March 8th 2016
Sunday, April 13, 1997
Well, here I am on the ferry going back to the Charlottes. I left the islands in September of 1958 to attend the funeral of Grandpa Engelson and then to go to my second year of University at UBC
This trip feels like coming home. Soon as the ferry left Rupert passengers and crew slowed down. The trip across will take 6 to 7 hours. I settled back in a corner by a window where I could use this computer. A couple of litte kids came by to see what I was doing. One five year old said that he was born in Duncan and going home to Masset.
After an hour the boat, "Queen of Prince Rupert" reached the open sea and to everyone's relief there was only a light wind and a small swell. The Captain who strolled by told me that this was the first decent crossing this spring. Of course some passengers turned green. The brave, those with no trace of sea sickness, stayed forward enjoying supper and a drink in the lounge while the green ones found a lounge amidship with no windows and no food to weather the crossing.
The ship arrived at the Skidegate terminal at 10:30 PM. I booked into Hecate Inn.
Monday, April 14, 1997
The next morning I started searching for an open restaurant. Finally found one after driving through both Queen Charlotte City and Skidegate. I also found Dick Bellis' house but no one was home. Going back to Hecate Inn, I met a young girl, Jill, who had come over on the ferry and was going to begin student teaching in Masset the next week. I made arrangements to take here up to Masset the next day.
With nothing to do until evening I left town to beach comb on "Jungle Beach" which is to the east of Skidegate. Once I started driving I did not stop until I reached TowHill an hour and half later. I drove out on the beach. It hadn't changed a bit. Coming back I stopped at Agate Beach,Yakun Point and North Beach. I arrived at Masset and went to find our old High School Coffee Shop. It had changed into a grocery store and the restaurant was next door. Had chinese food for lunch. I began to drive back to Skidegate. On the way I stopped just passed Tlell as the wind was blowing very hard. I estimate a steady 45 miles per hour.
I finally got in touch with Dick and was invited to come and stay with him. Since I had checked into the hotel for two days I told him that I would do so the next day. As it was I did come over in the evening.
After arriving and meeting Dick and his wife, Alma, we did the usual and compared families etc.. Dick had one boy, Billy, by a first marriage. Billy is now one of the best Haida jewelry makers. Dick, with his present wife, did not seem to be able to have children so they adopted Rachelle, she has muscular dystrophy, is in a wheel chair, but lives on her own. They then had two children, Jennifer and Lisa. Jennifer has just acquired a house through the band. Her boyfriend is a Maori (New Zealand native) Lisa is living on her own with a black boy from Metlakatla. Bye the way, Alma is a blond blue-eyed native girl. With this mix you can see that I fit in quite well. When I knew Dick 40 years before he considered himself a whiteman. His father was a logger and when became married, his wife, Nora, lost her Indian status and of course her children did not have any status either. They lived off the reserve. Five years ago the federal indian rules changed and the Bellis family was permitted to become status indians. This they did. Now Dick is one of the most respected members of Skidegate. By the way, he was originally a Masset Indian, different tribe, different language but he moved to Skidegate. Here he was adopted into the tribe by Nathan Williams , the hereditary chief of Tanu. He was given a new indian name which meant, "Babbling brook coming from his mouth" I suppose that is because he is such a good story teller.
Dick is now a totem pole carver in his spare time. He has worked for Mac & Blo for 39 years and wants to work one more. He has held his first potlatch and has artwork in many stores.
Dick had invited one Richard Wilson over, better known as Captain Gold. Richard is the unofficial historian of all the Haida people. His hobby is tracing all the native families on the Charlottes. I gave him the information that I had on great great grandma and great grandma.
He told a story of a white slave living on Squng Gwai. (Anthony Island)
"This event happened before we knew any English. We came across a shipwreck. Sitting on a log was an Englishman. We captured him and took him to our village. Before he learned our language he would sit by himself in the evening, look around the island and out to sea, and stare at us with a sad face. He would take out a leather pouch containing a some gold coins and pour them from one hand to another. Every once in a while he would mutter, "God damn!" We never disturbed him as we thought that he was praying and the coins were some of his religious artifacts!"
"Later we killed him. It was an accident though. It happened this way. A group of young men and I went out to gather firewood. It was a warm sunny day. We had gone in a canoe to the north end of the island below the large cliff. The slave was told to stay with the canoe so it did not float away. We climbed the cliff and dragged some logs and threw them over the cliff and into the water. Looking down we saw that the slave had fallen asleep in the canoe. We decided to play a joke on him. We through a large rock over to splash him. Only it hit him in the head and killed him. It was an accident though."
Richard showed me how he created the Indian family trees. The white descendents are traced through the father's side, for instance, Alma has a "Swedish" father so she was considered to be Swedish. The Haida descendants are traced through the mother's side so she would then be considered a Haida.
Tuesday, April 15, 1997
The next morning I checked out of the Motel and took Jill to Masset. We first stopped at the Secondary School where we met her billet, a secretary at the school. We also met the secretary's mother, another secretary and her father, the school custodian. After this we went over to the Elementary School and found Faith Thorgairson, a teacher who was in my graduation class. She was then the cannery manager's daughter.
We got Jill settled and began our trip out to the beaches. We did the same trip that I did the day before. On arriving back in Masset I left her with her billet and then drove to Dick and Alma's house in Skidegate. After supper we went visiting, first to Dick's adopted grandfather,Nathan Young, who was the heriditary chief of Tanu. Grandfather is "chini" in Haida, pronounced chin eye) Many interesting stories were told. After we went up to see the United Church minister to see if the church had any local records. Fresh halibut for supper
Wednesday, April 16, 1997
This morning after breakfast, 10 o'clock I had an appointment with John Williams. This Haida had been a minister for most of his working life. In fact, he was the minister at the Kitamaat village when I lived at Kitimat. He was very knowledgeable and had an extensive Haida library as well as a great store of stories in his head. He told me that many Squng Gwai indians went to Kelsey Bay. This is on Vancouver Island. One White man, Captain McNeil married a Haida girl. Remember now that Kelsey Bay, Port McNeil and Fort Rupert are basically the same place and that is where Christopher Findlay met great great granny. Also in the 1870's, after the small pox epdemic, the Skidegate Mission went down to the south Charlottes and picked up all the members of the various tribes to come and live in Skidegate. Most of the Squng Gwai people did not stay in Skidegate but settled in villages to the West and South. Haina was one. Cumshewa was another. One corner of the large Skidegate graveyard has no memorials and is the place where the church buried all the loose bones from the various villages after they were abandoned. The church was able to persuade the Haida to bury their people in the ground. Before this they were placed in boxes and either placed on memorial poles or in caves. I stayed and we talked until well after lunch.
After I headed north to see if I could see the famous white raven of Port Clements. No luck so I continued to Masset.
I also had a picture which I was trying to get copied for the Masset Secondary School of our 1957 grad class. I went to the school, no luck, but I did meet with the school computer teacher and arranged to come back up and help him with some problems. Had fried razor clams for supper.
Thursday, April 17, 1997
First thing in the morning I stopped at "Queen Charlotte Adventures" and asked questions as how to get to Anthony Island, "Squng Gwai". I was told to go to South Moresby Air Charters. This I did. While there I was told that maybe someone would want to come and share the coast of a plane. I said that I was interested for Friday or Saturday.
I then went to a gift shop, Rainbow Galleries and found out that the owner's wife was interested. Even tho' she was Haida she had never been before. That night a trip was arranged for 12 o'clock Friday. Take wet weather gear, gumboots and a camera.
I later found out that the girl, Sharlene, scheduled to share the plane with me was the niece of Dick Bellis. In 1957 she was three when I visited her house.
Supper was fresh fried halibut with rice and corn on the cob.
Friday, April 18, 1997
The plane, a Cessna 185, complete with pilot, myself and Sharlene left at 12:30 from Skidegate. Flight to Rose Harbour took 55 minutes. We flew down the East Coast of the Charlottes going over the village sites of Heina, Skedans and Tanu. The weather was beautiful, the first clear sunny day. We flew into Houston Channel that separates Moresby from Kunghit Island. Below us could be seen a couple of anchored fish boats and a Fisheries Patrol Vessel. As we circled the site a couple of cabins became visible on a rocky shore. A small rubber boat was coming out into the harbour. Upon landing the pilot remarked that there was now a buoy away from the beach that the plane could be moored to. By the time the plane was tied, the Zodiac piloted by Gutz, welcomed us to Rose Harbour and to his boat. Apparently we weren't going to put our feet on the beach just yet. Sharlene and I put on survival suits supplied by Gutz for the boat ride and we were off. Soon we had cleared the calm waters of the passage and were on our way west through Houston channel. The ocean swell was not much but still bounced our small boat around so we had to hang on. Our boat passed a rocky islet that was covered with sea birds. arctic puffins. Each surge of the ever present swell broke over its top , Ahead could be seen a small island. Gutz told us to look for a small green spot on its rocky shore as that is where we were going. Soon the green patch materialized into a grassy beach. The boat was now making its way around a barrier island. Gutz cut the engine and we drifted into calm waters. A bay opened up and one by one the Haida totem poles which lined the water's edge came into view. Our boat touched the shore.We had arrived at the village of Ninstints. All around us could be seen overgrown remains of houses and carved poles.
After an hour Gutz took us back to the plane where another passenger was added. Susan, Gutz's girl friend returned with us to Skidegate. This time we flew up the outside west coast. What an amazing flight!
This island is called Anthony on the maps. The Haida call it "Squng Gwai" which means Rock Cod Island. The abandoned Haida village at the site is called Ninstints and is the only place left on the Charlottes with many of its original carved poles standing. (See the pictures that were taken) One reason for the poles not disappearing to museums and private collections is the isolation. Another reason is the poor access by large boats. The sheltered entrance to the village is through an east facing passage that is ten feet in width Some poles were removed in 1957 by the University of British Columbia. These can be seen at UBC's museum of Anthropology. This is now a World Heritage Site.
That night Dick and I went to Stacey Brown's. We were made welcome by his family. Stacey is a direct descendant of the chief of Skidegate. He was related to Dick through Captain Brown. Stacey was younger than forty but knew much of the history of the Haida and could tell stories as if they happened the day before. I told him of my great great granny's history. Actually, everyone we talked to gave us a few more leads such as others in the village who may be able to help and the names of those who lived at Squng Gwaii. The best lineage was kept by those descended from the chiefs and those who were known as the great carvers. In talking Dick explained that most of the modern Haida children were given a nick name from their language. These names were used among themselves. They also had white names and the elders also gave them a proper Indian name. Stacey told us how the name Skidegate came to be. One hundred fifty years ago a boy, next in line to be chief went to see his aunty. When the young children went to see their relatives they were supposed to bring some small gift. This time the boy forgot and his aunty complained saying that the boy did not even bring him a red chitin (a small armour plated rock creature) For ever afterward the boy's nickname was son of red chitin, which translated to "Skidegate" After he became chief an american boat came in and asked what village this was and jokingly were told that it was Skidegate's. The following 8 chiefs all took the name of Skidegate.
On a more serious note Stacey told the story of his great grandmother which she had told to him. "My family was living in a small village to the west of Skidegate in 1863, the year of the small pox sickness. Most everyone in their village got sick. All the villages were dying. There was no place left to go. Finally a small group of us escaped into the forest and lived among the cedars. Soon all had died except for my uncle and myself. I was five. I can remember my uncle putting me to sleep in between the roots of the cedar trees. He looked after me. There was no food. We were very hungry. Soon we came to a small river. My uncle saw a salmon. He took a tree limb and broke off the brances and made a spear. I can remember him waiting and waiting with his arm up with the spear. He threw the spear into the river. He pulled out a large salmon. We ate that salmon until we walked to the sea. The river was the Yakoun in Masset Inlet. We then became the Yakoun people and took the hummingbird for our crest."
After drinking a pot of coffee Stacey said, "Well Monte, I guess we better officially welcome you back to the land of your ancestors." Stacey took his hummingbird drum with his family sang the Haida welcome song for me. I never felt more honored.
Went out for an early supper, chinese. Afterwards Dick took me to Rennell sound to see another part of the Charlottes. This inlet faces the north west and is directly opened to the West coast. On the main beach is a Raven which Dick carved with a power saw. We saw many deer, blue grouse and of course eagles and more eagles. In fact a road kill deer was providing a meal for a dozen of them.
Saturday, April 19, 1997
This morning I got up and drove to Masset Secondary School. I did my usual computer thing; redid their internet connection, set up the Apple server, repaired softwre on two computers and replaced 2 batteries. Lots more could have been done. Went back to Skidegate. For supper I was introduced to "ghow" (pronounced cow) This time of year the herring are spawning. This they do in the kelp beds and the eggs, which are a sixteenth of an inch round, cover the kelp fronds. It is harvested by small boats with jig lines. the eggs are deposited in a white layer up to an inch thick on each side of the sea weed ribbons. Most people prefer the eggs to be about a quarter inch thick. These egg masses are cut into two inch strips and lightly fried in butter. Dick and Alma make absolute pigs of themselves eating the stuff. I did the pig bit too. Eating as much as I could stand plus some fresh razor clam fritters. Afterwards Alma did not feel so good.
Sunday, April 20, 1997
On this day we all slept in and went out for breakfast. Dick and I went up to visit his mother in the hospital. She is 95 and has lost her hearing to the point that she cannot talk properly anymore. She did not recognize me. Dick gave her a piece of ghow. Oh, did she like that. When she finished, her mouth and chin were covered with the little white eggs. She did give me a kiss goodbye as she used to. I then had to wipe ghow off my face too.
A side note here. When I was life guarding at Lakelse Hotspring Resort, 1962, with my new wife, Coral and baby Rodger, grandma Bellis came and visited me so she could see and hold baby.
Afterwards we went and visited Mrs Stevens. She is living with her grandchildren and is 97. She is completely mobile and told us that she had pneumonia 4 times but was okay now. She has a pretty good memory and was able to remember the past quite well. When told of Mary Findlay she said that the name sounded quite familiar but she would have to think about it.
After this we went to see the chief of the west coast villages, Watson. He was 91, living by himself in a small house with a great long stairway to the main floor. When asked why he lived there with the stairway he said that the climb was all that was keeping him young! He told us that we should visit Elizabeth Collinson. She knew a lot of history even though she was quite young, 83, because her people came from Anthony Island. Upon leaving Watson's, Dick saw one of his nieces filleting a huge halibut. We went over and watched her. She finally gave us a five pound piece to make us go away which had been Dick's plan all along.
Mrs. Collinson lived with "Bean" her husband of many years. She was also a story teller and worked with the schools, telling the students their history. When told of my great great granny she too said that the name sounded familiar. Mrs Collinson also told us that Mrs. Stevens was pretty old and when you ask her a question, sometimes it took her two weeks to answer. Her Anthony Island story concerned the return in 1962 of those driven out of Victoria by small pox. As the canoes moved north they had to stop each night to bury their dead. This they kept doing until there was no one left with strength to crawl out of a canoe. The last canoes with their dead were found on Bonila Island. Elizabeth told us we should get in touch with Mrs. Stevens' mother. Then she remembered that she was dead. She also told us a story of having to sing the Haida love song at the museum for some fellow with a tape recorder. She started it too high and it sounded awful. We said goodby and went hunting for some more "ghow". The word was out that some fishermen were distributing it to members of the village. This practise is done regularly with extra food. It could be done with salmon, halibut, herring, deer, eulachons, or anything. For supper that night Dick's daughter Lisa came over with her Maori boyfriend and cooked us supper, barbecued porkchops and a neat teriyaki halibut, more ghow, two kinds of tarts and a cake. Later that night there was a knock on the door at Dick's. A young fisherman was there with two large plastic boxes filled with "Ghow"!
Monday April 21st 1997
Got up with Dick at 5 AM as he had to go to work. Went to town and bought a print of Ted Bellis', Dick's older brother who had died a few years before. Ted was a Fisheries boat skipper, fisherman, hunter and generally an all round good guy. He also was a master mason. I gave it to Alma in her store, "Haida Gwai Fashions." Said goodbye, and am now on the 11 am sailing of the Queen of Prince Rupert. Time is now 12:20. So far a much better crossing, as the wind is blowing from the southwest across the island. Passengers include some 30 tree planters. They have been living in the bush for the passed month. Most are going down to Jordan River on Vancouver Island. Time is now 1:45, ride is a bit rougher waves breaking over the bow and soaking the forward lounge's windows. I remember a crossing in 1958 in a Fisheries Patrol boat, Nicola Post. That was upchuck time. Now is 4:16, a beautiful clear sky.
We have just crossed and are in the islands before Prince Rupert. The wind changed to a following breeze, the same speed as the boat. Most of the tree planters are outside getting sun tans.
I am leaving the islands. I feel sad. I know I will return..