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September 6

Early morning finds us at Kitimaat Mission picking up our Haaisla guides for the trip down the Gardener Channel.  We are bound for the estuary of the Kitlope River and the original site of Misk’usa Village, the traditional home of the Haaisla.  We are welcomed to the Kitlope by Chief Cecil Paul, his sister Louisa Smith, Chief Dan Paul, a hereditary chief, and Gerald Amos a friend and member of the Haaisla Clan and a long-time activist for the Kitlope. 


Copy of the G'psgolox PoleBarb and Chief Cecil PaulAs we make our way down the Gardener Channel between towering mountains, we watch a short video titled The Return of G’psgolox Pole.  This film explains the significance of the totem pole and describes the efforts of the Haaisla people to retrieve it from a museum in Stockholm Sweden where it has been since 1928.  The pole originally stood at the mouth of the Kitlope River to commemorate those who survived the smallpox epidemics and other diseases introduced by explorers and traders.  The Haaisla people built two replicas of the pole in 2000.  One was raised at the mouth of the Kitlope River until the original can be returned and the second is to go to Sweden to replace the original pole so that it can be brought home.  To date, Swedish officials refuse to return the original pole until an appropriate building can be constructed to house and preserve it.  We learn that much of the charitable portion of our booking fee will be donated towards this effort.


Tree & DIB Green Reflections
One of hundreds of beautiful waterfalls
Kitlope River Estuary

                             I am humbled by the sheer beauty and majesty of the country.  Pristine rainforest virtually untouched and guaranteed to stay that way for generations to come, thanks to the resolve and determination of the Haaisla/Henaaksiala people.  It is the largest remaining intact tract of coastal temperate rainforest in the world.  The glacier-carved mountains are cloaked in stunning shades of green and brown:  cedar, hemlock and fir.  Glistening streamers of water flow and fall on every side and at every turn.  Occasional white dots are feeding herds of mountain goats.  It is a place to bring peace to your heart and healing to your soul.


The after-dinner entertainment is a particularly sobering video examining the state of the world’s water supply.  I am suddenly aware of how extremely lucky we are in Canada to have so much good water.  Suzuki points out that we squander good drinking water in toilets and to wash cars and that North Americans foolishly pay more for bottled water than for gasoline.  It is embarrassing given what we just learned about how the rest of the world struggles just to find enough fresh, clean water to drink, never mind flush their toilets.   We wrap up the evening by learning to sing along with a new song Ian Tamblyn has written in honour of our Henaaksiala hosts.


September 7

Dawn creeps in, the fog lifts and we awake to find ourselves gliding down the Ursula Channel toward Gribbell Island.  Gribbell Island has the highest concentration of Spirit Bears anywhere in the world.  Spirit Bears are a rare white sub-species of the Black Bear, Ursus americana. 

 Down RiverA Rainy DayRainforest SnagCarol Heppenstahl in the raingnarled

As an ecotourism initiative, the Gitga’at people who live at the south end of the Douglas Channel, built bear viewing platforms.  They were careful to locate the platforms high up and at a good distance from the main “fishing” area in order to minimize the negative impact of human visitors.  We are joined by Marvin Cooper who will be our guide to the platforms.  While we wait our turn, we are entertained by humpback whales feeding along the channel, particularly a small whale feeding in close to shore.  Soon, it is our turn and we board the DIBs and head for shore.  We tramp along an old logging trail and then descend steep, rocky, slippery slopes to the viewing area.  We climb 2x4 ladders to the tarp-covered platforms and sit quietly watching the jumping salmon in the stream.   Soon a small black bear makes his way up the stream.  It is obvious that he is too young to have the hang of this “fish-catching business” yet but he entertains us with his enthusiastic efforts.  He moves off into the bush rapidly as a slightly larger bear comes splashing down the stream bed.   This one doesn’t have any success either and eventually we make our way back down the logging trail and return to the boat.

Bear Guide, Marvin Cooper Walk Softly Fishing Bear

David SuzukiThe boat moves on through the channel as Laurel Brewster, a forester with the Sierra Club, admitting that she is somewhat nervous because David Suzuki is in the audience, delivers a very interesting presentation on the structure and function of a living forest.  She is a very bright and intelligent young woman and I thoroughly enjoy her presentation.  Trees are plants after all!  Dr. Suzuki later states that he admires her for the stand she has taken on forestry despite having been trained and educated by traditionalists and adds that we will see more changes in how forests are managed as more and more women become part of the industry.


We take a temporary time out as we learn that Marvin Cooper and his crew have sighted a Spirit Bear and, as we excitedly head for the upper decks with binoculars and cameras, the boat changes course and moves in closer.  I am one of a fortunate few who manage a fleeting glimpse of this elusive creature through my binoculars as it turns and makes its way into the underbrush.  


The history of the Spirit Bear is one of the topics covered this afternoon by Colleen McCrory.  I have been fascinated by these unique animals since reading an article in Canadian Geographic Magazine and I hang on every word.  Colleen’s brother is a well-know BC bear biologist and an expert on grizzly bears.  Colleen shares with us a number of his experiences and ventures including the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary and other Great Bear Rainforest projects.


 Ancient PetroglyphOur day’s adventures wind up with a landing in the pouring rain near Kitkiata Inlet where Marvin introduces us to the ancient petroglyphs of his people.  The shoreline is rough, rocky and slippery and many of the rock chunks that form the shoreline bear carvings that are hundreds of years old.  It seems irreverent to be stepping on these wonderful artifacts and it is certainly a privilege to see them. 

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