We recently took part in a stand up paddle expedition of a section of the Northern Coast of British Columbia, Canada. The trip was organized by Norm Hann and hosted by the Gitga’at people of Hartley Bay. We paddled through various waterways along parts of the coastal region known as the Great Bear Rainforest. We have been wanting to make this trip for a very long time and we have been considering it a once in a lifetime opportunity. We took part in this expedition to become more aware of the cultural history and ecology of this area which comprises 25% of the world’s remaining rainforest. Within our interest in design we are interested in simple systems and the enhancement of common daily rituals. We also want to educate ourselves about the ancient cultures and ecology of this fragile area so that we can tell others about it. Over the next seven weeks we will make weekly posts describing some of this incredible adventure.
We set up our studio in Vancouver for a few reasons… amongst these, we recognized that working in Vancouver would allow us to develop our own thinking independent of design culture, trend or local influence. Another reason is Vancouver’s close proximity to incredible wilderness. We are now investing some time into the experience of this amazing place. We have taken up various pursuits as a way to further the experience. Snowboarding has taken us into the mountains. Every year we strive to go deeper – on snowshoe or split-board, rather than chairlift. Surfing has taken us into the ocean swell and lets us feel the full impact of a winter storm. We are discovering that these adventures give us more pause to consider and reconsider life’s essential comforts: eating, bathing, shelter and sleep. For example, going out into the ocean in a winter storm and surfing until our bodies are exhausted makes the simple and sometimes unremarkable act of bathing, eating, reading or sleeping that much more intense.
We started to stand up paddle because its something we can do anytime, anywhere. It doesn’t require surf. We can paddle in calm water or we can surf the boards when we can find swell. This sport has further engaged us with our environment. We watch the weather and tides and now, when we are out in the surfing lineup, standing up, we can see porpoises, swimming dungeness crab, sea lions and even whales. Previously, on regular surfboards, we would be bobbing in the troughs of waves and unable to see all this life. We can take our boards up rivers in the fall to follow salmon in their last cycle of life and we also use our boards to transport ourselves to other places, cultures and even times.
Day 1: Hartley Bay
We embarked on 4 hr water taxi ride aboard the “Tsimshian Storm” to Hartley Bay this morning from Prince Rupert. The water taxi makes the trip to Hartley Bay twice a week transporting people, luggage and even home appliances. We stacked our surfboards onto the roof. The rain was pouring down and the wind was hard against us. On the boat we saw bald eagles, white sided dolphins and humpback whales.
Hartley Bay is a First Nations community on the northern coast of British Columbia, located at the mouth of Douglas Channel, about 630 kilometers (390 miles) north of Vancouver and 145 kilometers (90 mi) south of Prince Rupert. It is an isolated village accessible only by air and water and has a population of about 200. It is home to the Gitga’at people who are members of the Tsimshian nation. The community is 19 km (12 miles) south from the ancient winter village of the Gitga’at, known today as Old Town (Kitkatla).
Kitkatla Winter “Old Town” by Roy Henry Vickers
Arriving at Hartley Bay, which is partially hidden in layers of rain mist, gives us the sense of coming upon an old village where longhouses would have lined the shore facing out to the sea. Wooden boardwalks connect all of the buildings; houses, school, community hall, church… It also gives us a similar feeling of a community we spent time in while in the southern most part of Colombia, several years ago. It is apparent right away that the air is very different here, full of oxygen and clean – it smells wet and green.
We spend the afternoon in the home of elder Helen Clifton. Her cedar cottage is filled with baskets, hats, rope and other objects woven from red cedar bark and spruce root. There are also many books, beautiful prints, oil paintings as well as cedar and argelite (a slate-like stone that only exists in Haida Gwaii) carvings: masks and small totems. I recognize pieces from the hands of Charles Edenshaw and Roy Henry Vickers. “Granny” speaks to us about the traditional territory and food harvesting locations of the Gitga’at people. She is a captivating story teller.
After talking with Helen we were invited over by Ernie, Lynne and Jodi Hill to their home for a traditional feast. The Hill’s shared with us a wonderful assortment of smoked sockeye salmon bellies, cold and hot smoked salmon, baked coho salmon, dungeness crab, seaweed, clam strips, prawns… After dinner we take a short paddle in Hartley Bay and then prepare our gear.