Several readers have mentioned that my book has made them want to make a trip to the islands to enjoy its rugged beauty and explore the art and culture of the talented Haida First Nations. While doing research for my book Love on the Misty Isles, I discovered many changes had taken place in the forty years since we had lived on the former Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii. Like my readers, a trip back to the islands to see these changes myself became an item on my “bucket list.” This past July (2017), my husband and I took this journey back to the Misty Isles. Note the photo of me holding my novel on Agate Beach with Tow Hill in the background, the actual location featured on the book’s cover.
Unlike Libby and our time during the mid-1970s, we did not have to arrive on “The Goose,” the small amphibious plane with the front shaped like the hull of a boat so that it could take off and land in the water. We were able to fly right into the new Masset Airport on a turbo-jet plane.
When we lived there, our lives revolved around the military and beginning our family. Without the military’s strong presence now, we had the pleasure of exploring the environment more and engaging in the culture and art of the Haida. Our first stop was a carving shed where two young Haida were working on a totem pole.
There had been only one hotel and restaurant in the mid-1970s, but during our trip we stayed in a large lodge on the water, one of many accommodations, and had a wide variety of eating places in which to enjoy local dishes made from local land and marine sources.
When the base stood down, several of the buildings were either repurposed for civilian use or torn down, for example the clinic and hospital where my husband worked. They were replaced by a new regional hospital in Old Masset. All the military housing had been sold to locals or to non-residents for vacation homes. We found our old PMQ which had been purchased by an Oregon fishing family who had remodeled it extensively to accommodate their boats. It was for sale again. Should we have jumped on the opportunity?
Unless one had a contact with a young Haida carver in the 70s, Haida art was unavailable for purchase. We were fortunate to be able to attain two argillite pendants at that time. Now, there are several gift and art shops from which to purchase art and souvenirs. Their art has become world-renowned and highly sought after. I had the hope of getting a tiny argillite totem pole, but we came home with several T-shirts and books.
One of our favorite activities was touring the new Haida Heritage Center and Museum at the southern end of the island near Skidegate. Here we learned much about the Haida culture from the totem pole tour led by a young, beautiful, and engaging Haida woman. Even my husband got teary-eyed at some of her stories and myths. I immediately felt I had found my young “Willow,” and had the pleasure of visiting with her after the tour. Like Willow, she is a wonderful cultural ambassador for her people.
We also had the pleasure of visiting with my Haida mentor, Marlene Liddle, the Campus Community College Campus Officer, at the local Coffee Shop—no, there is no Dr. Shirlee’s Books ‘n’ Brew. She is a very busy woman and obviously well-known within the community. I know we’d be good friends if we lived in the same place. I appreciate all the support she gave me during the writing of my novel.
We also had coffee at the home of Jack Litrell, the photographer who took the photo of Agate Beach and Tow Hill for my book cover. He showed us his studio and prints of pictures he had taken around the world.
The Greater Masset Tour that included Masset and Old Massett was led by Andrew Merrilees who happened to be the mayor of Masset. We could tour around the area ourselves, but having the behind the scene stories provided by Andrew led to a much deeper understanding of the area. He also took us to the back of Tow Hill and the Blow Hole. Along the way, he treated us to a delicious lunch at the Moon Over Naikoon Bakery, a unique café in an artistically painted bus hidden among towering spruce and cedar trees.
We returned home from our adventures with many wonderful memories, photos, and a desire to make a return visit to the Misty Isles.