Kitwankul National Historic Site of Canada

Gitanyow, British Columbia
Historic photograph with inscription World's most famous totem poles, Kitwancool, B.C. (© Library and Archives Canada, Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto, Ont.) \ Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, Exposition nationale, PA-045079)
Historic photograph
(© Library and Archives Canada, Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto, Ont.) \ Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, Exposition nationale, PA-045079)
Address : Gitanyow, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1972-10-19

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Niskas  (People, group)
  • Gitksan  (People, group)
  • Peoples of the Nass and Skeena Rivers  (People, group)
Other Name(s):
  • Kitwankul  (Designation Name)
  • Kitwancool  (Other Name)
  • Gitanyow  (Other Name)

Description of Historic Place

Kitwankul National Historic Site of Canada is located near the confluence of Kitwankul Creek and the Kitwanka River, in Kitwankul Indian Reserve 1, within the village of Gitanyow (formerly called Kitwankul). It was the site of a traditional Tsimshian village, featuring houses with traditionally painted exteriors, and monumental art, much of which dated from the mid-to-late 19th century. At the time of designation there were architectural remains including the footprints of buildings, approximately 20 original totem poles, and a cemetery, standing along a main road. Official recognition refers to the site at the time of designation.

Heritage Value

Kitwankul was designated a national historic site in 1972 for the following reasons:
— it is a typical Gitksan village important for its surviving monumental art;
— it is a ceremonial centre shared by peoples of the Nass and Skeena Rivers.

Kitwankul National Historic Site of Canada is the location of what was one of the most culturally intact villages of the Gitksan (Gitxsan). This Gitksan village is important for its surviving monumental art and as a ceremonial centre shared by peoples of the Nass and Skeena Rivers. The village played an important role in the Potlatch ceremony. Until ca. 1950 it could only be reached by the Old Grease Trail which ran between the Nass and Skeena Rivers since pre-contact times, this difficult access isolated it from modernization. Because of its position on the trail it served as an intermediary between the Niskas and Gitksan, and its inhabitants intermarried and potlatched with both groups. It had the largest number of old poles of any Tsimshian village of which less than twenty remain. Many of the poles date from the mid-to-late-19th century and some to the early 20th century. Three poles were sent by the villagers to the Provincial Museum of B.C. in Victoria about 1960 in exchange for copies by Henry Hunt, a noted Kwakiutl carver. The copies were re-erected in 1970 along with a provincial historic site plaque. The remaining poles were restored and re-erected by the Skeena River Totem Pole Preservation Society in 1968.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, October 1972, March 2012.

Character-Defining Elements

Key features contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
— the site’s location near the confluence of Kitwankul Creek and the Kitwanga River within the village of Gitanyow, in the same location as the historic village (formerly called Kitwankul);
— its setting on a sheltered, grassed area surrounded by dense forest;
— the integrity and materials of surviving archaeological remains, features and artifacts in their original placement and extent, including the in situ vestiges of structural remains and various non-structural archaeological features and as yet unidentified features from both pre-contact and post-contact periods, that is, from approximately 5000 years ago until the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
— the retention of the knowledge associated with all First Nations artefacts associated with the site;
— the viewscapes to and from the site and the immediate surroundings that facilitate its recognition as an ancient Haida village;
— remaining evidence of the high level of craftsmanship and symbolic meaning in the architecture and carving;
— the cultural associations between the site and the Gitksan.