Travel Blog: Haida Gwaii & Prince Rupert

birds circling over a frozen river

Eulechan run on the Skeena River. Prince Rupert, BC. (Photo: Hedy Rubin)

Hedy Rubin, Grants Manager, Real Estate Foundation of BC

Throughout the year, Real Estate Foundation of BC (REFBC) staff and board members make visits to communities across the province to learn more about local initiatives and REFBC-funded projects.

Last month, REFBC CEO Jack Wong and I visited communities in Haida Gwaii to meet with Indigenous community leaders and to attend a community meeting on Comprehensive Community Planning. We also visited Prince Rupert to attend the BC Northern Real Estate Board’s Annual General Meeting.

Haida Gwaii: Indigenous Community Planning

four adults posing inside a city office
L-R: Jack Wong, Babs Stevens, Billy Yovanovich,
Hedy Rubin.

The Village of Skidegate (pop. 780) is located on the southeast corner of Graham Island, one of two islands in Haida Gwaii that’s home to year-round residents. Skidegate has recently completed their Comprehensive Community Plan (2012-2017), and has begun the process of implementation.

Indigenous communities have deep planning traditions and intimate knowledge of their lands and territories. Comprehensive Community Planning (or CCP) is a community-based, community-driven and community-owned process for Indigenous communities to create plans that include input from each community member. Earlier this year, the Federal government announced its support for CCP, committing to invest $30 million over the next four years to support 176 communities across Canada.

four people standing on a beach in the wintertime
L-R: Brett Freake, Jack Wong,
Lara Therrien Boulos, Jeff Cook.

In the declaration to their plan, the Skidegate community says: “The community of Skidegate created this plan for the people of Skidegate. We stand by and support the Comprehensive Community Plan and Land Use Plan as living documents.”

After arriving in Skidegate, Jack and I met with Dana Moraes, Skidegate Band CCP Coordinator, and Malcolm MacLean, a planner hired by the band council to produce a video on the CCP process and plan. Knowing that many community elders are unlikely to read a 40-page planning document, the band council wanted to create a video as another tool for sharing the CCP and Land Use Plan. Once complete, the video will also be shared with other Indigenous communities interested in the CCP process.

The following morning over breakfast, we met with two Masters-level planning students and UBC professor Jeff Cook, who coordinates practicum placements for students in the Indigenous Community Planning (ICP) program at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning and mentors them throughout their practicum. The ICP program – funded in part through an REFBC grant – trains planners in traditional Indigenous planning practices as well as Western techniques and tools. As part of the program, students spend about 400 hours (more than eight months) in a host First Nations community to support community planning efforts.

The students we met had been offered a placement in Masset, a village of 800 located on the northern end of Graham Island. Old Massett Village Council is a new host community partner for the ICP program, and they are in early stages of community planning.

Later that day, Jack and I had the privilege of meeting with Skidegate Chief Councillor Billy Yovanovich and Chief Administrative Officer Babs Stevens at the band council office, where we learned about some of Skidegate’s green and sustainable housing and energy projects as well as food and community initiatives. We also heard about a new feature film being produced in Haida Gwaii in the Haida language, and had a brief tour of the Haida Heritage Centre, an award-winning Aboriginal cultural tourism site.

indigenous building with totem poles against blue sky
Haida Heritage Centre. Skidegate, BC.

We later drove north to Massett to meet with Dana Bellis, a local who gave us a tour of the area, pointing out several Haida poles and explaining their significance. These poles (commonly referred to as “totem poles”) are carved from red cedar and show family crests.

After the tour, we returned to Skidegate to attend a CCP community gathering and dinner. The meeting facilitator, Dana Moraes, gave an overview of what’s been accomplished through CCP, and what the next steps are. Community members were invited to come to the microphone to share their feedback and comments.

The first person to the mic was a 75-year-old woman who said that CCP was the best thing to happen to the community, bringing everyone together. At our table, a woman told us that growing up, she only witnessed three pole raisings. Her daughter, who is about to turn 21, has now witnessed 30 pole raisings. 

Prince Rupert

two men standing in a parking lot
L-R: Victor Prystay, Jack Wong.

The next morning, we flew from Masset to Prince Rupert to attend the BC Northern Real Estate Board (BCNREB) AGM and the President’s Dinner. The AGM, which brought together REALTOR®s from across Northern BC, installed its new Board and recognized the volunteer efforts of many of its members, including an 89-year-old REALTOR® who is still practicing full time! REFBC was recognized at the AGM and Jack spoke about the work of the Foundation and some of the community projects we’ve supported in the North.

After the AGM, we were taken on a tour of Prince Rupert and up to the beautiful Skeena River to see the annual Eulachon run by local resident and BCNEB past President Victor Prystay. Unfortunately, the weather turned to snow and the views were quite limited, but it was a wonderful tour nonetheless and fascinating to hear about the town from a local resident. We left Prince Rupert later that evening, but not before picking up some locally caught and hand sliced smoked salmon and Alaskan black cod from Dolly’s Fish Market.

It was an incredible trip to the Northwest Coast: very enriching, valuable and memorable.

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The Real Estate Foundation awarded a $316,723 grant in 2011 to support an adjunct practice professor in Indigenous Community Planning for five years as part of the Indigenous Planning Initiative at UBC SCARP.

All photos by Hedy Rubin.

Related: Journey to Haida Gwaii