2015 Year in Review

A look back at the stories that shaped the islands in 2015

  • Jan. 12, 2016 2:00 p.m.


Bird deaths sparks investigation

BC Parks collected several bird carcasses and sent them to the Canadian Wildlife Service for investigation after dozens of dead birds washed up in Tlell in mid-December.

Tlell resident Cacilia Honisch said she found about 250 dead Cassin’s Auklets between Wiggins Road and Misty Meadows campground on Dec. 19 and 20.

“I have never seen anything like it. It was so sad,” Ms. Honisch said. “I just stood there and I cried.”

The birds were found following a strong southeast storm that hit Haida Gwaii on Dec. 18, with winds in excess of 100 km/hour. Ms. Honisch, who walks on the beach every day, said she first discovered the dead birds the morning of Dec. 19, when she came across 60 of them walking just north of Wiggins Road. That afternoon, she walked to the beach at Misty Meadows campground and counted another 90 birds. She found dozens more in another area, and finally had to stop counting.


Downed telephone line affects water supply

A Telus crew made emergency repairs to Queen Charlotte’s water treatment plant just before Christmas, after a truck knocked down a Telus line near the Honna Road on Dec. 20.

The water was safe to drink at all times, but the accident meant that the village had to turn to its well pumps to supplement the treated water in the reservoir.

Residents were advised to avoid using bleach or bleach products for two days because of the well water’s high mineral content.

By the morning of Dec. 23, all was repaired and the water system was back to normal.

The village did not realize there was no manual override on the water treatment controls until the lines were cut, and immediately got to work to install proper mechanisms.


Rare winter snowstorm pounds islands

Islanders awoke to a winter wonderland after a rare storm blanketed the islands with a coat of thick snow. Despite numerous power outages and daunting driving conditions, many islanders happily greeted the storm with mittens and sleds.

Some parts of the island saw as much as 33 centimetres of freshly fallen snow.

The combination of high winds and heavy snow pushed trees onto power lines, which at one point left as many as 377 people without power for 14 hours, and 1,300 more for about one hour.

Hydro crews worked day and night to ensure power was restored as soon as possible. They were joined by road maintenance crews that deployed a fleet of plows and graders, clearing and salting municipal streets and highways.

Although the snow was an inconvenience to those attending to business or navigating roads, the young and young at heart embraced the fluffy white stuff by bundling up and heading out to play. After all, it could be years before islanders experience a snowstorm of these proportions again.

Legal action over herring fishery

The Council of the Haida Nation announced it will resort to legal action if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reopens the commercial herring fishery in Haida Gwaii waters.

“Herring stocks on Haida Gwaii have not rebuilt sufficiently to support a fishery,” said an open letter signed by CHN president Peter Lantin. “Continued closure of the commercial herring fishery on Haida Gwaii is necessary to allow stocks to rebuild and to facilitate development of a sound management approach.”

This statement was in response to information the CHN received on Dec. 17, 2014, which suggested DFO is contemplating commercial spawn on kelp and roe herring fisheries in the waters surrounding the islands.

But the CHN disagreed with DFO’s stock assessment numbers, noting that the spawn in 2014 declined from the year previous.

“Many DFO scientists and industry have both indicated a need to reevaluate current herring management models and procedures,” the CHN said. “The current management approach is flawed and based on over-optimistic models with a high level of uncertainty.”


Taan Forest buys out Edwards contract

After two months of shutdown, Edwards and Associates employees were back to work, after an agreement between their union and Taan Forest.

A short-term agreement was made between the union representing Edwards’ employees, enabling operations on Taan’s Tree Farm Licence.

With this three-month agreement, Taan Forest issued a press release stating they paid for the termination of Edwards’ long-term replaceable contract, known as Bill 13.

The termination of the Bill gives Taan Forest the responsibility to pay Edwards employees outstanding wages and benefit plans.


Fried fish mistaken for drugs

Police received a report that there were drugs being cooked at a house in Skidegate. An officer responded to the call and spoke with a person at the residence. The individual told the officer they were just deep frying a lot of fish, not cooking drugs. Police were shown the fish and oil, which confirmed the response.


Port Clements terminal inches forward

Infinity West’s plan to build a container barge terminal in Port Clements got one step closer to actualization, as council passed the first of three readings of a bylaw that will rezone its land.

The new zoning would change the land from a Resource Area to Marine Industrial Amended, which would allow the company to build a barge terminal and dryland sort. The amended zoning would strictly prohibit all watering and dewatering of wood and includes restrictions on escape and noise.

Some residents objected to rezoning the land to Marine Industrial, siting concerns about environmental hazards and waterfront aesthetics.


20 paramedics recruited

Several new paramedics on Haida Gwaii begin extensive training.

“We’re moving towards a bunch of new hires. There’ll be nine to 12 for the first wave, a total of 20 in the making, which is close to our target number,” said Norene Parke, BC Emergency Health Services superintendent for the Skeena District.

BCEHS was increasing recruitment, mentorship and training on Haida Gwaii in line with goals identified during a multi-stakeholder working group that took place on-islands in September.

At the time of the meeting the previous fall, there were 37 paramedics on on-islands, where 60 are needed to ensure all shifts are covered.





SD50 boosts Sandspit assistance

School District No. 50 voted in favour of boosting Sandspit’s transportation assistance from $10 to $13 per family.

SD 50 made the decision at their regular board meeting in Masset Jan. 27. The increased assistance went into effect this month


The rise of automated defibrillators

Every islands community was furnished with at least one automated external defibrillator (AED), which can increase the chance of surviving a heart attack by as much as 75 per cent.

“I think it’s extremely important for all communities everywhere to have access to AEDs. There’s a lot of research out there indicating that they save lives,” said Skidegate emergency coordinator Mary Kelly, who helped allocate the eight AEDs purchased by the Skidegate Band Council last year.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, having defibrillators accessible in public locations decreases the amount of time it takes for a responder to begin CPR and defibrillation, which increases chance of survival.

AEDs work best in conjunction with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (C.P.R.) and, although many of the devices will talk a rescuer through the motions, the best way to ensure accurate technique is to take a first aid course.


Saints demand end to oil sponsorship

Members of the Skidegate Saints appealed to organizers of the All Native Basketball Tournament to terminate its relationships with sponsors from the oil and gas industry.

In an emotional letter to the tournament committee, 14 signatories of the three-time defending Seniors Division champions wrote the industry’s presence is an attempt to gain social license in a tournament that once filled a void created by genocide and colonization.

They wanted tournament organizers to reject sponsorship from companies planning to export oil or liquefied natural gas from the North Coast, as well as those planning to construct pipelines to carry the product to the terminal.

“The tournament is special for so many reasons and we strongly feel the committee’s fundraising direction is eroding the spirit and soul of this once great event,” read the letter.


Province shuts down after-death service

Consumer Protection B.C. ordered the only islander providing funeral services for grieving families to immediately cease his activities or face legal action. For many years, Queen Charlotte resident George Westwood had volunteered his time to help friends and family dealing with the loss of loved ones by handling and transporting the bodies and offering emotional support to families.

Acting on a tip last October, Consumer Protection investigated Mr. Westwood and concluded his activities were in violation of at least three provincial Legislation Acts and ordered the immediate halt to his activities.

Haida Gwaii was told to spend large amounts of money and time to either ferry bodies to Prince Rupert for funeral preparation, or somehow recruit a licenced funeral director.

In a letter to the Observer Mr. Westwood expressed frustration over the matter.

“To occasionally help neighbors or friends at the time of a death in the family is allowed,” he wrote, “but to do so on an ongoing basis, one is deemed to be acting like a funeral director.

“It has been a privilege and honour to have been of help when it is most needed, but I must refrain in the future.”


Tsunami debris piling up on western shore

It had been four years since the tsunami that devastated Japan, but debris from the disaster was still piling up on the shores of Haida Gwaii.

Calm winters delayed the debris from making its way to the islands, but it was now coming in regularly, appearing on the beaches in waves. Some tides brought hundreds of pieces of Styrofoam and some bring countless plastic bottles.

A representative of Japan Environmental Action Network (JEAN) and Kate Le Souef of the Vancouver Aquarium visited Haida Gwaii on a research trip to investigate the environmental impacts. The Haida Gwaii Debris Committee gave the researches a tour of affected beaches of Haida Gwaii.

After the tour of the islands, Ms. Le Souef  said she was impressed by the Haida Gwaii Debris Society and all the hard work they have done to clean up the beaches of Haida Gwaii.

“They are doing a amazing job” she stated.

The piles of rope, foam, shoes, bottles and the odd tire on remote beaches is a growing problem on Haida Gwaii.

“It just shows how connected we all are and how the ocean connects us all.”




CHN wins injunction over herring fishery

The CHN was successful in stopping the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans from opening a herring fishery in Haida Gwaii waters. CHN received the injunction in a March 6 Federal Court ruling in Vancouver.

“The court was receptive to our submissions and we were able to demonstrate a very real problem in the management of herring and the attitude of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans,” Peter Lantin, president of the CHN said. “We hope with this ruling DFO will start working with us to develop a sustainable fisheries” states Lantin in a news release on the granting of the injunction.

The court found the DFO’s stock assessment numbers were calculated with insufficient certainty, which the CHN proved with their own research and on-the-water knowledge.

Justice Michael Mason noted that the federal government failed to meaningfully consult and negotiate with the Haida Nation about the fishery.


Governor General makes a splash

Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston, was officially greeted by the Haida Nation and Sandspit school children as he began a tour of Haida Gwaii to visit and learn about the communities, language and culture of the Haida Nation.

Mr. Johnston spent the last part of his first day with Elders, youth, and community members at Kaay’ Llnagaay. The hlGaagilda Dancers entertained him and his entourage as well as the assembled community members and guests.

Caught up in the the spirit, Mr. Johnston got up and danced his Warrior Spirit out with the other men dancing. The crowd was treated to what can only be called an unorthodox dance style as he performed the chini (grandfather) version of the dance.


Endenshaws unveil replica of Great Box

The Room of the Totems in the Haida Gwaii Museum was full of elders and young people from all over the islands to witness the unveiling of the Great Box, created by Mr. Gwaii Edenshaw and Mr. Jaalen Edenshaw.

In September of 2014, the Edenshaw brothers, both raised on Haida Gwaii as part of the Eagle Clan,  travelled to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England to create an exact replica of the Great Box, a masterpiece of Haida art held at the Museum. Their mission was to learn directly from the deceased artist and bring home the knowledge embodied within the Great Box.

“We don’t know who the artist is, but we do know his body of work a little bit,” Gwaii said.

Jaalen added that although the design is not symmetrical, it is very balanced. They traced over the box, then folded the paper in half, and the design does not line up. There is more emphasis of bringing more life in it to not be symmetrical. “It Gives it more soul,” Gwaii said, adding no one knows for certain what the box was originally used for.


Martin demands Anton apologize

Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin, came out swinging after Consumer Protection B.C. effectively eliminated funeral services on Haida Gwaii.

In an email exchange, obtained by the Observer, between Mayor Martin and Anita Nadziejko, a B.C. government senior policy and legislation analyst, Mayor Martin made clear his opposition to the agency’s decision to issue a cease-and-desist order to George Westwood, who while unlicenced, had volunteered his services to the community for decades.

Ms. Nadziejko approached Mayor Martin to arrange a teleconference with the Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton, “to review information about funeral director services.” in your community”.

Mr. Martin replied plainly that the Village of Queen Charlotte no longer has any funeral director services to review.

“Consumer Protection B.C should be rebranded to Corporate Protection B.C. They’re certainly not protecting our consumers.”

Mayor Martin stated in the email the claims that George Westwood was acting and charging people for funeral service are unsupported.

“The Minister owes George Westwood  an apology,” he said.


Islands’ first briquette plant roars to life

After more than a decade of trying, Port Clements clelbrated the start-up of a new wood briquette plant.

The $1 million plant on the shore of Masset Inlet was unveiled to dignitaries and residents at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 9.

The plant is expected to initially produce 14,000 tonnes of briquettes generating revenues of approximately $280,000 per year.

“[The plant is] a large-scale investment, and will be going 24/7 once it’s ramped up.” Ken Rea, Old Massett chief councillor, said.

The briquettes are processed out of wood waste that is compressed under high pressure to form cylindrical logs. The logs are then often cut into three-inch disk-shaped briquettes for burning. They have no chemical additives and are valued for burning hotter than regular wood while emitting less carbon.




Funeral services given the OK

George Westwood was given permission to continue his funeral services on Haida Gwaii.

After months of uncertainty, in the Legislative Assembly March 26 Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton conceded in very plain wording the services he provided were of great value to the community, which he may continue to offer on a volunteer basis as before.

“When you lose a loved one, there is no question that there are many people who can help you, and a knowledgeable volunteer can be of great assistance to families,” Ms. Anton said.

“Mr. Westwood was a knowledgeable man and helped families and may be continuing to help families on Haida Gwaii. He may do that as a volunteer.”

Her words were in sharp contrast from a previous Question Period when, in response to North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice’s first questions on the matter, she said the government could do very little to reverse the decision of Consumer Protection B.C.

Consumer Protection B.C. then promised to work with the Funeral Association of British Columbia, using the George Westwood affair as a starting point to amend provincial polices so similar conflicts don’t arise in other B.C. communities.

To date, nothing yet has been finalized.


Conservatives sink anti-tanker bill

Unanimous Conservative opposition killed the bill that could have ended the future possibility of oil supertankers crossing the Hecate Strait.

Bill C-628, An Act to Defend the Pacific Northwest, was put forth by Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen.

The intention was to challenge Enbridge’s activities in the Northwest by enacting a ban on crude oil supertankers on B.C.’s North Coast, while also instructing the National Energy Board to give more meaningful consultation to First Nations and communities.

“The support that we got from all corners of British Columbia, from right across Canada is just humbling,” Mr. Cullen said in a telephone press conference immediately following the bill’s defeat.


HG likely source of next major quake

A years-long scientific study pinpointed Haida Gwaii as the next likely source of a potentially devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Researchers at the Geological Survey of Canada took an interest in the region following 2012’s large quake felt across the islands, measuring 7.7 in magnitude. The event may have relieved some pressure on the Queen Charlotte fault, but the new research indicates the shifting increased pressure on other points directly south.

A lack of larger-scale quakes and tsunamis along B.C.’s coast in recent years contributed to public criticism over the province’s and various municipalities’ ability to handle either a quake or tsunami effectively.


Arichika Island declared rat free

Parks Canada and the CHN jointly declared Arichika Island rat free, following a laborious eradication campaign, beating tremendous odds to give a nesting seabird, the ancient murrelet, the fighting chance to bounce back from its Species at Risk status.

“The introduction of rats to many of the forested islands of Haida Gwaii has meant the demise of several historic seabird nesting colonies,” CHN President Peter Lantin said.

The ancient murrelet (SGin Xaana or “night bird” in the Haida language) was once abundant on Arichika Island, but in the late 1700s the Norway rat was introduced to the islands during the advent of maritime shipping.




Search and rescue called off

A massive, three-day search and rescue operation for Kumdis Island resident, Brent Hendren, was called off.

Mr. Hendren, 27, was last seen rowing out to his Kumdis Island cabin rental with supplies Sunday morning, April 18. He missed dinner plans with friends later that night.

The following Tuesday Masset RCMP received a missing persons report, which led to the discovery Mr. Hendren’s boat abandoned and overturned south of Watun River near Pure Lake Provincial Park.

The Canadian Forces’ Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) out of CFB Comox mobilized search efforts for Mr. Hendren, calling on the Coast Guard, DFO, RCMP and local search and rescue teams, employing three aircraft and various watercraft to search every kilometer of water and shoreline in between Masset and North Beach.

As the search wound down for ground crews Tuesday evening, the aerial search intensified, using infrared sensors with the hope of picking out Mr. Hendren’s body heat from the forest, and dispersing marine flares to draw him out of any shelter he may have been utilizing.

Mr. Hendren moved to Haida Gwaii from Ontario in November 2014 to learn how to forage for food and live off the land while living in the cabin on Kumdis Island.


Mystery of auklet die-off solved


The mystery of the Cassin’s auklet die-off was solved.

From Alaska down to northern California, above average sea temperatures along the west coast this winter pushed out the cold-water food source for tens of thousands auklets, replacing it with a less-nutriousous warm-water variety, effectively starving the sea birds to death.

BC Parks sent several carcases to the Canadian Wildlife Service for investigation after hundreds of the dead birds washed up in Tlell between Wiggins Road and Misty Meadows campground.

The highest concentrations of carcases washing ashore were on the south outer coast of Washington and the northern half of Oregon states. The auklet’s highest-known death rates occurred in South Oregon, with 150 carcasses per kilometre.


Marine Planning Partnership complete

Leaders from the North Pacific Coast First Nations and the provincial government announced the completion of plans for the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP).

The marine plans are to be an extension of the 2007 coastal land use plan that has become known as the Great Bear Rainforest’s agreement. The four regions are Haida Gwaii, Central Coast, North Coast and North Vancouver Island, but they do not attempt to intrude on the key federal jurisdictions of shipping and fisheries management.

The MaPP plans provide recommendations for key areas of marine management, including uses, activities and protection, which will inform the decision-making process regarding the sustainable economic development and stewardship of coastal marine environments in the plan areas extending from Haida Gwaii to Campbell River. First Nation leaders said they were proceeding with B.C. and environmental organizations, but the federal government has not participated.


Amazon drops free shipping

Amazon.ca was added to the list of companies no longer offering free shipping to Haida Gwaii. Due to Canada Post’s designation of the islands as a Remote Area, people who order something off the popular website were suddenly charged a big increase in shipping prices. What used to be free will now cost a minimum $29 shipping charge on purchases.




Warm-water “Blob” baffling scientists

Scientists were keeping a close eye on a peculiar warm-water anomaly off the Pacific Northwest coast, nicknamed the “blob.” The event was responsible for a mass die-off of Cassin’s Auklets, but the full ramifications of why this massive aquatic phenomena was occurring, and how long it would stay, was still unknown.

A University of Washington climate scientist, who first discovered the anomaly casually named it The Blob for its smooth, fluctuating appearance on satellite imagery.

Since then scientists have been tracking the large mass and by the fall of 2014 this warm pool of surface water had shifted eastward from the central Gulf of Alaska. By late 2014 and early 2015 the blob was blanketing the entire west coast of North America.


BC Ferries adds sailings amidst demand

BC Ferries added two additional sailings in June to keep up with summer demand.

The Northern Adventure made unexpected sailings between Prince Rupert and Skidegate on Monday, June 8 and Monday, June 15 in order to address a backlog of customers wishing to access Haida Gwaii.


Eagle, Raven poles raised at QCSS

After years of planning, Queen Charlotte Secondary School celebrated the raising and installation of two totem poles at the entrance of the school.

With a crowd of hundreds from across the islands, the two poles—one of the Raven and another of the Eagle, were carried in amidst a pageant of Haida dancing, singing and speeches, before at last being fitted onto the two entrance pillars at the school’s main entrance.

As findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee were still being hotly discussed, the raising of the poles held special, inclusive significance for First Nations students, as Elders in the audience reflected on their drastically opposite experience in Canada’s notorious residential school system.

“We’re here to witness the standing of another Haida totem pole,” said Percy Williams.

“When we were growing up we weren’t even allowed to speak our language. We were told to learn the other culture. It’s good to see our culture again, and it’s good to see so many other people [here today] in our place.




Drought triggers rare campfire ban

The province placed the majority of B.C., including Haida Gwaii, under a strict ban on open burning, which includes small campfires.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources put the ban into effect after weeks of a Level 3 drought and as more than 150 current forest fires burned across the province.

The announcement marked the first campfire ban on Haida Gwaii in at least nine years.


Heat pump project off to hot start

Skidegate Band Council hosted a meet and greet for the community July 16 to thank the funders of the Heat Pump Project, an initiative that will have a profound impact on the lives of Elders, and eventually the entire community.

Heat pumps are a highly efficient and environmentally-friendly heating source—two factors that convinced the Skidegate Band Council to retrofit all Skidegate homes with the devices.

Currently, the devices have been installed in roughly half the homes of local Elders. Heat Pumps extract heat from the cold outside air, and move it indoors. The savings can approach $100 per month.


Appeal for mental health workers

A staffing gap in Haida Gwaii’s Child and Youth Mental Health Services had one local educator worried the situation reached a crisis point. Verena Gibbs, principal for Port Clements Elementary and acting principal for Tahayghen Elementary, wrote a letter to the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) urging them to fill the vacancy after the last worker resigned last month due to heavy workload—approximately 40 cases. According to Ms. Gibbs, that translated into a system in which only the most at-risk students are supported.


Boat finally recovered from harbour

The High Noon a fishing vessel that sat at the bottom of the Queen Charlotte Harbour for a year was finally removed.

The vessel sunk slowly off the dock in Queen Charlotte in 2014, forcing others in the shallow, tight space of the harbour to skirt around a buoy that marked the hazzard.

A Coast Guard radio warning had been repeating ever since.

A crew worked tirelessly July 13 to bring the boat to the surface, as large airbags were tied to the boat by the divers, then filled slowly with air.

The identity of High Noon’s owner is still unknown to the Harbour Authority, leaving all costs of the recovery with taxpayers.


Community forest at long last?

After 20 years and several failed attempts to start a community forest on Haida Gwaii, Misty Isles Economic Development Society thought it might be close to finally realizing that dream.




Water shortage unprecedented

As of July 28 the Village of Skidegate water levers were continuing to fall. Measurements Slarkedus Lake, from which the village receives all its potable water, were 40.5 inches below the safe level. The Band Council is now enforcing mandatory Level-4 water restrictions. This means all uses are prohibited except for drinking and household uses.

There is no enforcement program for the water conservation, as it is an new process for the band.

Watering of lawns and gardens along with washing cars and boats are all prohibited. The use of sprinklers, hoses and pressure washers and the filling pools are also among the prohibited uses for water.

Skidegate depends entirely on surface water of Slarkedus lake, rather than well water as with other communities on Haida Gwaii.

The rain that has preceded the fire warning have not nearly been enough to fill the aquifer. All of the precipitation on Haida Gwaii has been soaked up by the forest and the moss. Having a mild winter with low rainfall has also contributed to significantly low lake levels.

This is the first time Skidegate has seen any water restrictions, let alone a Level 4, which is the highest level in water restrictions. The Skidegate Band Council held a meeting July 23, to which over 100 residents attended.

“People have come up with brilliant water conservation methods,” Babs Stevens Skidegate Band CAO, said.


Council OKs contentious barge facility

Development of a proposed barge facility by Infinity West Enterprises had Port Clements divided but decided. During a special meeting, Port Clements Village Council voted three against and two in favour of a rezoning application and an amendment to the Community Plan.

The decision over the land on Industrial Park Road was delayed in February when it became evident the mayor, along with two of four councillors, were in conflict of interest with the project.

A Supreme Court decision June 2 granted Mayor Ian Gould and Councillors Charleen O’Brien-Anderson and Matt Gaspar the right to discuss and vote on the official community plan (OCP) amendment by-law, and the zoning by-law despite sections 100 and 101 of the Community Charter.

In a packed council chambers last week, Mr. Gould told the crowd that once the by-law was defeated or approved, the Supreme Court prohibited the elected officials in conflict from speaking further on the matter in any official capacity.


Cops bust Masset drug dealer

The Masset RCMP, with the aid of the RCMP west coast marine unit, conducted a search warrant on a residence in the Village of Masset.

“Information came to light through RCMP investigations and tips from local citizens that drug activity was occurring at a house located on Collison Avenue in Masset B.C. Additionally, recent activity on a popular social media site [Facebook] did not go unnoticed,” Constable Chris Kienzle of the Masset Detachment said. “The Masset public has spoken and your local RCMP are listening,” he added.

The bust came one month after the owner of the Mile Zero Pub, Steve Marshall, issued a call to the public on Facebook for anonymous tips to the identity of individuals dealing drugs both inside his washrooms and on the street outside.

Moderate quantities of substances believed to be marijuana and crack cocaine were seized during the search of the Collison Ave. residence.


Dead sperm whale brings count to five

Mere days after the discovery of a dead humpback whale on East Beach, a deceased sperm whale was spotted on the west coast of Graham Island. This put the total death toll for B.C. whales to five in a matter of weeks.

The young female humpback was found around 10 kilometres north of Tlell, measuring just over seven metres in length. Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammal coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, came to Haida Gwaii along with Dr. Stephen Raverty to perform a necropsy.

There was no immediate evidence as to the cause of death.





Eagle deaths spur DFO enforcement

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officers stepped up their enforcement of laws prohibiting the feeding of eagles within municipal boundaries. Those caught dumping fish remains above the low-tide line would be issued a fine.

The feeding of eagles had been identified as the leading cause of death among the birds on Haida Gwaii. Over many years, a significant number of eagles have flown into power lines and windows as they jostle with other eagles for the scraps.


Online messages concern RCMP

A rise of inappropriate messaging to Haida Gwaii youth prompted the RCMP to reach out to the community with Internet safety talks.

The move was prompted by a number of incidents reported to police in August.

The safety talks are being held with the hope to teach youth to protect themselves.

“We were approached by a concerned parent,” Constable Ryder Birtwhistle of the Queen Charlotte RCMP, said. “We have had a number of reports of people sending inappropriate messages to youth.”


Skidegate water woes reach end

Weeks after Haida Gwaii had been downgraded to a Level 2 drought, following a Level 3 since June, the Skidegate Band Council finally cancelled their self-imposed water restrictions.

The village’s water supply at Slarkedus lake had been dropping throughout the unusually dry summer, and at one point measured 40 inches below the spillway.

The Skidegate Band is working to prevent future water issues by performing upgrades to the dam, identifying new wells as a backup and developing a community emergency plan.


Masset crime severity spikes in 2014

The latest data on Canadian crime severity showed dramatically different trends of what police were dealing with on the northern and southern ends of Graham Island. In Masset, data collected in 2014 by Statistics Canada shows a 60.8 per cent rise in the nature, or severity, of crimes committed the previous year, while in Queen Charlotte the RCMP have seen the polar opposite with a decline of −43.4 per cent.

These figures are calculated annually for the Crime Severity Index, which assigns an escalating weight to particular crimes based on their seriousness, including traffic, drug and federal offenses. The base index was set at 100 in 2006 and adjusted each following year accordingly.

While it may appear Masset was facing a crisis, the report’s authors caution the figures are calculated per 100,000 people and can be skewed in an extreme direction if a small data set, as found in low-population areas like Haida Gwaii, is influenced by just one crime with a high index value.


Skidegate water woes reach end

Weeks after Haida Gwaii had been downgraded to a Level 2 drought, following a Level 3 since June, the Skidegate Band Council finally cancelled their self-imposed water restrictions.

The village’s water supply at Slarkedus lake had been dropping throughout the unusually dry summer, and at one point measured 40 inches below the spillway.

The Skidegate Band is working to prevent future water issues by performing upgrades to the dam, identifying new wells as a backup and developing a community emergency plan.


Numbers show improved tourist season

With Haida Gwaii named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 20 must-see places in the world, coupled with a devalued Canadian dollar, tourism showed a strong upswing in 2015.

Maureen Riddall of the Visitor Information Centre in Queen Charlotte, told the Observer earlier in the season that the VIC was already receiving calls for information for 2016. The centre saw a total of 4,261 people walk through their door in the month of July, up 28 per cent from July 2014. August was up 18 per cent from 2014 with a total of 4,101 visitors.


Port barge facility appeal denied

The BC Supreme Court turned down Port Clements citizens’ appeal to overturn permission to vote on a rezoning application despite council’s conflict of interest.

Developer Infinity West has big plans for a barge facility in the newly rezoned area of Port Clements but did not see anything major happening anytime soon.

A vocal group of residents had come out publicly opposing the project to council, but very few have gone on the record in support. The Village of Port Clements CAO Kim Mushynsky says several residents have voiced their support for the project to her directly, but asked to remain anonymous to avoid involvement in the controversy.




Parasite infection cause of whale’s death

A severe parasitic infestation was blamed for the death of a rare Cuvier’s beaked whale found on the shores of Gwaii Hanaas in May.

Results of a necropsy performed by the University of British Columbia and released last month confirmed a crassicauda worm parasite infection around the kidneys.

“It had one of the worst Crassicauda infections I’ve ever seen,”PhD. student  Marina Piscitelli with the University of British Columbia said.

“Both kidneys were severely compromised.”

A construction crew working on the new Watchmen cabin on SGang Gwaay discovered the whale in May in a significant state of decomposition.

The adult, rare whale carcass was not the only one that had washed ashore in B.C. Another beaked whale was discovered near Tofino around the same time.

The skeleton will be cleaned and re


Patrick Shannon named B.C.’s Young  Aboriginal Entrepreneur of the Year

Skidegate’s Patrick Shannon was named the recipient of this year’s B.C. Aboriginal Business Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Evil Patrick by Design, as the company was once called, is Mr. Shannon’s award-winning brainchild and is in the midst of being rebranded with the new name, InnoNative.

Amongst his accomplishments is the Xaayda Hub in Skidegate, a venture he runs with Yolanda Clatworthy that provides a place for people to rent  professional, temporary work space to get out of the coffee shop scene. “Not only for our needs, but I thought,  we can also address the broader need in the communities here for the space,” Mr. Shannon said.


Cheque fraud mystery peters out

Port Clements CAO Kim Mushinski was pleased to report there has been no more fraudulent cheques reported to the village office.

On June 23 the village received a phone call from a woman who was inquiring about the validity of a cheque she had received, apparently, from the municipal office. The Village confirmed it was not one of their cheques. Nonetheless, all the banking information on the cheque, including a signature by Port Clements Mayor Ian Gould, was correct. The next day the village received another call from someone who was able to scan and send the village a copy of the cheque, along with a Kijiji ad they has responded to that resulted on this cheque being sent. It’s unclear what the nature of the ad was.

No financial loss has come to the Village as a result, just inconvenience.


Environment, omnibus bill dominate debate

Four of the five candidates vying to represent the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding squared off in two all-candidates debates on Haida Gwaii. It was the first time a federal debate was held this side of the Hecate Strait.

On Oct. 1 roughly 35 people filed into the Kay Centre, as Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin served as moderator, pitching seven question ranging in topic from global warming and pipeline developments to Bill C-51 and the Northern Living Allowance. Very little divided the responses of the Green Party’s Jeannie Parnell, the Liberal’s Brad Layton and the NDP’s incumbent Nathan Cullen, helping foster a notably civil, if agreeable table discussion. With the absence of Conservative candidate Tyler Nesbitt, there was a dearth of middle ground, as candidates for the three liberally-minded parties mostly ignored the ultra-conservative responses of the Christian Heritage Party’s Donald Spratt.

On global warming, the consensus was clear, that much more must be done to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint, whether through waste reduction or renewable energy research and development, and to reengage with the international community whose respect of Canada has soured under the Harper government. Mr. Spratt was the only dissenting voice, saying he did not believe in man-made climate change.


Judges reserve decision on pipeline appeal

Three Federal Appeal Court judges reserved their decision on whether to quash the federal government’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Beginning Oct. 1, The Council of the Haida Nation, along with seven other First Nations, environmental groups and one labour union took their turns in a Vancouver courtroom to argue the government failed to get Aboriginal consent for the project and did not properly consider the impact it could have on the environment.


Islands fare well through Oho’s storms

The remnants of Hurricane Oho delivered its best punch to Haida Gwaii, but it was far from the knock-out blow meteorologists feared.

BC Hydro reported power outages in Queen Charlotte due to downed trees on the power lines, affecting no more than 20 customers periodically throughout the weekend.

Port Clements suffered an outage also due to a downed tree, affecting 379 customers over a four-hour period. The impacts however were mitigated by the early-morning time frame of 5 a.m

Arguably the most significant effect of the storm was the cancellation of Thursday’s ferry run from Prince Rupert to Skidegate, stranding passengers and cargo on the mainland for three days until the next sailing on Sunday, Oct. 11. BC Ferries added an additional run the following day.

The remnants of Hurricane Oho hit Haida Gwaii on the evening of Friday, Oct. 9, brining heavy rain and strong winds of up to 110 km/h.

Discovery may alter Islands’ natural history

A new discovery at Cape Ball in the Naikoon Park pointed to evidence of large lumbering mammoths in the area during the second to last ice age.

Dr. Rolf Mathewes of the department of Biological Sciences at SFU made the announcement after working on the Cape Ball site for close to 30 years.

“I still haven’t found the Holy Grail but I’m finding lots of good stuff,” he says.

The Holy Grail would be evidence of a continuously ice-free area on Haida Gwaii. If there was ever such a site where plants and animals and maybe even humans could survive an ice age, it would be an area that is now sunken under Hecate Strait.  The new findings indicated that it was mostly a tundra like landscape.


Hooterville served with trespass notices

Two of the last remaining residents of Hooterville were served with trespass notices and given until mid November to remove all traces of their homes, or face a roster of possible fines, fees and seizures of personal property.

The orders from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations would reduce the number of residents on the stretch of Crown on the west end of Queen Charlotte to possibly just two, after more than 20 years of contentious dispute between the province, who had temporarily leased out the land during a housing shortage, and the occupants of once 10 homes who have fought to permanently stay.


Cullen wins, but disappointed overall

Following a lengthy race, re-elected Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen took a well-deserved break  following the Oct. 19 federal elections.

“I’m going to see my kids and have a normal meal again,” he said, following his win in Smithers. “We put almost 20,000 kilometres on the car. It was a long, long campaign. I’m just focused in on phoning my colleagues… and seeing how everyone is doing.”

Personally victorious with just over 50 per cent of the vote, Cullen did express disappointment at his party’s showing.

From official opposition with hopes of forming the next federal government when the votes were counted, the NDP instead slid into third place.


Gwaii Logging found guilty

A Haida-owned company was found guilty on 20 counts of environmentally destructive logging practices in violation of the federal Fisheries Act.

The violations occurred in 2010 when Gwaii Wood Products entered into a log-sales agreement with Howe Sound Forest Products Ltd, who extended an agreement with. Crosby Contracting to carry out the logging of up to 35,000 cubic meters of timber near Hwy. 16, a few kilometres northeast of Port Clements. The other two companies have also been convicted on 20 counts each.

Operations and road construction led to significant destruction of fish habitat and six estuaries that flow into the Kumdis Bay Estuary and Mallard Creek.

A Fisheries and Oceans witness told the provincial court the area known for its coho salmon and Dolly Varden char could take centuries to recover.


Masset library enters new chapter

Turnout for a meeting held at the Jesse Simpson Memorial Library indicates, many Masset residents want a say in the future of their library.

The meeting was called by the staff at the Masset branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library. Masset mayor Andrew Merilees was present as well as Councillor Tony Tyler.

The meeting was brought forward after the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) had reached a decision to change library locations in Masset. The present building, which the community has a lot of love for, has been deemed unfit to use as a Library.

VIRL is willing to build Masset a brand new facility to house the Library and is looking for a new site. The body presented several options to Mayor Merilees to share with council, who then decided to let the community have their say, on site, at the Oct. 15 meeting.

Structural issues stem back to a 2009 Assessment Report, which noted the estimated costs for capital upgrades would total $137,150.


Museum uses robot to guide NY exhibit

The Haida Gwaii Museum partnered with the American Museum of Natural History for a groundbreaking, high-tech program to make the Haida world come alive for people a continent away.

With the assistance of a remotely operated robot, patrons of the New York museum received a guided tour of Haida artifacts from someone actually on Haida Gwaii.

“We are on this remote archipelago, on the edge of the world as they say. We have to find a way to reach out to other museums in particular,” Haida Gwaii Museum’s Executive Director Scott Marsden said.

The system hinges on the use of a remotely operated robot equipped with wheels, a web-cam and video display, allowing its Haida Gwaii operator the freedom to move around the New York museums’ Hall of Northwest Coast Indians exhibit, see visitors face to face and interact in a real-time, conversational environment to better inform and educate visitors on the objects before them, and Haida culture in general.


Fiber-optic line reaches $10M

Although still prohibited by their funders to announce details of the new fibre optic line, information  of GwaiiTel’s game-changing project filtered out nonetheless.

GwaiiTel previously announced a $2.3 million contribution from Gwaii Trust for the new line stretching from Old Massett to Skidegate. That seed money was augmented with $140,000 from Northern Development Initiative Trust.

It was known the federal government was also kicking in the lion’s share of the project funding, but from what program and which ministry was still under wraps until they made the announcement, a move interrupted and delayed by the federal election.

However, Lite Access Technologies issued a press release answering the question of cost, at the same time cementing belief among islanders the project will be properly funded to bring in the essential foundation for reliable, high-speed Internet access to Haida Gwaii.

According to Lite Access GwaiiTel has awarded them a $7-million contract to lay the fibre optic cable.


Speed blamed in fatal accident

Queen Charlotte RCMP identified speed as the main factor of a tragic accident that claimed the life of a 40-year old Port Clements woman, Kristin Fairclough

The single-car accident occurred on Oct. 28 around 6 p.m. when Ms. Fairclough was travelling northbound on Hwy 16. Near Wiggins Road in Tlell she lost control on a curve and struck a utility pole, shearing it off its base.

The vehicle’s air bags deployed and the driver was wearing her seatbelt. Emergency responders from various agencies and passers-by quickly attended the scene, but despite their efforts the driver later succumbed to her injuries in hospital.

No other vehicles or individuals were involved in the collision. The RCMP found no indication to believe alcohol was a factor.


Funding sought for harbour upgrades

The Queen Charlotte Village Council passed a resolution supporting the Harbour Modernization Project. The Harbour Society is applying to Northern Development initiative Trust for the 2016 Economic Diversification infrastructure Program.

The funds from this program will go towards a Modernization Project, which has changed its name to Queen Charlotte Harbour Authority Coastal and Marine Tourism Project. The new project will include several upgrades and additions to the existing facilities.


Water flowing at hot springs

A spontaneous visit to Hotspring Island by a Gwaii Hannas team returning from SGang Gwaay led the very exciting discovery of pools almost full with water.

“We have been monitoring this since the big earthquake… initially we didn’t detect any water or heat on the island,” Gwaii Haanas Field Unit Superintendent Ernie Gladstone said.

One of the four pools, which once held water with an average temperature of 76 degrees was near full and flowing with hot water reaching 70 degrees. “It’s not the same volume or temperature but it is more water then we saw there a month ago,” Mr. Gladstone said.

Thermal activity and water flow on the island stopped after the 7.7 magnitude earthquake in late October 2012. At one point an emeritus research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada, Glenn Woodsworth, predicted the hot springs would never recover.


Tanker moratorium moves forward

Residents and environmental groups across the north celebrated the mandate letter issued to the Federal Transport Minister. Amoung the directives, the document made good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to enact a moratorium on all oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s north coast.

“Over the course of our four-year mandate, I expect us to deliver on all of our commitments,” Mr. Trudeau wrote. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we fulfill our promises.”

The letter then specifically directed the minister to formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s North Coast, working in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop an approach.

The Sierra Club called this mandate the “final blow” to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. In a press release from a broad coalition of northerners, environmental groups and First Nations Sierra applauded Mr. Trudeau, saying his decision is the best way to permanently protect northern ecosystem and the economy from the risk of oil spills


Rapturous book released at last

It started with a collection of bedtime stories. John Wesley used to tell Haida stories to his son that had been told to him when he was a boy.  And now, more than 30 years later, Mr. Wesley and his friend John Wood have made those stories into a book. “This is the kind of book that you can read several times and still find something new,” Mr. Wood says.

He was inspired to create the book when he overheard a friend also telling Haida bedtime stories, and began writing them down. After moving away from Haida Gwaii in the mid 80s he had continued his mission and worked over the years to compile Haida stories that had been written down almost one-hundred years ago into a more readable fashion. The book was adapted from the Haida texts and myths in the Skidegate dialect that were recorded by John R. Swanton in 1905.

The book contains 27 stories told by 15 different Haida elders.


Tidal-energy prototype unveiled

A team of local entrepreneurs unveiled their working prototype of a tidal energy device they believe can rid the north of Graham Island from its dependency on diesel power once and for all.

Yourbrook Energy Systems held an open house to show off their invention in Queen Charlotte Nov. 14, walking approximately 100 people through the mechanics of the device.

The system was inspired by a call for expressions of interest from BC Hydro in January of 2013 for companies to supply renewable energy to the area. Although it was determined this particular project was not far enough advanced at the time, the team pressed on.

“There’s been a lot of interest and enthusiasm over this for a long time, but this was the first open house we’ve had,” spokesperson Lynda Dixon said. “The reaction was overwhelming. People feel it’s a really big deal to get off our reliance of diesel fuel…it’s been a thorn in the side of all islanders who want to reduce our environmental footprint, so we’re a little less hypocritical.”




Chief Matthews expansion moves forward

Chief Matthews Elementary took one step closer to receiving much needed classroom expansions and a new gymnasium, thanks to a rare partnership between village council and the provincial government.

Surrounded by an audience of students, teachers and community members, Premier Christy Clark made the announcement at the school’s library, committing the province to $150,000 for a feasibility study to see how the project might move forward before the province deepens it commitment to the $4-million budget.


Past head of Haida Dental Project sued

The federal government initiated a lawsuit against former Haida Gwaii dentist Dr. Christopher Zed for allegedly mishandling millions of dollars intended for the Haida Dental Project in Skidegate and Old Massett. In a statement of claim filed with the BC Supreme Court, of the $10.6 million billed for the program between 2001 and 2013, $2 million was deposited into bank accounts belonging to Dr. Zed, and $3.3 million was over-billed to Health Canada by UBC, for whom Dr. Zed once served as the dentistry associate dean.

UBC, also named in the claim, entered several contracts with the government to provide the program, including the construction and equipping of the two dental clinics in Skidegate and Old Massett.


Sr. girls volleyball team lands championship slot

The Queen Charlotte Secondary School’s senior girls volleyball won the Northwest Zone Championship for the first time in over 20 years. Without even being ranked in the start, the girls went on to beat Ebenezer Christian Reform School, which was ranked 10th in the province.

The team of 12 travelled all the way to Castlegar  to participate in Provincials and went on to place 14 out of the 16 in the ‘A’ Sr. Girls Volleyball Provincial Tournament.

“They held their own. The best thing was the positivity and sportsmanship, which I think is very important,” Coach Lee-Al Nelson said.


Masset Pharmacy avoids closure

Masset’s only Pharmacy will live to see another year.

The College of Pharmacists of B.C. extended the deadline for the pharmacy to become compliant with new provisions set out by the college.

Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees was pleased with the extension and said that the current employee at the pharmacy was very interested in upgrading his training. “This is great that we have extra time to figure this out,” Mr. Merilees said.  Masset is am

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