Hazelton & Kitwanga
Away from the bustle of the cities of Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia is largely wilderness punctuated by the occasional small town or village. Hazelton and nearby Kitwanga are prime examples of such small towns. Hazelton stands about 270 kilometres (168 miles) east of Prince Rupert at the point where the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers meet. Its old town has many historical buildings that preserve the frontier atmosphere of the 19th century. The long and rich history of Indian culture is celebrated at the Ksan Historical Village and Museum.
St Paul's Anglican Church, Kitwanga
While the town of Hazelton was established by British settlers, Kitwanga is a village of the Gitksan people who have lived in Northwestern British Columbia for thousands of years. The British settlers brought Christianity with them and converted the local Indians to the faith. St Paul’s Church was built by the Gitksan people of Kitwanga in 1893.
Ksan Indian Village, Hazelton, BC, Canada
Ksan Historical Village and Museum at Hazelton is a replica of a historical Gitksan village - buildings, decorations, totem poles and all. The museum there also displays a wide range of historical Gitksan artefacts. This picture shows the replica village built in the traditional layout of a single line of the buildings. The Gitksan people built their villages facing the river to ensure that the painted house fronts and totem poles were clearly visible from the river.
Skeena River at Ksan Indian Village, Hazelton
Most Gitksan villages are located on the Skeena River and its tributaries. Rivers were important to the Gitksan people both for transport and for fishing. Nowadays people will pay a fortune to have a view like this from their house. For the Gitksan people, this is used to be the normal standard of view from their front door.
Hazelton Old Town
Hazelton was founded in 1866 and from 1886 to 1913 it was the terminus for sternwheel riverboats that sailed up the Skeena River. This made the town a supply hub for the people living and working in the mines, farms and settlements scattered around the area. Construction of a rail line down the Skeena Valley in 1914 resulted in expansion of the town with the foundation of New Hazelton and South Hazelton, but the old town stayed much as it had been. The old buildings have been restored and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a set for US Western Movies.
Heritage Park, Terrace
About 134 kilometres (83 miles) west of Hazelton the town of Terrace stands on the banks of the Skeena River. The Heritage Park Museum at Terrace is an open air museum that has preserved historical buildings and artefacts from the area. The log buildings are all original, dating from between 1910 and 1935. Terrace was only founded in 1905, so the buildings in the museum represent a time when this part of British Columbia was still very much pioneer territory.
Totem Poles, Kitwanga
Totem poles have become part of the US Wild West legend even though most of the Indian tribes in mainland USA do not have a tradition of making them. In reality, totem poles are found mainly in British Columbia and Alaska. The Gitksan people of British Columbia have a very strong totem pole tradition, as demonstrated by this display beside the road in Kitwanga. Contrary to popular belief, totem poles have never been worshipped, but are mainly used to tell stories or to commemorate historical events. Each tribe has its own distinctive style of totem pole but the poles are always read from the bottom to the top, and the figure carved at the bottom is the most important.
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© Mike Elsden 1981 - 2023
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