Experience Northwest BC's Culture & History - Visit Northwest BC

Experience Northwest BC’s Culture & History

The landscape in Northwest BC looms large, but so too does its history. 

Since time immemorial, Indigeous Peoples have coexisted in deep harmony with this land. Today, you can wander through surreal moss-covered lava fields in Nisga’a territory and explore towering cedar-carved poles in Gitanyow. Present across the region is a rich tapestry of Northwest Coast art. The area is home to some of B.C.’s most important artists, including Demsey Bob and Roy Henry Rickers, and emerging talent who, like those before them, continue to give form to their heritage. New settlers also left their mark, and community museums and historical landmarks chronicle the saga of enterprising locals who gave rise to a different expression of life here.

Centuries of Salmon in Prince Rupert

For centuries, salmon ruled life in Prince Rupert. Stop in at North Pacific Cannery National Historic Site to see the inner workings of a former salmon cannery. Wander along creaking boardwalks through draughty canning rooms, check out the on-site general store, lined with goods from the turn of the century, and admire sublime vistas overlooking the moody Skeena. Guided tours available.

At the Museum of Northern B.C., ten thousand years of Tsimshian history as salmon people are on display. Don’t miss the Monumental Gallery, a tribute to great works of Tsimshian, Haida and Nisga’a’ art, housed in a stunning vaulted cedar-and-glass annex overlooking Prince Rupert’s deep-water harbour. Down the road are kid-friendly museums, including the Prince Rupert Fire and B.C. Police Museum and Kwinitsa Railway Museum.

For a front-row view of the area’s past, spend a day on the water with Northern BC Jet Boat Tours as they take you in view of abandoned salmon canneries and ghost towns.

Creativity Abounds In Terrace

In Terrace, experience the ingenuity and creativity of pioneering locals.

Pop by the Heritage Park Museum, home to several log buildings, including a mining cabin, dance hall, and trapper’s cabin, then wander over to the two-storey George Little House, a former heritage home, now filled with local artwork and information on historical experiences in the area. Nearby, check out the rotating exhibits from the Terrace Art Gallery where you can get a feel for how the area’s landscape influences local artists.

NIsga’a carver George McKay at the George Little House in Terrace

Terrace is also home to the Freda Driesing school of Northwest Coast Art, the only school of its kind, focused on traditional First Nations Pacific Northwest Coast art. Admire the artwork on display and if you’re lucky, you may just meet one of the young voices who are ushering in a new wave of Indigenous art in B.C. 

Haisla totem pole at the mouth of the Kemano river near Kitimat, south of Terrace.

Find more evidence of Northwest B.C.’s connection to salmon on a self-guided tour of the bright, colourful murals splashed across buildings throughout town. Just east of Terrace lies Kitsealas Canyon. Once the only First Nations Village on the salmon-producing Skeena, now visitors can wander along a moss-covered interpretive trail to a viewing platform high above the banks of the rushing river. Four contemporary longhouses house artifacts and displays and tell the story of life in the canyon.

Power and Plenty in Nisga’a Territory

The black molten landscape of the Anhluut’ukwsim Lax̱mihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisg̱a’a (Nisg̱a’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park) is unrecognizable as far as landscapes go in B.C. Here, the site of Canada’s most recent lava flow occurred some 300 years ago, forever altering the land. 

Nisga’a Lava Beds

The Ḵ’alii-Aksim Lisims (the Nass River) cuts through this stark landscape, a surging force of nature that brings forth salmon and with it birds and other wildlife. Together, they make for a mystical day spent outside exploring trails, looking for moose, eagles, and bears, and learning about the Nisga’a supernatural forces behind the cataclysmic eruption. Guided interpretive tours available, or embark on the self-guided auto-tour, which takes you to 18 stops of cultural and natural significance within Nisga’a territory, including an active carving shed where carver Calvin McNeil takes visitors on an oral journey through the traditions of the Nisga’a Lands and its carvings.

Carver Calvin McNeil tells the story of the Nisga’a at the carving shed

Located in the heart of Nisg̱a’a Lands is the the Nisg̱a’a Museum, a stunning wood-and-glass building inspired by the design of traditional longhouses and which houses over 300 priceless artifacts (the Ancestors’ Collection) displayed together in their place of origin — a powerful symbol of culture, art, and history. 

Quirky and Colorful along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway branches off from Highway 16 and links Northern B.C. to the Yukon border. Before you head north, make sure to stop in at Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic site, once the site of a fortified Gitwangak village site. In Kitwanga and Gitanyow see some of the oldest and most significant carved totem poles in BC, which served as inspiration for famed B.C. painter Emily Carr. They’re well-mapped on the “Hands of History Tour,” a self-guided, 110-kilometre circle loop between The Hazeltons and Kitwanga.

Totem poles at Kitwanga

Stewart’s colourful and quirky personality is best showcased at the Ripley Creek Inn’s Toastworks, part charming cafe and part vintage toaster museum, as well as the Stewart Museum. Just before the turnoff on Highway 37A, swing by the Meziadin fish ladder, first constructed 1914, to see if you can spot bright flashes of silver and pink as large chinook and sockeye salmon leap through the air navigating the ladder in late summer.

Dip netting at the Meziadin fish ladder along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Further north, on the banks of the grand Stikine Canyon is Telegraph Creek, once a remote outpost and the former location of the overland telegraph that connected southern Canada to the Yukon. Take a spin around town to see a former Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, remnants of log cabins, and the unassuming but delightful Stikine Museum which is filled with artifacts and remnants from life on the Stikine. While in Telegraph Creek, be sure to stop in at the historic Stikine Riversong Inn & Cafe.

Old Meets New in The Hazeltons

Old Hazelton is where ancient Indigenous culture converges with European influence. The village of Gitanmaax is one of the area’s oldest communities and its location at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena rivers as a vital trading hub is also what attracted European traders to its banks. The town’s mixed past stands apart as a place where you can see a restored paddlewheel riverboat and heritage storefronts and just down the road, the world-renowned’ Ksan village, a replica Gitxsan village site, home to longhouses, carvers and poles. To see more towering poles, head further north to Kispiox. 

Totem poles and longhouses in K’san.

Community and Culture in Smithers 

En route to Smithers, stop at the Wedzin Kwah Canyon to watch skilled dip-netting fishermen hook salmon along the river’s steep banks, then climb up the stairs to the Widzin Kwah Canyon House Museum for a 45-minute guided cultural tour where you can learn about this centuries-old practice.

Get to know life in the Bulkley Valley at the Smithers Museum and Gallery through archival materials, artifacts and thousands of photographs depicting Smithers and the surrounding Valley. The town’s Alpine-themed architecture is not hard to miss but grab a self-guided historical walking tour map and check out the town’s historical landmarks, public garden, and heritage buildings. (You can pick up the free map at the Smithers Visitor Centre or at the Bulkley Valley Museum).

Dipnetting for salmon in the Wedzin Kwah Canyon in Witset

Allow time to explore the Telkwa, a quiet community located to the east of Smithers. Housed in a 1920s era schoolhouse is the Telkwa Museum, home to archival materials and eclectic facts, like the story behind the creation of the first egg carton and its connection to Telkwa. For a place to rest and read, wander over to the Telkwa Reading Centre, situated right on the banks of the spectacular Bulkley, and arguably one of the nicest spots in B.C. to lose yourself in a book.

Revisit the B.C.’s Fur Trade in the Nechako

Community museums in Burns Lake and Vanderhoof offer a look at how these communities came to be and the colourful characters who make up their past. Don’t miss the one-kilometre Heritage Walking Trail that circles the Vanderhoof Museum grounds. The trail passes through the forest and along Stoney Creek, an important area for the local Saik’uz First Nation.

In Fort St. James, step back into time at the Fort St. James National Historic Site, a completely restored Hudson’s Bay Company post located on the shores of Stuart Lake. Learn about the fascinating history of Canada’s fur trade through guided interpreters and wander among the original wooden buildings.

Check out Contemporary Art in Prince George

In Prince George, modern art shines at the city’s Two Rivers Gallery, a centre for contemporary Canadian creativity and the only contemporary art space in Northern B.C. Set in an architecturally stunning building with curved glass and soaring cedar panels, here you can explore rotating exhibits by regional and national artists.

The city’s roots as a forestry town are on display at the Central B.C. Railway and Forestry Museum, a fun and interactive attraction in a spacious park-like setting on the shores of the Nechako River. Forty kilometres north is the historic Huble Homestead, where you can step back in time and learn about the area’s early prospector and its Lheidli T’enneh people.

Art, Culture, History, Buckley-Nechako, Kitimat, Nisga'a Lands, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Stewart, Terrace, The Hazeltons
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