By Elfi Dillon-Shaw
I arrived in Haida Gwaii on the sunny afternoon of March 17th. The following two days I was to present the Haven Toolkits in a place called Skidegate. Flying toward Haida Gwaii, I saw that the landing strip at Sandspit airport appeared impossibly short, with a beach on either end. I did experience a few moments of anxiety when I realized that indeed we were to land there. A blizzard that morning had decorated the landscapes with lacy snow patterns and only a few human-made structures were visible. I later found out that “5000 bears and 4000 people” live in Haida Gwaii. I hoped to meet some of the people but not too many bears. A half-hour shuttle ride from Sandspit brought us to a ferry which crossed a beautiful bay for another half hour to Queen Charlotte Village (above).
From shuttle driver to my hosts, everyone appeared cautiously friendly and very helpful. The Haven Toolkits took place in the Youth Center in the heart of the Village of Skidegate, with a spectacular view of Hecate Straight, the water that separates Haida Gwaii from the mainland.
My deep gratitude goes to Karen who answered Jennifer Hilton’s (thanks Jennifer!) call for a Haida Gwaii Haven Toolkits. I also thank her partner Willie, who works with youth in Skidegate and who so generously offered the center as our venue. Karen and Willie’s kind and earnest presence and participation set the tone for the group. We welcomed 31 participants to the workshops. Some of the people had visited The Haven in the past and were attending the Toolkits now to refresh their skills and support their friends. I was so touched by the warm reception and keen attention of everyone. It snowed heavily on Saturday. Sunday morning was icy and slick and yet everyone showed up. The sun broke through on Sunday afternoon and to top it all off a whale swam by to everyone’s excitement and joy.
During my visit I reconnected with Dave Unsworth (right) and Mike Meegan, longtime Haven students and citizens of Haida Gwaii. Their community regards them highly as skilled outdoor men and business owners. Their tireless support of The Haven has brought many of their friends and employees to attend our workshops, both on Gabriola Island and now in Haida Gwaii. I thank Dave for sponsoring several of his friends to attend the Toolkits and for taking me on a tour of the island, from Queen Charlotte to his home in Port Clements, to Massett and even as far as Tow Hill on the very northern tip of the Haida Gwaii. On this clear day we could see the mountains of Alaska, apparently a rare treat. I enjoyed Dave’s many stories and met some of his friends at a local favourite spot where we ate the biggest Yorkshire pudding I ever saw!
I feel deeply grateful to Mike Meegan for letting me stay in his beautiful vacation apartment named “Absence of Time” (below). I could relax completely in the comfort and beauty of the place, with a stunning view of mountains and harbour, surrounded by most interesting artifacts and art.
I dream of a continuing connection between The Haven and the people of Haida Gwaii. I believe that the Haven Communication and Relationship Toolkits offered useful learning and experiences that might spark an appetite for more! I would love to see Willie, Karen and the toolkit participants come to visit The Haven and participate in our programs on Gabriola Island. As young community leaders, Karen and Willie (below) would surely bring The Haven’s gifts to their community while teaching us about theirs!
I hope that many of Haven’s faculty will have the chance to visit this extraordinary place and her people.
The Haven offers Toolkits all over Canada. We have been to Campbell River, Calgary, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Nelson, as well as closer to home in Vancouver and Victoria. If you would like to help us organize a Toolkits weekend in your community, let us know!