Europa Point to Kemano

Travelling up the Gardner, past the light on Europa Point, one faces the great rock cliff that extends south from Cornwall Point (the important Haisla landmark called Nuwaqela (noo-WAH-kuh-lah). That stone face has a smallish black image of a beaver tail on it (upper middle right side). There is a Haisla story about that beaver tail shadow mark that relates to the Henaksiala "mother of the Beaver clan". Her name was Qulun. We will hear the story of the Qulun and the founding of the Beaver clan when we get to the Kitlope, but here is the story of Qulun's infidelity.

Qulun was the wife of the first canoe maker. In the story of N'ulegami the Porcupine organizing the animal kingdom, the first beaver was not mentioned in that story. This is because beavers were not created with the other animals. Qulun is held by the Henaksiala to be the ancestor of all beavers and Beaver Clan members. The word for 'beaver' in Haisla, qulun, comes from her name.

Near Nuwaqela (Cornwall Point, below Kemano on the Gardner Canal), there is a natural landscape feature that is pointed out as having been caused by Qulun. Just below Nuwaqela on the east side of the channel up on a cliff overlooking the water there's the mark of a beaver tail. You can't miss it. It's as big as a house, way up above. According to the story, the canoe maker couldn't feed his wife. So, Qulun took off with another man. They capsized just above the mouth to Kemano Geltcuis (Kiltuish) and their canoe broke up. She cried and decided to return to her husband at their home in C'ewen x ac'i, on the east side of the Kitlope River below the entrance to the lake. So she climbed over the mountain at Nuwaqela. In doing so, she left the mark of her tail on the cliff. She came out on the shore just east of Nuwaqela (by where there's a kuksta, a trickle of natural hot water running down the face of the rock) and she started swimming home.


The cliff face south of Cornwall Point, on which
the image of the tail of Qulun (Beaver) is visible.


This cliff seems to wall off the Gardner Canal as you approach it. And then the canal opens up to the left and one is able to pass through to Nuwaqela (Cornwall Point). There is a rock face on the south side of the canal, just at the right of the picture above that has a seep of hot water running down its face. It steams in cold weather. These hot springs are the southern continuation of the fault line that resulted in Mt. Layton hot springs. They are of geological interest because they are thermal springs that are not particularly sulfurous.

The Steep Mountain Face with a Falls Above Salient Point Across from Cornwall Point

Aixa x ela

This great mountain fastness with the picturesque falls is called Aixa x ela (eh-HYAH-huh-lah). It is a goat hunting grounds that is included in the wa'wais to the north of it, Brim River. From the falls, one can look eastward past Cornwall Point with its white marker post, seeing all the way up Barrie Reach to Kemano.


The great landmark waterfall and mountain wall above Salient Point.


Looking eastward up the Gardner from Aixa x ela, past Cornwall Point on the right, towards Kemano.


The Brim and Oyacumish River watershed

This Raven clan wa'wais called U'ya g emis (oo-YAH-guh-mees) has a dramatic falls on the left where the river that the Haisla call Anak'edi (ah-NAH-kyuh-dee) enters. Part of this important wa'wais area is a hotspring on the left as you enter the bay.

[Note that maps of the area reverse the names of the two rivers that enter here. The river that the Haisla call Uyagemis is called Brim River on the maps and the river called Anak'edi is called Oyacumish on the maps.]


The entrance to the Brim River, the Uya g emis wa'wais from the south.


The falls where the Anak'edi (Oyacumish River) enters.


Cornwall Point (Nuwaqela)

This point is visible on the right coming up the Gardner and is a much-mentioned Haisla landmark. It figures in various Haisla cultural narratives. For example, this story of the triumph of the Henaksiala women.

Our ancestors had to be watchful in the old days. Our history includes numerous stories of raids. The raiders came unexpectedly and attacked with fierce cunning. Here is an account of a raid by the Kitselas people that was narrated by Chief Walter Wright of Kitselas in the 1930s. The story tells about an early raid of the Skeena River people on the Henasksiala. He told it this way.

"When the early hours of the morning came and the dwellers of the Kitlope slept soundly, the river warriors landed and took their stations. Then came the signal and the horrors and killings started. Taken by surprise, the people of Kitlope were no match for the invaders. Many coast warriors were killed. Some, seeing the battle lost, escaped to the forest. Women and children were captured and made secure. Slavery would be their lot as long as they lived. Rich booty fell to the river people that night. Furs, buckskins, sea otter robes. When all was over, the river canoes were far more heavily laden than when they had put ashore.

Those raids were a constant threat to the early Henaksiala and Gitamaat. But, in fact, our ancestors were not easy targets. Our folk-history reminds us that we had tricks of our own. The Old People posted lookouts and had back doors and hiding places and carefully planned escape routes in case of attack. They slept with their weapons handy. Our elders know lots of stories about raids, especially by the Haida. And in many of these stories the Haisla detected the enemy and were able to either set up a successful ambush or beat the raiders in open combat.

For instance, there is the story about the time that the Haida sneak attack on the oldtime Haisla settlement at Butedale (Cedixs) was met by Haisla arrows and spears, killing the Haida leader and resulting in the rest of the attack force retreating in panic and heading for home. Or, there is the story of the Haida attack on the Gitamaat village, which was then at Beese. That time, too, the Haida were defeated and made to drift their canoes along in front of the cliff at Hentlixw, where they had to shoot all of their arrows into the crack in the face of the rock there. Those are good stories, where the Haisla out-fight or out-smart the enemy.

One of those stories tells how the Henaksiala men lost the battle, but the women used their powers to turn defeat and capture into victory. This is a story about a Haida raid on the Henaksiala, when they were living in Misk'usa at the mouth of the Kitlope River. The Kitlope people always kept a lookout stationed up in the rocks, watching for raiders. In fact, it was those guards up in the rocks that gave the Kitlope people their name, for Kitlope is the Tsimshian name for "People of the Rocks". But this time the warriors arrived stealthily at night and were able to burst unexpected into their victims' houses, killing many and capturing most of the women of the village. The raid was so successful that they loaded up and started for home almost immediately. They had so many captives and so much booty that they took several of the Kitlope canoes and the captives were given paddles and told, "Paddle hard and don't try any tricks." And, so, the canoes, captors and captives started out down the Gardner, headed for the Queen Charlottes.

They passed the Qawisas. They passed the mouth of the Kemano River. They paddled steadily and toward nightfall they approached Nuwaqela, which is now called Cornwall Point. An old woman in a canoe full of Henaksiala women paddlers said quietly, "When I finish my song, bring your paddle down on the edge of the canoe..." and she began to sing. It was a special song. And when she sang the last word, all the women brought their paddles down on the side of that canoe with a bang. The Haida warriors in the other canoes were startled, but not worried. One of them shouted something in Haida. But, then, a remarkable thing happened. The waters became turbulent and up out of the water a reef arose. It was as long as three canoes and was right alongside their canoes. Up it came until it stuck up out of the water about two feet. And what caught everyone's attention was that the rocks were absolutely covered with abalone. They were so thick, those abalones, that they were three, four, five deep. Well the Haidas are just crazy for abalone. And, with delighted shouts the warriors started jumping out of the canoes, grabbing for the abalones. Within seconds, those Haidas were all out on the reef scrambling for the shells.

Well, the women waited until the last of the Haida warriors had climbed out onto the reef and then, at another signal from the old woman, they all brought their paddles down again on the edge of their canoe. And, as suddenly as it had appeared, that reef sank. The surprised faces of the Haida warriors disappeared beneath the waters that swooshed in... and not one of them reappeared. They all drowned. The Henaksiala women turned their canoe around and started back for home.

And that's the story of how the Henaksiala women used their power to escape from the Haida raiders at Nuwaqela.

Misk'uk' (miss-KYOOK): the Place Where Billy Hall Saw the Bekwis

Misk'uk' is a long wa'wais area on the south shore of the Gardner that extends all the way the channel as far as Pocklington Point, across from the mouth of the Kemano. Misk'uk' is the site of Billy Hall's encounter with the Bekwis (bah-KWISS), the Haisla term for the creature that is commonly called Sasquatch.


The river mouth at Misk'uk' (Barrie Creek).


It was here that Billy Hall entered the hilly forests of Misk'uk' when he encountered the group of Bek'wis creatures. Thinking they were bears, he shot and killed one and, after escaping from the others, he had special powers.

The Monsters of Haisla Traditional Territory

There are lots of Haisla stories about encounters with "monsters" in the old days that might give visitors to Haisla territory as sense of Haisla folklore about their lands. The Gitamaat and Henaksiala ancestors in traditional times often told tales about seeing creatures that were either bigger or different from anything that is known to still exist. Some of these monsters are known to have spiritual powers.

The best known monsters of Haisla territory were the Bekwis. These were large, hairy creatures that were reported occasionally in the Q'waq'waksiyas shoreline area just above Bishop Bay, and for that reason it is known as Monkey Beach. These Bekwis have come to be called Sasquatches or "stick men" elsewhere. The Bekiwis was also reported living in the T'liqana (Klekane Inlet), especially near Lixasanas (Scow Bay), where a young Bekwis was found long ago and raised by the Haisla family. The story tells that this young Bekwis' mother used to hang around while the Old People dug clams in that area. Of course, the most famous Bekwis sighting was at Misk'uk'w, just below Kemano on the south side of the Gardner Canal, where Billy Hall accidentally shot one of the creatures, thinking it was a bear. When the companions of the creature who had been killed started chasing Billy, he was able to escape by climbing a huge, steep rock. After that incident, Billy Hall had spirit powers and was able to foretell how long people would live. Vickie Eden Robinson wrote a prizewinning book that included mention of our Bekwis called Monkey Beach.

Besides the Bekwis, there were also the Kwaluxw, small primates (little non-human ape-like creatures) that lived on the east side of Foch Lagoon where there is a pile of boulders. The Kwaluxw lived in those boulders. They walked upright on two feet and seemed to communicate by talking, but their language couldn't be understood by Haislas. They wore no clothes and did not seem to have fire. They were shorter than people, very strong and had hooked noses. The Kwaluxw lived on seals, shellfish and seasonal fruits. They were peaceful and there was no history of friction between the Kwaluxw and the Haisla people. These small beings would sometimes scare humans by prowling around campsites and screeching suddenly, but they were quite shy and screeched and ran whenever the Haisla came near to their area. For fear that they would increase in numbers and become a threat to the people, the Haislas decided to exterminate the Kwaluxw. A raid-leader called Qums g uns was appointed, and he led an attack on the Kwaluxw camp and killed them all. Gordon Robinson wrote the story in the Terrace newspaper once.

Gordon Robertson (according to his son James) reported seeing a killer whale with two dorsal fins at Dle x akwen (Fisherman's Cove). Dle x akwen means, "dragging the canoe up to the higher lake". According to Gordon, that killer whale surfaced in the bay, where the blinker is, and when it blew it sounded like a shotgun going off.

There are some traditional heritable names in C'esi's family that refer to a qaxwasu ('an unexplainable phenomenon'). One of these unexplainable things that is remembered is the traditional Beaver name Azi g ais, is an experience of seeing a sea monster. This monster, which came to be called Azi g ais, caused the sea to churn. Then, the monster lifted the canoe. The woman called Adaits spoke to the monster, saying, "We mean no harm." And, then, the monster let them down unharmed. That Beaver Clan name, Azi g ais, was on Pat Robinson, who received it from her mother, Laura Robinson. And when Pat passed on, the name was put on Louise Barbetti.

There was another unexplained creature at Temex, which according to some was the size of a stegosaurus and, according to other accounts, it looked like a giant rat with a body more than 10 feet long. It was called k'ilai (meaning 'rat'). Charlie Shaw told that there were stories that it had attacked canoes. It would come up from under the saltwater. There are conflicting stories about the monster. One is that around 1950 a scuba diver went down and found a large cave and killed the monster there. Another says that at low tide, when the cave was only about 30 feet down, divers went down and found the cave, which was strewn with bones.

Another monster is the Munc'axsis. There are stories of Haisla hunters seeing the tracks of a one-footed monster at the top of Geltuis (Giltuyis Inlet), which left tracks in the mud of the flats near the mouth of the river. That's the Munc'axsis.

Haisla parents used to have their own bogeyman. According to Louise Barbetti, her parents used to tell her that if they went out in the dark the Patlaqai' (literally, "Flat Head" person) would get them. In fact, the Indians along the Washington coast and onto the west coast of Vancouver Island used to use a forehead flattening board attachment to the cradle board of high status infants, both boys and girls, to flatten their heads. But this wasn't done in Haisla country. The tactic of mentioning Patlaqai', who roamed the dark areas around the edge of camps and villages, was used to discourage kids from wanting to stay out past dark.

Another monster of the night was C'elkemala, an old woman-of-the-woods, who cruised at night to kidnap kids, which she put in a strong pack-basket that she carried with a tumpline strap across her forehead. C'elkemala dressed in woven denas (cedar bark clothes), had bare feet and lips that protruded as if she were sucking or blowing. She is the same person as the Kwagulh Dzonoq'wa monster, and she was, indeed scary for the old-time kids. After catching and stuffing a child, she stuffed the child in the pack basket and carried it back to her camp, where she... well, she was a cannibal.


Leaving Misk'uk'w, John Wilson steers the punt toward Kemano.


Another "monster sighting" was described in the Na'nak'wa, April, 1901. Rev. Raley reported that "early in February what we believe to be a sea-serpent or immense strange sea monster was seen from the Mission House, traveling along the opposite shore with a peculiar spiral motion at about the rate of fifteen miles an hour. In its flight it threw the spray high in air and wide in extent until the sea appeared like a boiling caldron. Some said it is an immense whale. The missionary however got his field glass; and then and there noted the size of the monster, which appeared to be two hundred feet in length."

There was certainly no shortage of monsters in Haisla traditional territory.


The highlands west of Kemano on the north shore of the Gardner Canal.


Kemano or Yamacisa


Arrival on the beach in Kemano.


The beach in front of the site of Kemano village.
The Robertson house is visible, and beyond it, the area of the
Kemano burial ground, which extends all the way to the point.


This traditional Haisla stewardship area includes the long watershed of the Kemano River , which extends 110 km north from the village site of Yamacisa (yuh-MAH-tsee-sah, IR#17, 10.3 hectares). It is rich in resources and now has the most dependable oolichan run in Haisla territory. This immense wa'wais includes the 50-plus mile length of the Kemano River . The Kemano River is fed by several creeks that we call Sik'ak'en, Waxwes, G a g olid, and Wa x uxw. The Kemano power project, starting in 1956, caused construction on the lower river and a road that ran along the east bank. It also brought outsiders in numbers into the area. The old Henaksiala settlement called Kemano village was a large community with many houses, a fire hall and a church. But, the influenza epidemic of 1918 caused a tragic population drop and the village site is now abandoned, except at oolichan time, when there are camps of Haislas and a few non-Haisla guests, who visit with Haisla permission. The traditional owner of this wa'wais is the holder of the Blackfish clan name Wa x aid. That name is currently on Cecil Paul, Sr.


The Kemano house of Bea and John Wilson.


The kitchen of the Kemano house.

The petroglyphs of Kemano . On the west side of the beach at Kemano are petroglyphs just above the high tide mark.


Here's where the petroglyph face is.


Kemano beach petroglyph up close.

There is a Haisla trapper's cabin, recently built. It is situated alongside Bea and Johnny's Kemano house. These trappers' cabins all have a welcoming-admonishing sign. It lets people know that they are free to use the cabin, but that it was provided by the Haisla and using it is an acknowledgement that the Haisla have traditional ownership jurisdiction in the Kemano area. These cabins have been built in the following places. Many of them are along our route to the Kitlope or can be seen from the punt as we pass down Kitimat Arm:


Bish Creek Miskatla Inlet Kitsaway ( Blind Pass ) Triumph Bay
Emsley Cove Giltoyees Cr. Daniel Bay McAllister Bay
Coste Island Giltoyees Inlet Fishtrap Bay Hotsprings Bay
Kildala Arm Foch Lagoon Boxer Reach Opp. Hotspr. Bay
Dala River Loretta Island Monkey Beach Kiltuish Inlet
Falls Creek Bishop Cove Bishop Cove Brim River
Eagle Bay Weewanie Cr. Crab River Kemano Village
Jesse Lake Pike Cr. (S. Wiwaa) Collins Bay Kemano Village
Echo Bay Dorothy Narrows Ochwe Bay (Paril R.)  


Can you find all of those places on the map? They are all in Haisla traditional territory.


The KVC sign on the trapper's cabin.


The Kemano burial ground is a sacred scrapbook of Haisla ancestry with the artwork of burial monuments and decaying beloved memorabilia of those who rest there. East of the Robertson house and the KVC trapper's cabin a burial ground runs for 250m along the beach. Dozens of graves with wooden and stone markers, dating from the early 1900s can be seen.


A chief in a potlatch hat stands guard above the high water mark at Kemano


The dogfish marker in the Kemano burial grounds. When the Henaksiala people landed after the flood, the first living thing that offered itself up to them for subsistence was the dogfish.
Ever after, the dogfish was respected among the Henaksiala. Notice the dogfish's characteristic tail and fins.


A killer whale marker on a grave in the Kemano burial ground.



A beloved family possession of the old days, a sewing machine adorns a family burial area in the Kemano graveyard.


An unidentified animal figure as a grave marker, probably a crest figure.


Along the shoreline, above the high tide mark are reminders that the people of Kemano relied on their environment for the tools that
their traditional technology required. There were no hardware stores in traditional times. The carved cedar canoe belonging to John R.Wilson,
returns to nature with dignity. It split, becoming unserviceable and lies among the trees on the spit at Kemano.
The canoe was made by Jonah Nelson. John bought it for $80.

An outing to the oolichan camps, located behind the village area along the lower reaches of the river. In March or early April, the oolichan arrive in their millions in Haisla territory. There used to be massive runs of these “candlefish” in the Kitimat River , the Kildala River , the Kitlope River and, occasionally at Chief Matthews Bay . Now, the only usually-dependable run of oolichans is at Kemano. The camps have campsites, larage bins and boilers where the “grease” (t'lati, TLAH-tee) from large quantities of oolichan is rendered by allowing the fish to break down over a period and then heating them to allow the grease to rise to the surface. The oolichan grease is both a staple and a delicacy in the traditional Haisla menu. Haisla grease gets a special final boiling process that makes it both distinctive in taste and much sought after. There are several oolichan camps along the lower river. You can reach them by walking at low tide.


The group heads out across the beach rye grass to the oolichan camps at low tide.


An oolichan camp.

The mountainous landscape around Kemano. The Kemano area is surrounded by mountains on all sides and the river runs through them. It is impossible to say that one knows Kemano unless one knows the mountains and the other landscape features.


The Eagle pole observes the entrance to the KemanoRiver


Looking up the Kemano River from its mouth. The Waxuxw River mouth is beyond the point coming down on the left. Waxuxw is a long watershed, which is now a Blackfish wa'wais.


The dock in the Kemano River used by the Alcan ferryboat and service vehicles that support the power generating station up the river.


The Yunulhemala (Yoo-NOO-thuh-mah-lah) mountain behind Kemano village.


The picture above shows the Gardner above Kemano, looking toward the Kitlope. On the right is the mountain that can be seen across the Gardner from Kemano village, Lhoxw (Thokw). This mountain is the one that is revered by the Henaksiala because at the time of the great flood, while the people were drifting helplessly in their canoes, it was Lhoxw mountain that actually rose up to catch and hold their dangling anchor rope. Here is that story:

Before the great flood the wolves were telling our people, who were living in X esdewakw that there was a great flood coming and now was the time to prepare for it. A lot of you will be asleep, be dead before it comes. But many of you will have to live through the danger and terror of it. So that was their warning.

In the beginning the people didn't have canoes. But the cedar tree helped them learn (We will learn the story of this event and the origin of the Beaver clan later). Soon everyone had two or three canoes. And the wolves had told the people that a flood was coming, that it was near. The people sent the men to the top of the mountains to pull bark off the cedar trees. Young ones, old ones, they took the denas, the bark from all of the trees. They got as much denes as they could get. The women came down to the end of the lake to make rope by twisting the bark. They call the thick rope of twisted denas x elpelak. And the men were told to look around the top of the mountains for an anchor. They needed to find a natural anchor stone to tie the cedar bark rope to. All the canoes were brought to the top of the lake and tied together there with that long, long rope. That's where the canoes were anchored at the top of the lake. Everything was prepared when it started to rain. The rain came down in buckets. The people up at the top of the lake had tied the end of the rope to the natural anchor rock in the mountains around Qanadatla. People came up the lake to get into those canoes.

It rained for many days. The canoes rose as the level of the water went up. Some canoes broke loose and the people drifted off. Other canoes capsized and the people drowned. The people drifted for a long time in their canoes. Some of the canoes broke loose and, still tied together, they drifted north toward Kemano. Their anchor rope caught on a mountain at Lhoxw. This mountain saved them because it rose up so that the canoe's anchor would catch on its rocky top, and then it rose and fell with the tide, holding the canoes steady. When the flood finally started to subside, the end of the long cedarbark rope ended up on a mountain called Xelbexw, located in the highlands across from the mouth of the Daniku River . It's probably still there.

After the Great Flood, the first thing that the people caught to eat was a dogfish. For that reason, the Henaksiala always considered dogfish to be a very special food. There is still a carving of a dogfish on a wooden grave marker in Kemano And that's the Henaksiala story of the Great flood. The Gitamaat had a Great Flood story, too, very similar to the Kitlope version. It had many of the features of this one, except that the anchor of the Gitamaat canoes caught on a mountain above Eagle Bay or Clio Bay (depending upon the version used by the storyteller).


Between Kemano and Misk'usa at the entrance to the Kitlope River

As we continue up the Gardner Canal from Kemano village, we are heading southeast. The channel gets narrower with high mountains on each side. Just on the left, after leaving Kemano, was the area called Paaxw, a high, flat area close to the mountain that rises above the east entrance to the Kemano River . This section of the channel is called Whidbey Reach. It runs all the way from Kemano to the entrance to the Kitlope River .

Twelve kilometers down, we pass Cica x utli, a stretch of the channel where a great stream comes crashing down from the heights on both sides. “It is as if the current of water from falls comes out and meets in the middle of the channel.” The old Haisla sometimes said that the falls on the east (left) side appears to be like the stream of a male urinating, while the one on the left is said to look like the flow of a woman urinating.


The falls on the east side of Cica x utli.


The female falls on west side of Cica x utli.

The Lookout Point across from the Entrance to the Qawisas


During the time of Haida raids, which lasted until the 1860s, the people of the Kitlope used to keep lookouts posted to keep an eye out for a sneak attack. There was one of these lookouts in the hills just across the north side of the entrance to the Kowesas. You can see the place on the left side of the picture below.


The lookout hill across from the entrance to the Kowesas.


Entrance to the Kowesas with the Ma'aliluxw on the left.

The Kowesas or Qawisas, also known as Chief Mathew's Bay, is the large inlet that opens up off to the right. On the south side of the entrance is the mighty, snowy Ma'alinuxw mountain. According to Henaksiala tradition, there was originally a settlement at the head of the bay The Bay is 7 kilometers deep. At the head of the bay, where the Qawisas River empties, is a flats area subject to tidal flooding. There is a boggy flatland on the north side of the river mouth called Tla'mid where cixwa (wild crabapples) and blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberries and roots can be picked. There was a campsite there in the old days which was sheltered from north winds. There is now a cabin on the north side of that flats near a stream. There was a small oolichan run in the river there occasionally. John Hall used to have his house on the south side of the river mouth, in a wooded area with a giant spruce tree. Just on the left side as you enter the bay there was a trail that went up into the heights of the Ma'alinuxw, where the men would hunt goats and the women would collect baskets full of goat wool during the springtime when the goats were shedding. Later they would spin it into wool for weaving blankets. There were seals along the north side of the head of the bay. Up the river, a stream enters from the south that is called “Toy creek” (Olamid) because you can find pieces of drift wood in the shape of things and animals. There is also a another place that the Haisla call Olamid in the mid-Kitimat River area, but the “toys” there are stone rather than wooden ones.


The Paiwaxw

Across from the entrance to the Kowesas was a campsite called the Paiwaxw. Families camped here during the days of handlogging (the 1920s and 30s, when Fred Woods would run small logging operations using an A-frame donkey yarder on a raft, pulling the logs our of areas near the beach. The families of workers would camp during the summer months, taking a break to go to harvesting areas when berries, crabapples or roots were in season and when fish were running.


Paiwaxw, across from the mouth of the Kowesas, where the families of Haisla handloggers camped in the 1920s and 30s.

About ten kilometers up the Gardner from Kowesas, on the east side of the Gardner there is a rock drawing in which a copper shape is visible. Be careful, it is a slippery climb to get up to the drawings, even though they are just above the water's edge.


Continuing up the Gardner , we start to travel through the high gorge that is the upper canal area. Great mountains such as the one called Qwoqwanixdama (centre of the photo below) have snow covers all year.


The great Qwoqwanixdama (centre) is full of goats.


Kwa'ylaxsnuxw , Blue Jay Falls , cascades from the mountains (east side of the upper Gardner ).

The Wakasu

From Kwa'ylaxsnuxw we continue up the Gardner Canal , surrounded by mountainous walls on both sides. The last wateshed that empties into this 88km long fjord before it opens up at the mouth of the Kitlope River is the Wakasu River . The Wakasu [pronounced WAH-kah-soo], which takes its name from the Henaksiala Raven chieftain, Wakas [WAH-kyahs] flows through the mountains from the west across a flat shoreline area into the Gardner . Behind a curtain of trees, the Wakasu tumbles down a hidden 8 meter falls just 100 meters back from the high tide line. Wakasu was the location of the first cannery in Haisla traditional territory (if we presume that the facility at Crab River , which operated from about 1880-90) was a “saltery” and not a cannery). The cannery was located on the south side of the mouth of the river. We are not certain when it operated, but it was probably around 1900. It was originally called the Big River Cannery and later the name was changed to the Price Brothers Cannery.

At first, the Big River Cannery was made of bricks. The bricks were red, possibly made from the red clay that coverd Misk'usa in the landslide. That first cannery facility washed out in a flood caused when the river got dammed up above the falls due a jam of ice floes during the spring breakup. When that ice-jam gave way, a surge of water came down and washed the cannery buildings out into the bay. The cannery was rebuilt with cement foundation and planks and had a brick power house. It only had one production line capable of producing 1200-1400 cases per month and a half; and they only canned sockeyes, since in those days people only wanted salmon that was reddish. They were going to enlarge it and put in two more lines. But in the autumn, they loaded the equipment, lumber, windows and everything needed onto a tugboat to bring to Wakasu. However, the tugboat overturned at Haikis Narrows around Klemtu and everything was lost. When that happened, they continued to operate with a single line. But the cannery washed out again. The Henaksiala were told that if they wanted to salvage any boards from that wreckage they could do so. Some of the houses at Kemano were built from that lumber. There were just pilings and footings when Samson Ross (b1912) saw it as a youth.


The shore of “cannery bay” or Wakasu from the south.


Lupins (edible roots) on the shore of the Wakasu at the old cannery site.


Canneries in early Haisla life

Canneries were an important part of Haisla life from the 1880s until the 1950s. There is hardly an elder in the village that did not have cannery life in their growing up or their work years. It seems that in those days there was a cannery up every inlet. The canneries provided work that gave important extra money and a chance to meet and socialize with people from other villages.

Besides the saltery at Crab River (1880s) and the Wakasu cannery (1900-1915?), there were early canneries at Rivers Inlet. The Haisla used to go there to work during the fishing season. A tugboat called The Edith used come to Kitamaat Mission starting in the 1880s and would tow the Haisla canoes toRivers Inlet. It took three days to get there: Day 1 (to Cidexs, Butedale), Day 2 (to Namu, Klemtu or BellaBella depending on the weather) and arrive in Rivers Inlet on Day 3. The canneries of Rivers Inlet in the 1930s were: Kildala, McTavish, Shotbold Bay and Round Mountain (both closed by c1938), Long Point, Good hope, ABC Cannery, Strathcona, and Goose Bay . Across on the other shore ( Schooner Pass ) there was Wadhams and the Beaver Cannery. There was a cannery at Butedale as early as 1913 (the McKenna-McBride commission met there in 1913). By the 1930s, most of the Haislas were working there. Only a few went to Prince Rupert to work in the canneries at Port Edward.

Life at the canneries involved hard work and long days. In the late 30s, the whistle blew at night when fish came in, calling the workers to work. Usually 8:00-5:00, work just went on and on when they were swamped with fish. Sometimes there were so many that they just shovelled the fish overboard off the scow when they couldn't keep up. The line was mostly made up of women and the stations were these: (a) gutted fish would come down a chute, (b) the head was cut off with a slicer (called the “iron Chink”), (c) several washers scrub and rinse the fish vigorously, (d) the fish would be cut into pieces by hand, (e) the pieces were packed into cans and (f) the cans were crimp-sealed (earlier the cans were soldered individually, and later this packing and sealing process was done by machine), (g) the cans are put into trays as big as a rolling table and the whole works get pushed into the steamer, (h) they are steamed according to the size of the cans, (i) the cans are boxed and, in many cases, sent to Vancouver where the labels get put on. There were also support jobs like preparing the cans and lids, etc. The men fished and did heavier jobs around the cannery.

Families lived in staff housing, with the adults working long, long hours and coming home dead tired. Younger kids were cared for by older kids and the really elderly. when the parents were working. Kids played, swam, got into trouble and occasionally worked. The canneries would start in June and run until August or, in really exceptional years, into September. Then the people would head home with a little money in their pockets and spend a few days in either Kitamaat or Kemano before starting to put away their winter food, pick berries, go collect beachlife at low tides and do some hunting. That was how canneries fit into the traditional Haisla annual cycle up until the early 1950s, when Alcan came to Kitimat and much changed.

The Wakasu-C'itis Wa'wais

This large wa'wais covers territory on both sides of the top of the Gardner Canal . It includes two watersheds, each of which is now a registered BC trapline. The Haisla nuyem maintains that each of these watersheds used to be a separate wa'wais. Thus, the two mountainous areas have come to be bbe a single ownership area according to the traditional Haisla perspective. This may have happened after the great flu epidemic of 1918, which so reduced the Henaksiala population that wa'wais areas were amalgamated.

  1. According to Henaksiala tradition, the Wakasu wa'wais used to be associated with the name Wakas or Wakasu, and probably an Eagle clan area [note that although Wakas is a noble Raven clan name among the Gitamaat, it was an Eagle clan name among the Henaksiala].
  2. The C'itis River watershed rises from the mouth of the river just above the Misk'usa village site (where the G eps g olax pole now stands). It was a rich Blackfish wa'wais associated with the name Nismulax. C'itis Misk'usa is also called Wolf Creek .

These two areas remain distinct in terms of the British Columbia trapline boundaries and registration records. The “Tsaitis River” (written C'itis, pronounced TSEE-tees in Haisla) trapline O603T037 was registered in 1928 to Gordon Robertson and the “paper” passed at his death to Gordon's daughter's sons (Gary, Derek and Barry Wilson). The Wakasu-Bluejay Falls trapline 0603T038 was trapped by various Haisla over the course of the years, but registered to Gordon Robinson from 1942-68. According to John Robinson, the late Gordon's brother, it is not considered improper for non-relatives of the wa'wais holder or the previous trapline holder to register a vacant trapline. It is considered “an anomaly” that will probably be worked out by the family in the course of time.

The history of registration of the Wakasu-Bluejay Falls trapline. After 1968, Gordon Robinson stopped trapping the Wakasu-Kwa'ylaxsnuxw line in order to allow it to regenerate during much of the following two decades with occasional trapping by Gordon's brother John and his son. In 1987-8, a series of auctions were held I the province to get “fallow” traplines into the hands of the highest bidder. The Haisla attended these auctions, making it clear that they felt that it was a misunderstanding on the part of the province to think of trapping rights as “alienable” assets rather than, as the Haisla claimed, that trapping rights were an inalienable prerogative of certain Haisla names. At the first of those auctions, the Haislas bid on every trapline being offered for sale within Haisla traditional territory. Even though it had been a departure from matrilineal inheritance patterns for Gordon to register this trapline, John took possession of that grounds, feeling it was appropriate because Haisla matrilineal reckoning provides for male inheritances to progress optimaaly either from male to his sister's eldest son or from a male to a younger siblling. That is the traditional Haisla logic that made the history of that part of this wa'wais make sense to the Haisla mind.

The C'itis trapline. This trapline was regularly trapped by Gordon Robertson. Starting just upriver from the site of Misk'usa village (IR #16), you would pole Gordon's 26' canoe up the river about 15 miles, through many stretaches that required two people, both on shore, one pulling the canoe upstream and the other pushing the canoe out into the current with a paddle so it didn't smack into rocks along the bank. Some parts of the watercourse were just wicked. See the picture on page 55, which gives some idea of the length of the line. According to Gordon's son James, he and his sister's husband, George Amos, would pole up the river, setting 25-28 traps on the way up (east side of the river only) and they would camp in a lean-to at the top.



Mouth of the C'it is River looking northeast up the river's valley Misk'usa (IR #16),
the village site at the mouth of the Kitlope River.

Misk'usa (IR #16), the village site at the mouth of the Kitlope River


The village site at Misk'usa with the G eps g olax pole visible.

The village at Misk'usa (see the drawing above) was the major Henaksiala settlement during late prehistoric times. The community was wiped out by a mudslide, probably in the early 1800s. According to John Wilson, when they were digging the hole for the base of the new G eps g olax pole in the summer of 2,000, after digging through clear soil, they discovered broken red and green bottle glass at a depth a meter below the surface. Their large cemetery ran along the shoreline to the south of the village. In the 1930s there were four houses on the site built after the mudslide.

The Haisla Ge ps g ola x pole, originally from Misk'usa and now located in a Museum in Sweden , is the only 19 th Century Haisla pole which exists. The figures are the following: a frog on the bottom (originally, but it was destroyed when it was cut down), a grizzly bear under water, Aswalget (a spirit in human form), and the empowering spirit Coda (Tsoda) on top. The story of the pole is of Eagle chief Ge ps g ola x , who suffered the loss of his children. Coda found him grieving and gave him a crystal, saying “go to your family's burial tree, take a bite of the crystal and call out to your family to come down.” When he did this, the children rose from the dead and came down


Kitlope - the People of the Rock. In the heights above Misk'usa was a lookout station, where guards kept a lookout for sneak attacks by raiding parties. It was a group of Tsimshian raiders that had noticed the guards high up in the rocky cliffs and called them “people (kit-) of the rocks (-lope). The name stuck and the Henaksiala are called Kitlope up to this day. The folk-history of the Kitselas people (from the Skeena River just above Terrace) includes an account of a Tsimshian raid against the village of Misk'usa . Such raids were a constant threat in traditional times. Here is a paraphrase of the story of that raid as the Kitselas remembered it.

The war party paddled their canoes southeast along the inside passage, into Kitimat Arm and up the Gardner Canal . At last the came to the site of Misk'usa, a settlement nestling close to the shore. Some miles from the objective, the fleet hove to. They waited until dark. When the early hours of the morning came, and the dwellers slept soundly, the river warriors landed and took their stations.

Then came the signal. Again and again the signal, an owl cry echoed back from the rimming forest as the signal to start the attack. That night the killings and horrors of previous attacks were repeated. Taken by surprise the people of Kitlope were no match for the invaders. Many coastal warriors were killed. Some, seeing the battle lost, escaped into the forest. Women and children were captured and made secure. Slavery would be their lot as long as life lasted.

Rich booty fell to the Kitselas warriors that night. Boxes of food and rich things, buckskins, silky sea otter robes. When all was over, the river canoes were far more heavily laden than when they had put ashore. But there was one, a nephew of the chief, who was not satisfied. The sight of their new riches only made him hungry for more. He returned to the houses of Misk'usa one more time to look for other booty. But, sharp vindictive eyes watched him from the forest's edge. Well away from the beach and the support of his comrades, he found himself surrounded. Before aid could come to him, he had paid for his greed with his life. A future chief had died.

From the beach the river men saw the killing. From their throats rang the lament that had come down through the generations. From the beach, a war party ran to catch and kill the men who had done the killing. But the men of Kitlope were equally swift. They had the advantage. They knew the country. Along forest trails they led the invaders. High into the mountains they lured the pursuers. When the morning came, the Kitselas stood at the foot of a great cliff. Above them, on the brink, stood the defenders. From the height came a jeering song that taunted the enemy with their inability to catch them.

The danger was too great. An attempt to climb was out of the question: great rocks might be rolled down on those who ventured and the trail that led to the higher level was not known to them. The chase was abandoned. The river men returned to the beach. After all, why risk life for revenge? That coast held many other towns that were equally rich. Such were attacks on coastal villages in traditional times. It was a fact of life in the old days.


CMT with scar from cedar bark harvesting .


Zaxwilac'i, across from Misk'usa to the right (west) of the mouth of the Kitlope R.


The Kitlope river empties into an open area that is the top of the Gardner Canal . The old people used to come here to dig roots and hunt. There was an important oolichan run up the Kitlope River until the 1950s. According to Haisla tradition, the oolichan would stop here at Zaxwilac'i to rest before entering the river to swim up to Wiqalals, where they would spawn. Gray whales were sometimes seen in those days in the waters at the top of the Gardner . Haisla folklore explains that the reason they would come up this far is that there was a tunnel that led off to the west from the middle of Zaxwilac'i. This underwater passage was thought either to go all the way back to Khutze Inlet (45 kilometers away) or to be the entrance the whales' land of the dead.


Not only the Henaksiala dig roots in Zaxwilac'i. We find evidence of
bear foraging on the shore here.

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