HaiCo is putting final touches on a new eco-cultural lodge set to open in May at Peel Inlet, Stads K’uns G̱awG̱a.
The 12-room, fly-in lodge will feature Haida interpreters and artists in residence, a spa and lounge, paddling trips to nearby west coast inlets, and optional air tours to SG̱ang Gwaay, Skedans, and alpine lakes in the San Christoval mountains.
“What really makes it unique is that it is in one of the most stunning, remote areas of the west coast,” says Joëlle Rabu, manager of the east-coast Haida House at Tllal.
Rabu said after six seasons at Haida House, she has seen more and more tourists come to Haida Gwaii for a sense of the culture, art, and environment here.
Cultural tourists also value the fact they are a Haida-owned company, she said, where anyone involved in guiding is Haida.
“We want to ensure authenticity,” she said. “You have to have that ancestry to understand it, and pass it forward.”
Unlike many fishing lodges on Haida Gwaii, Rabu said all but one of the 18 staff at Haida House are Haida or locals, adding that HaiCo will also aim to hire locally for the 16 to 20 positions opening at Ocean House.
Many staff will be at the lodge for the majority of the season, which runs about three-and-a-half months from the end of May to early September. Haida artists will be there for shorter stays as their schedules allow, said Rabu, and get a chance to meet visitors in a quiet, uncrowded place.
“You’re not just watching an artist carve, weave, paint,” she said. “You’re actually engaging to hear more about the past, the traditions, how they learned.”
The new lodge is currently in Vancouver, where Haida interior designer Gina Mae Schubert is redesigning what was a West Coast Resorts fishing lodge with a modern look that keeps an eye to the clean lines and ovoid shapes of Haida art.
Visitors will fly in on a North Cariboo Air charter plane from Vancouver to Sandspit, then take a 17-minute Helijet ride to Peel Inlet.
While a backcountry road does run from Sandspit to Peel Inlet, it is not fit for regular vehicle traffic, though some residents do access it with ATVs.
When it was first proposed, Ocean House was going to be a lodge on land. But after some changes and that pushed the opening date to next year, it will now be a floating lodge that is self-contained, generating drinking water from desalination and generating power on site.
“You’re really working with very little footprint,” Rabu said.
A self-described culture buff who has travelled to 50 countries and speaks French, English, German, Spanish and Esperanto, Rabu acknowledged that any tourism can be two-edged sword.
Machu Picchu had to close and restore some of its over-worn trails, she said. In Hawaii, some people offer cut-rate art to tourists, underselling established local artists.
But with so much of Haida Gwaii already protected from development, Rabu said the islands have a good, sustainable start.
“It’s really good that we’ve already got those steps in place to protect, like they say, from the sky to the bottom of the ocean,” she said.
“I think whatever we do in tourism on Haida Gwaii, that’s going to be of great importance.”
To learn more about working at Ocean House, job postings will be available in the coming months on the Careers page at www.haico.ca.