Old growth forests, lapping waves, and rugged mountains characterize British Columbia’s North. Inspired by these surroundings, this region is home to a plethora of Aboriginal art nurtured and created by the area’s diverse First Nations.
Becoming a part of the landscape and experience of the North, First Nations art is accented by natural wonders, pristine parks, and nature reserves. Infused with even more meaning, the deep cultural roots of First Nations people here shape these communities.
If you’re looking to experience more than a drive-through tour and are keen to understand the rich history of the area and its people, here are some spots in Northern British Columbia to explore Aboriginal art.
Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay
On BC’s coast lies the archipelago of Haida Gwaii. An area rich with Haida culture, the Haida Heritage Centre at Ḵay Llnagaay is the perfect place to experience it. Here, you can explore the history both inside and outside of this award-winning Aboriginal cultural tourism attraction. Stop by the Carving House to watch local artists in action. Then, head to the Canoe House to learn about how integral these simple boats were and are in Haida life. Of course, you have to make a pit stop at Bill Reid's “Lootaas,” a 50-foot canoe that’s carved out of a single piece of cedar.
Museum of Northern BC
Overlooking the harbor in Prince Rupert, the Museum of Northern BC is home to the art of Haida, Nisga’a, Tsimshian, and Tlingit First Nations. Celebrating both culture and history, this space allows you to have a look inside the region through its past and artifacts. Explore the longhouse with views of the water, browse contemporary masks, and discover argillite carvings. There are also guided tours to give you more context around the collection of unique pieces and you can often see a totem pole being carved at a shed on site.
Ksan Historical Village and Museum
Home to more than 600 items and artifacts of the Gitxsan people, this village and museum in Hazelton, British Columbia will truly immerse you in First Nations culture. Walk through the replicated village and discover carved masks, intricate bent boxes, detailed buttons blankets, and more. Showcasing both ceremonial and utilitarian items, this space will give you an understanding of two deeply important facets of the Gitxsan people — how they created and how they lived. If you’re looking to experience even more, consider staying overnight at the village’s campground.
Using art and culture to tell the story of the Nisga’a people, this spectacular cedar and glass building is home to at least 300 cultural treasures. With both permanent and temporary exhibitions, you’ll have the opportunity to look into the past of the Nisga’a First Nation through their masks, ceremonial items, and more. The museum also offers guided tours to provide insight into the story and meaning of select pieces to help foster a deeper understanding of the people and the area. Be sure to stop by the popular Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park after touring this stunning museum.
Art Route on Haida Gwaii
If you’re lucky enough to visit Haida Gwaii, you’ll understand why it’s known for both its natural beauty and its rich, creative history. Take it all in by experiencing the island’s Art Route Tour to meet artists in their studios and to discover their creativity and craft. From galleries to homes, you’ll have the chance to get to know the personality of the island through its art and artists. Better yet, this tour showcases all types of art including traditional Haida techniques, as well as more contemporary works demonstrating the diverse inspiration the natural beauty of the area can spur.
Totem poles, carvings, and paintings around the region
The region of Northern BC is rich with art in its outdoors spaces, including totem poles, carvings, and paintings. Stop by the totem poles in Kispiox Valley or Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site; check out the chainsaw sculptures in Chetwynd; and be inspired by the murals throughout Dawson Creek. Steeped in culture, tradition, and creativity, BC’s North is home to all sorts of art to explore — plus, its beautiful landscape is artwork in and of itself.
Home to more land than the State of California, Northern BC boasts not only awe inspiring natural landscapes, but significant art and culture. It’s time to explore.
Discover and appreciate more of Canada’s rich First Nations history by visiting the Hello BC website.