Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, & Haida Heritage Site
Protected from mountain top to sea floor, this unique Reserve is like no other in the world.
Gwaii Haanas is a protected archipelago of over one hundred islands off Canada’s west coast. It is renowned for ancient forests, rich marine life, and the spectacular monumental art of the Haida People.
In 1993 The Council of the Haida Nation and The Government of Canada signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement in a mutual commitment to “protect the region’s natural, cultural, and marine treasures”.
It was the culmination of years of effort by residents to stop the clearcut logging of these steep, wild islands.
By 2010 the Gwaii Haanas marine area was also given official designation as a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve. People travel from all over the world now to see it.
Where is Gwaii Haanas?
Haida Gwaii’s Southern Islands. Off the west coast of British Columbia on the edge of the continental shelf lies a string of islands named Haida Gwaii. They are commonly referred to as the Canadian Galapagos. (See below for why this is.)
Gwaii Haanas is located on the southern end of Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Approximately 1,500 km2 of land including the southern end of Moresby Island and over 200 smaller islands make up Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
With 1,700 km of shoreline within the park there is endless area to explore the interface between land and sea.
UNESCO World Heritage Site & Haida Culture
Having occupied Haida Gwaii since time immemorial the Haida people hold a respect for the land and sea that recognizes their responsibility to their traditional territory. The Haida strive to ensure that their heritage is both protected and passed on through generations.
Ancient traditions can be seen in the unoccupied Haida village sites here, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site SGang Gwaay. Here, monumental Haida poles (including memorial poles for those lost, and mortuary poles for chiefs) remain standing at the edge of the forest, awaiting the time when the moss, ferns, and trees will return them back to the earth.
At Hlk’yah GaawGa (Windy Bay) the tradition has been carried on through the raising of the Legacy Pole in August of 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the protection of Gwaii Haanas.
This pole, carved from Haida cedar by skilled Haida artists, is a remarkable reminder of how alive the Haida culture is.
Through the creation of the Haida Heritage Site and the designation of SGang Gwaay as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Haida culture has been given nationwide and worldwide recognition and protection.
Tour Through Gwaii Haanas: Ecological & Wildlife Exploration
Rich in both culture and ecology, Gwaii Haanas offers the ideal place for exploration, learning, and discovery.
The National Park’s diverse ecological habitat can be attributed to both:
- The islands’ seperation from other land forms.
- Its unique position on the edge of Canada’s continental shelf.
These qualities bring weather and currents that encourage wildlife, plants, and algae to flourish here. Ultimately, a wide variety of endemic species have made their home only in the remarkable place.
Native Endemic Species to Gwaii Haanas
- Black Bear- a sub-species of the mainland black bear
- Haida Ermine
- Haida Pine Marten
Located along the Pacific Flyway Gwaii Haanas is home to half of the 1.5 million seabirds that nest throughout Haida Gwaii
- Tufted Puffin
- Horned Puffin
- Shooty Shearwater
- Pigeon Guillemots
- Oyster Catchers
… and so much more.
Rainforest islands, colorful intertidal life, bountiful marine life and fish, and over 20 species of marine mammals including:
- Humpback Whales
- Killer Whales (orcas)
- Northern Sea Lions (Steller Sea Lions)
- Pacific Whitesided Dolphins
- Fin Whales
- Harbour Seals
- Dall’s Porpoises
Making for an astounding opportunity for an unforgettable ecological exploration of this remote National Park Reserve.
Rich Marine Life Includes:
- Kelp Forests
- Sea Star
Biological richness abounds here both on the land and in the sea.
Gwaii Haanas is ecologically distinct due to its isolated location on the edge of the continental shelf. This remote location aids to a unique evolutionary opportunity for species that will adapt specifically to their isolated island environment.
Island biogeography is demonstrated at its best here on Haida Gwaii, where species have adapted according to the size and ecological make up of the island they inhabit.
Bristol Foster, one of the leading researchers contributing to the theory of island biogeography, has delighted guests aboard the Maple Leaf as one of our wonderfully informative naturalists.
The Canadian Galapagos demonstrates theories of evolution and offers an amazing look into how landscape shapes plant and animal species.
Remote & Special Access: Gwaii Haanas Today, Management, Park Status, and Haida Watchmen
Access to this remote paradise is limited.
Special access and permission must be granted in order to enter the National Park Reserve.
Maple Leaf Adventures, our boutique expedition cruise company, holds special permits to take guests into Gwaii Haanas and to the cultural heritage sites.
As our guest, you travel in an environmentally sustainable manner, aboard a classic schooner, as we cruise the 138 islands in comfort.
We anchor and go ashore each day, observe wildlife with expert guides and naturalist, and visit the Haida sites with Haida watchmen guides.
Our trips into the National Park make this exceptionally challenging destination much more accessible to those who wish to explore.
Gwaii Haanas is managed jointly by both the Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. Parks Canada works together with the Haida Gwaii Watchmen to look after the important cultural sites throughout Gwaii Haanas National Park. The Watchmen program offers a special