Crews dig out the ageing retaining wall in front of Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary, which will not only have a brand-new Allan block wall but a whole new exterior by spring. As part of the $1.8-million upgrade, which includes seismic and energy-efficiency improvements, the school district hired a team of archeologists to outline a culturally significant shell midden that extends into the school’s east-side grounds. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

New look, ancient past at Masset high school

Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary is getting a brand-new look.

But before a new exterior, seismic upgrades and a retaining wall go up at the Masset high school, archaeologists are carefully tracing some of the deep Haida cultural history stored right in the school grounds.

Lao Peerless, maintenance supervisor for the Haida Gwaii School District, is excited for how the school will look when the whole $1.8-million upgrade wraps up this spring.

“It’ll pop — you’ll drive by and go wow, you can notice the school,” said Peerless, showing a design for the new exterior.

With contrasting patterns of red, grey, black and white, it will be a big change from the aging sky-blue siding and grimy white trim on the school today.

What people won’t see are the areas of extra insulation and plywood sheathing behind it— upgrades that will cut the school’s power bills and strengthen it in case of an earthquake.

But step one in the provincially-funded project is to replace the old retaining wall fronting Collison Avenue, which was starting to shift and crack, and to add a railing on top.

“It’s a four-foot drop,” Peerless said. “You’re supposed to have a railing.”

The district recently shipped in 128,000 pounds of interlocking Allan blocks to build the wall.

But starting in August, they first they hired a team of archaeologists to identify any Haida cultural artifacts in the already disturbed earth just behind the wall, or anywhere else on the school’s east side.

Archaeologist Heather Kendall, a project supervisor with Archer CRM Partnership, said there is a large Haida shell midden extending into the school grounds. Earlier work shows it runs all the way to Delkatla Slough.

That is why Kendall, her assistants, and a monitor from the Council of the Haida Nation dug 190 test holes in a grid pattern on the school’s east side — so the district can avoid disturbing the most culturally significant areas if it ever builds there.

One of the most common artifacts they have identified so far are called “spall” tools. These stone tools are usually made of basalt, anthracite, or rhyolite — rocks that predictably break apart or spall into thin shards when heated by fire.

“They are incredibly sharp, incredibly resilient,” Kendall said. “They are excellent for cutting fish, for cutting hide, anything you need to cut.”

The team also found several small boiling stones, some ochre, some charcoal, and a pair of stone tools made of chalcedony — what most islanders would call agates.

Given how hard most of Haida Gwaii’s ocean-rolled agates are, Kendall said they may have been trade items.

Kendall, who toured the site with a class of GTN students to answer questions about the investigation and archaeology in general, specializes in using X-ray fluorescence. It’s a non-destructive, fairly new technology that she uses to identify where tool stone originally came from. The results give an idea how widely people travelled or traded in the past.

Other lab work for the team includes sifting a trio of sediment samples that should give an idea what plants and animals were on the site at various times. They will also carbon-date the charcoal deposits found in the midden, using a paired shell to correct for the effect the nearby saltwater has on carbon ratings.

“No one has carbon-dated that site yet, so I’m very excited to run our samples,” Kendall said.

Just Posted

B.C. First Nations’ intake of essential nutrients to drop by 31 per cent: study

Professors project the nutrient decrease by 2050 if climate change mitigation continues as is

B.C. minister says rural internet is ‘railroad of the 21st century’

Jinny Sims talks details about the $50-million provincial and possible $750-million federal funds

Arts funding for Haida Gwaii and Rupert societies

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice announced $320,643 in funding from the BC Arts Council Grant

North Coast social worker advocated for behaviour analysis service

Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert received the new service last year

Masset students stage school walkout as part of global protest

Students of Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary marched for climate justice on March 14

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Facebook to overhaul ad targeting to prevent discrimination

The company is also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs’ legal fees and other costs

B.C. mosque part of open-house effort launched in wake of New Zealand shootings

The ‘Visit a Mosque’ campaign aims to combat Islamophobia

‘That’s a load of crap’: Dog poop conspiracy spreads in White Rock

Allegation picked up steam through a Facebook page run by a city councillor

Explosives unit brought in after suspicious boxes left at B.C. RCMP detachment

Nanaimo RCMP issues all clear after packages were found on lawn earlier in the day

Newfoundland man caught after posting photo of himself drinking and driving

The 19-year-old took a photo of himself holding a beer bottle and cigarette while at the wheel

2019 BUDGET: As deficit grows, feds spend on job retraining, home incentives

Stronger economy last year delivered unexpected revenue bump of an extra $27.8 billion over six years

Carfentanil found in 15% of overdose deaths in January: B.C. coroner

Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than illicit fentanyl and used to tranquilize elephants

Kids found playing darts with syringes in Vancouver Island park

Saanich police is urging people to throw out their syringes properly and safely

Most Read