaks. This beautiful & remote island chain in British Columbia is near the border with Alaska and consists of 2 main islands, Graham in the north & Moresby in the south, & hundreds of small islets. On the western coasts, surf batters against mountains that plunge steeply into the ocean, with peaks towering up to 1,200metres high. The eastern shore is gentler, with relatively protected waters. Most of the coastline is uninhabited, beautiful and not connected by road. The team paddled 500 miles around Graham, Moresby & Kunghit islands in 30 days.
The islands contain species found nowhere else on earth, including a brown bear subspecies. In the national Park, Gwaii Haanas, there are ancient cedar trees and lush Pacific rainforest that has never been logged. The surrounding waters support a rich marine life including whales, dolphins & sea lions. It¹s a challenging and wild place to paddle with Pacific storms regularly battering the virtually uninhabited west coast.
Haida Gwaii means land of the Haida people, a race of people native to the islands and with their own language and culture. They have probably lived there since the end of the last ice age 11,000-13,000 years ago when sealevels were low enough to walk to the islands from the mainland. This makes them one of the oldest traceable populations in the New World. The Haida are a seafaring people, who travelled throughout these islands and further in their great canoes. They were skilful canoeists and used to paddle to the mainland and wage war against tribes there. When the first Europeans arrived, thousands of Haida were living in villages of large wooden houses. The Europeans brought with them diseases like small pox which decimated the Haida population by the 1860s less than 1,000 survived. They regrouped in Skidegate and Old Massett, where most Haida live today. The Europeans also started to log most of the islands. After a concerted effort and worldwide media attention, the Haida people managed to save a 90km long area at the south of the archipelago from logging. This is now a protected reserve, called Gwaii Haanas which is managed jointly by the Haida people and Parks Canada. It has never been logged and there are preserved remains of native settlements and totem poles. At the ancient village of SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, mortuary poles more than a century old still haunt the shore. As the last resting place of most of the villagers of SGang Gwaay, this village is especially honoured and respected by the Haida people as a living graveyard. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site. The number of people allowed to visit Gwaii Haanas at any one time is strictly limited so we are privileged to be able to travel through this very special place & we will keep our impact to a minimum.
Search our blog archive in July & August 2007 to read daily updates from the trip, aswell as trip summaries and thoughts from Justine, Leon & Shawna.
Justine made a highly acclaimed 40 minute film about the Haida Gwaii expedition which can be seen on the DVD ‘This is the Sea 4′. Here is what “Have Kayaks, Will Travel” said about it.
“The [film of the] Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) circumnavigation with Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme manages to be a loving portrait of a remarkable place, a profile of the whimsical and knowledgeable owners of Body Boat Blade, and a story all in one”.
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