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The Land of the Nisga’a

In the mid eighties I was among a group of people visiting the land of the Nisga’a. The occasion was a conference but time for seeing the sights and tracking the Nisga’a history was built into the time frame. Obviously I used up a fair amount of film which still is safely stored somewhere in my storage. It must have been my first laptop very early this century that I scanned a few 4×6 prints of that trip onto.  I came across them ransacking the dungeons of the present computer. This visit may well be the one that left a deeper impression than other journeys I have been on and going back there is on my list of things to do before keeling over. The prints were old when they were scanned into the computer, but despite a lack of clarity and such, I like to show them after having removed some damage and deterioration.

I see that the Nisga’a highway is paved now. In the 1980s, as soon as we left Terrace, we were on rather rough roads. There were no paved roads.  On our way to Gitwinksihlkw, in those days it was called Canyon City, we drove through a landscape that may be described as strong. big…  and showing a raw beauty. One place of interest was a forest fire, nothing too fierce but potentially dangerous nevertheless.

BL north of terrace, forest fire

Finally we arrived at Gitwinksihlkw. It is situated across the river from the highway. In those days the only access was a narrow suspension bridge that allowed 15 people max on the bridge itself. The nass river, a grand river it is, runs underneath it quite a way down. So the parking place was on the road side and the village across the river and all the large stuff came in by barge. There were one or two cars in town and these were barged in as well. These days things have changed and the suspension bridge does not look as if it is used very much. The old parking lot is empty. On the photo you see us waiting to leave town while a group of 15 people is crossing the river.

BL  bridge to canyon city (Gitwinksihlkw)

Right outside this village are the lava grounds. In the 18th century one of the Nisga’a villages was covered by lava. This must all be part of the memorial park that is there now. The textures of this lava are quite interesting especially where it covered trees and trunks and hardened around them. This dead vegetation has long gone but its shapes are preserved by the lava casts. At any rate what shows on this photo covers a very large area.

BL lavagrounds, canyon city

Beside Gitwinksihlkw there are 3 more villages and I have no idea where the next photo was taken.

BL north of terrace B-PIX2

I hope to take a drive out that way next summer. Among other things I’ll be able then to put a location to this photograph. Thank you for accompanying me on this trip down my memory lane and in conclusion I wish you all a brilliant 2014.



About Joseph de Lange

Before retirement worked in art galleries, a photo studio, offices, and the trades. Don't travel much anymore but still photograph. For the past 5 years 95% of my photography is done with the phone. My prediction for big cameras: DSLRs and their beautiful lenses and even the smaller mirrorless cameras will be mostly a historical footnote in the not too distant future.

10 responses to “The Land of the Nisga’a

  1. ehpem

    Hi Joseph, I just found this post, not sure how I missed it.

    I was in the Nass Valley in these same years – my first visit was 1981, and then several more through about 1991 and have not been since. I too walked that bridge to Gitwinksihlkw, and also boated over to Old Aiyansh which is a ways up stream on the same side.
    I once got lost in a dense forest near the river – the bugs were SO bad that we did not want to get our compasses out as it would mean exposing our hands from beyond the end of the sealed closed (yay for velcro) sleeves on our jackets. Eventually, after falling off a beaver dam, and following some very large bear paw prints up a wet draw (water still seeping into the prints) we decided to suffer the bugs and navigated our way out. Fond memories!

    It is beautiful country and you will be lucky to return for another visit. I like the old photos too – they have a nice feel to them. Makes me want to go looking for my Nass Valley shots.

    • He ehpem, Thanks for these comments. I travelled around in northern Alberta when living in Edmonton for some years and always felt like I was in Canada unlike that time I was in the Nass Valley. There I felt as if in a different country, a beautiful country. I must say when going back there it’ll be outside the mosquito season. In Edmonton in my time there were anti mosquito spray programs that worked well but I think they were discontinued in my time also.
      As far as the old negatives are concerned, they will be looked at when I have the proper scanner. Some ceremonies were recorded as well. The most beautiful singing (otherworldly in a way) I heard in Gitwinksihlkw when the ladies sang. I can still hear that when I think about it.

  2. ehpem

    I know what you mean about Edmonton vs. Nass Valley. I was just 1 when we emigrated to Canada – Edmonton it was and we stayed there until I was 12 before moving to the coast, which was a brilliant change for all of us. Edmonton feels like Canada to me too, albeit a very different and quite Eastern Canada from where I live now. The Nass and some other similar places do seem like different countries, and that is become more the case as treaties are settled and the First Nations get their own nation’s governance systems in place.

    • I did not express that very well. Travelling in northern Alberta I meant really north of Fort McMurray where the landscape does change (and the roads).

      • ehpem

        On a second reading I took that meaning, but it was too late; my comment had been sent. So, sloppy reading rather than unclear writing!
        I have not been in much of northern Alberta, just some bits near Fort St. John in BC.

  3. What a great set, Joseph, I really love the feel of the old prints!! What an amazing part of the world. That first shot really took my breath away, there’s something distinctly special about it.

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