Parks Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Internal Audit and Evaluation Documents

Appendix A – Overview of Gwaii Haanas Field Unit

The Gwaii Haanas Field Unit includes:

  • Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site
  • Kitwanga Fort National Historic Site
  • Eight other declared National Historic Sites.

They are described below.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site

This remote archipelago, representing the Pacific Coast Mountains Natural Region, is located in the southern part of Haida Gwaii. It is located approximately 100 kilometres from the mainland of British Columbia and is accessible only by boat or aircraft. It encompasses 138 islands, 1475 km2 of land, and more than 1746 kilometres of shoreline, as shown in the map in Appendix B. Gwaii Haanas is known for its relatively intact ecosystems, distinct flora and fauna and outstanding examples of Haida heritage.

Historic Sites, National Historic Sites and the World Heritage Site within Gwaii Haanas

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (Gwaii Haanas) includes five key historical sites:

  1. SGang Gwaay World Heritage Site (island within Gwaii Haanas) and Nan Sdins National Historic Site (abandoned Haida village located within SGang Gwaay)

  2. Tanu (abandoned Haida Village)

  3. Windy Bay (old growth forest with walking trails)

  4. Hotspring Island (historical Haida sites in Gwaii Haanas)

  5. Skedans (abandoned Haida village located outside Gwaii Haanas)

In the Gwaii Haanas area, there are three national historic sites—Skedans1, Tanu and Nan Sdins. All three are traditional Haida village sites with parts of the villages still recognizable through house pits, longhouse posts and beams, fallen poles and in some cases, standing poles. Nan Sdins is probably the best known and is located on the World Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay. Following tradition, the poles of SGang Gwaay are returning to the earth, but many are still standing. This is considered to be the best example in the world of a northwest coast village site.


In 1974, the dispute over the future of South Moresby Island began with the advent of logging plans and a public proposal to protect the "South Moresby Wilderness Area". In 1985, the Haida Nation designated the area a "Haida Heritage Site". Logging continued in the area in the face of legal and political controversy until July 1987, when Canada and British Columbia signed the South Moresby Memorandum of Understanding. One year later, the South Moresby Agreement was signed, providing Canada's designation of a "National Park Reserve".

While negotiations between Canada and the Haida Nation progressed, temporary measures were put in place to facilitate co-operative management. In January 1993, the Gwaii Haanas Agreement was signed. The agreement expresses respect for both Canadian and Haida interests and designations, and includes a mutual commitment to the protection of Gwaii Haanas.


The Government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation have agreed to share the management of Gwaii Haanas through the Archipelago Management Board (AMB). The board consists of two representatives from the Government of Canada, including the Gwaii Haanas Field Unit Superintendent and two representatives from the local band Council. The mandate of the AMB is defined by commitments in the Gwaii Haanas Agreement and the existing laws and policies of the parties. The AMB examines all initiatives and undertakings relating to the planning, management and operation of Gwaii Haanas. This relationship results in a unique management style as compared to all other national parks.

Watchmen Program

The Field Unit also has a unique annual contract with an arm of the local Band Council to provide "Watchmen" for the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program. This sole source contract amounts to $323,000 annually or 20% of the Field Unit's Goods and Services Budget. During the summer, 2-3 Haida "watchmen" live at each of five key historical sites (Nan Sdins, Tanu, Windy Bay, Hotspring Island and Skedans) as shown in the map in Appendix B. The primary intent is to safeguard the three abandoned Haida villages, an old growth forest (Windy Bay) and a natural hot spring pool by accompanying visitors. This need is based on historical damage and arson incidents at some of the sites. A secondary objective is to promote the "visitor experience" through explanations of the various sites, although the Watchmen are not required to provide tours. A requirement of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement is to have only Haida staff.


Within Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, there are two operation stations and five cabins for the Haida Gwaii Watchmen but there are no paved roads, maintained hiking trails or established campgrounds. Other contemporary structures owned by the Field Unit include one visitor information centre, ten houses and a maintenance compound.

Proposed Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve

The waters surrounding Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site are proposed for a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (NMCAR). The proposed NMCAR includes Hecate Strait and the Queen Charlotte Shelf natural marine regions and covers approximately 3,400 square kilometres.

Kitwanga National Historic Site:

Kitwanga Fort is situated near an important aboriginal trade route between the Skeena and Nass Rivers on the mainland in northern British Columbia. It is a site rich with the history of the Gitwangak people, their relations with other First Nations and the activities of their ancestors. The site consists of a large steep-sided mound, known as Ta'awdzep or Battle Hill, on which once stood a fortified village with five cedar plank longhouses surrounded by a palisade. Archaeological research suggests the fort was occupied for at least a hundred years before it burned to the ground around 1835. Kitwanga Fort was declared a National Historic Site in 1971. Kitwanga National Historic Site includes a trail, a stairway and a fence.

Other National Historic Sites:

Other declared national historic sites within the Field Unit jurisdiction include:

  • Kiusta Village*
  • Metlakatla Pass Area Indian Site*
  • New Gold Harbour Area (Haina) *
  • Kitwanga Totem Poles*
  • Kitwankul*
  • Yan Village Site*
  • Kitselas Canyon Area
  • North Pacific Cannery – Village of Port Edward

* denotes Aboriginal Reserve

Field Unit Office Relocation to Qay'llnagaay Heritage Centre

The Field Unit is scheduled to relocate to the Qay'llnagaay Heritage Centre (Qay Centre) in Skidegate, approximately five kilometres from the present offices in Queen Charlotte in November 2006. The $22 million, 50,000 square foot Qay Centre will be a museum, teaching centre, carving (totem poles) house, café and Haida heritage/cultural centre. The Centre is being built and managed by the Skidegate Band Council with the endorsement of Parks Canada and several other federal agencies. The Centre is located on the reserve and will result in an influx of revenue to the local economy.

Parks Canada has contributed a total of $6 million towards the Qay Centre, including $4.45 million in exchange for a 30 year lease and licence for shared space. Another $1.55 million has been contributed for exhibits.

A business case prepared in 2001 showed participation in the Qay Centre as the most cost-effective and program-enhancing option for Parks Canada operations on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). This was due to two primary factors:

  • The very high cost of visiting the park by float plane or boat, the only method of access

  • The discouragement of high volume traffic due to the sensitive cultural and environmental impact as evidenced by the policy, implemented by the Aboriginal Management Board (AMB), restricting tour operators to a maximum of 23 visitors in the entire park at any one time.

The rationale behind this significant investment was to promote "virtual" visits to Gwaii Haanas through the interpretive displays at the Qay Centre. The decision to relocate the Parks Canada office to shared space within the Qay Centre was largely a political decision made at senior government levels, where PCA would contribute to the capital construction in the form of a 30 year pre-paid lease.

Financial details are shown in section 1.1.5 of this report. Additional details may be found at

Qay'llnagaay Heritage Centre (Qay Centre)

1 Actually outside the National Park Reserve