Life in a Haida village
Throughout the Northwest Coast tribes life was similar. Carpentry was men's work,and they made items for everyday use with blades made of stone and shell with wooden wedges and stone hammers.The men also made Huge winter
map of villages on Haida Gwaii
map of villages on Haida Gwaii


dwellings covered by cedar planks, and dugout canoes, which provided transportation along rapid streams and on the open sea.

Women mostly spun twine required for fishnets and lines, and wove items from cedar bark and roots like large storage containers, collecting baskets and finely decorated hats. Mats made from cedar bark or rushes provided furnishings and lined houses for additional warmth. Women also braided cedar-bark skirts and cloaks for everyday wear. Elaborately decorated Chilkat blankets of braided cedar bark and mountain-goat wool were worn on special occasions by people in northern tribes.
foodBefore the europeans came, food was plentiful, black-tailed deer, bear, elk and mountain goats were found easily, and sea creatures like seals, porpoises and huge quantities of fish and shellfish were found everywhere. Edible fruits, bulbs and plants provided nutritional diets. The most important food was the great runs of salmon, which arrived in annual migrations and were eaten fresh or dried for later in the year.
a Haida fishing hook next to a modern one
a Haida fishing hook next to a modern one
man in a chilkat blanket
man in a chilkat blanket

Fishing, hunting and gathering were the ways of getting food on the Northwest Coast. Resources from the sea were of first importance. Fishing devices were adapted to suit specific conditions of sea and stream and of fish species, the techniques included jigging the baited hooks, harpooning and spearing, nets and tidal traps, or weirs, in streams. Land mammals were taken with bow and arrow, snares, deadfalls and nets, and seals with harpoons at sea, and with clubs or nets wherever they came ashore. The waterfowl got caught to a variety of nets. Gathering shellfish, berries, edible roots, bulbs and green shoots provided additional foods. None of these was evenly distributed in all regions, and coastal tribes followed a pattern of moving from winter villages to outlying sites as the season came for each resource, and then returning.
diagram of a fishing weir
diagram of a fishing weir

While fishing and hunting were mainly the work of men,the women did most gathering of plant and beach food. Both men and women made the tools necessary for work. Because almost all foods were produced at times in quantities greater than immediate need, they were preserved. Men did most of the production of fish and game, but women did all the cooking and preservation.
The Haida spent most of the year in their villages, but during the fishing season they went to every stream or river that had a fish run. Salmon were the primary food species, although they run only on alternate years on Haida Gwaii. All Haida had access to the halibut fishing grounds, and the west coast villages relied on black cod. Shellfish was readily available, except on the west coast. Eulachon, a variety of herring rich in oil, was not available on Haida Gwaii, so the Haida travelled to the Nass River on the mainland, where they traded for other foods and rare materials that were not available in their homeland.
shelter
According to myths, the house was one of the main thigs that the Raven gave to the Haida people after he stole the idea from the Beaver. The house was the centre of Haida life. Haida houses were well made, and putting a carved column or totem pole in the front of the house and cutting a circular doorway through both, was
model of haida house
model of haida house
well practiced. Haida houses were made of red cedar with a framework of corner posts that supported massive beams. The frame was covered with wide planks. The tools required for building houses included sledgehammers, hand mauls and wedges for splitting wood.
Small houses were 6 by 9 m (20 by 30 feet) and were occupied by thirty to forty closely related family members,
Frame of a Haida House.
Frame of a Haida House.

while large houses were up to 15 by 18 m (50 by 60 feet) with twice as many people living in them, including immediate family and slaves. The ideal house had a large pit in the central area, often lined with a vertical box structure of massive planks. The hearth occupied the centre, directly under a smokehole.

Not a single complete original Haida dwelling survives, but there are photographs of about four hundred Haida houses in twenty-five villages, taken in the last half of the nineteenth century. In addition, nearly one hundred house models survive in museum collections. The Field Museum in Chicago has the entire village of Skidegate, some thirty houses in model form, commissioned by James Deans for the Columbian World Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

transportation
Haida canoes were exquisite craft hewn from the gigantic red cedar that grows on Haida Gwaii and were highly prized by chiefs of other nations throughout the coast. The beautiful lines and the better quality of the cedar available on Haida Gwaii makes Haida canoes the best on the coast.
Canoemakers in each village worked on their canoe throughout the fall at places where the best red cedars stood.
painting of a Haida man creating a canoe
painting of a Haida man creating a canoe

When the first Europeans arrived, they made drawings of the Haida in their large war canoes with high prows and the crests of the owners. Although there are many different kinds of these canoes, called head canoes, no full-sized ones are around anymore.


By the end of the eighteenth century, the Haida had learned from visiting sailors and sea captains how to rig sails, and so most large canoes had two or three masts and sails of canvas or cedar bark mats. These faster, more manoeuvrable ships were capable of carrying 20 000 kg (10 tons) of cargo.

drawing of a Haida canoe
drawing of a Haida canoe


This new craft was probably responsible for the disappearance of the "head" type of canoe. The head canoe had a huge prow far in front of the canoe, which was good for showing the crests of the war chief, but was not good for manoeuvrability under the sail.

War canoes had the same prow as the freight canoes but, in addition to the painted designs on the hull, they had separate carved crests at the bow or stern. An example of this style of war canoe
was made by Alfred Davidson and other master canoemakers (including Robert Davidson Sr., Robert Davidson's grandfather) for a fair in the United States. The paintings on it were designed and done
by Charles Edenshaw. When the final price was too high for the fair's budget, the craft was purchased for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. At 17 m (56 feet) in length, this is the largest Haida war canoe that has survived (although the Heiltsuk war canoe at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is longer).



Lootaas in paris
Lootaas in paris

In 1985, Bill Reid was commissioned to make a 15-m (50-foot) dugout canoe for Expo 86, the world's fair in Vancouver. He called it Lootaas(or Wave Eater). After the fair, several replicas were made in fiberglass, the first two of which were for the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The original canoe was taken to France and paddled up the Seine to Paris, in honour of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Later, it undertook a much-publicized voyage from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii and has since been kept at Skidegate for ceremonial occasions.