Visiting 'Ksan in Hazelton, British Columbia

Back on August 26th  - the first day of my family's roadtrip to Seattle, as I mentioned here - we stopped at Hazelton, British Columbia, by my request. While being a tour guide at the Totem Heritage Center, many visitors (principally Canadian ones) had told me about their visits to Hazelton and mentioned the totem poles they had seen there. Naturally I was curious, and this place was added to my mental list of places with totem poles I had never visited before (like Haida Gwaii, the UBC museum, the Alaska State Museum and so on). As soon as I found out I'd be going on this BC roadtrip, I knew we should go to Hazelton.

Google Maps route from Ketchikan
to 'Ksan (note the ferry ride)
'Ksan is a replicated Gitxsan village, located in Hazelton near the ancient village site of Gitanmaax, at the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. I only visited briefly, but it's really a genuine and impressive place.

'Ksan has five large standing totem poles - not a big number compared to Ketchikan, but beautiful in their artistry. Where the park outshines Ketchikan is in its many traditional houses, all of them quite large and well-constructed, which also include frontal poles as well as an entrance pole.

During regular hours, it seems those buildings house a gift shop, many exhibits, and even a restaurant with traditional food. Unfortunately, we arrived in the evening on a Sunday, so everything was closed up.

All the same, it was sunny and I enjoyed everything I got to see from the outside: The totems and two-dimensional wall paintings were equally enjoyable, exhibiting themes and styles I'd never seen in person before. It seems that wolves were common figures, as well as different creatures with dorsal fins (sea monsters, maybe, or creatures in transformation).

For example, to the right I have two photos of the same pole stacked on top of one another so you can see all of the figures. In the center there appears to be a wolf (with a long snout), but then at the bottom there seems to be a figure who is part human and part bird (or perhaps in the middle of transformation). Note the human arms, legs and face, but also the wings attached to the shoulders, and of course the beak.

a very interesting creature -
a bear with a dorsal fin?
Please note, however, that while I am relatively familiar with many Northwest Coast-style forms, none of my own guesses about the nature of the poles and motifs at 'Ksan are necessarily true at all. One of the things I found most interesting about 'Ksan is that it belongs to the Gitxsan people, a group that I know little about and whose art I had never seen before.

Unlike the Tlingit and Haida, The Gitxsan are an inland people, a people on the river - "of the Skeena," as their name means. Their language is related to Sm'algyax (Tsimshian), and their carving and other art resembles in some ways that of the Tsimshian. Their formlines, for example, (as seen in the photo at the top of this page), are quite different than that of the Tlingit - thinner and, it seems to me, more angular.

a replica mortuary house, with
beautiful mountains behind it
Ending this post, I have to say I'd love to learn more about the Gitxsan and return to 'Ksan when it's totally open. If you happen to be driving on the highway in British Columbia from Prince Rupert to Prince George, (or vice-versa) you should definitely stop in Hazelton.

Until next time, this is Peter Stanton, your sometime travel writer. (All photos in this post were taken by me. Please use them wherever you like, but give me proper credit and link back to this post if you can.)

a final view of 'Ksan
the lone tree in front reminds me of Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan

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