Historic sites

🕔Sep 24, 2007

A set of old hammers at the Heritage Park Museum in Terrace has been on my mind since I saw them a couple weeks ago. I printed a picture of them and tacked it to my wall. The photo is nothing spectacular—and many might say neither are the hammers—but to me they represent something more than meets the eye.
Like many pioneer tools, hammers seem simple—a wooden handle and metal head. And yet, with a little sweat, hard work and human endurance thrown in the mix, they played a key role in the building of every city in northern B.C. That tells me life doesn’t have to be complicated, and that great things can take shape with the most basic beginnings.
Every time I look at that photo, and especially while sitting at my computer amidst a whirlwind of wires and digital apparatuses, I feel lighter. It’s a time-out, a breather; it brings me back to my roots.
Connecting with the past allows humans to reassess the present. It also helps travellers learn about places they are visiting. For locals, historical sites instill a sense of pride and help define what makes their town or area unique. As the wise say, if you don’t learn from the past, there is nothing to prevent you from making similar mistakes in the future.
The following is a list of some of the most fascinating historical sites in northern BC, though it is by no means complete. Heading roughly west to east, each place is special whether it be for a collection of artifacts, the significance of an event that took place there, or the beauty of the site itself.


On their own, the Queen Charlotte Islands have such an abundance of historical sites that it’s hard to list them all. Only a few hours’ drive with interspersed boat rides unlocks the key to five ship wrecks from the early 1900s, various traditional Haida villages (including Qay’llnagaay Heritage Centre near Skidegate), old mine sites and unique whaling stations.
The most notable site, however, is the Gwaii Hanaas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage site. Accessed only by sea or air, the 138 islands in the southern part of Haida Gwaii were declared a protected area in 1988. Home to pristine forests, the site also houses the remains of SGang Gwaay (also called Ninstints) on Anthony Island. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, visitors can see a variety of animal species, natural hot springs, standing and fallen totem poles and longhouse remains.


Historical buildings are scattered around Prince Rupert, but two are of special interest: the Kwinitsa Railway Museum (a former CN railway station), and the Prince Rupert Fire Museum, in which the central exhibit is a 1925 fire engine.
The ruins of a three-storey quarantine hospital on Dodge Island, now better known as Hospital Island, is a unique place to visit. The hospital was built in the 1900s for an expected wave of immigrants—but in its two years of operation only admitted one patient.
Another island to see is Pike Island, the home of five archaeological sites including rock carvings and two Tsimshian villages where people lived as long as 1,800 years ago.


A 20-minute drive east of Prince Rupert is the North Pacific Historic Fishing Village, the oldest surviving cannery on the west coast of Canada. Wooden boardwalks and docks supported by pylons allow visitors to stroll while taking in the natural wildlife and ocean activity. They can also dine at one of the cannery’s eateries, see a historical play, or view old cannery equipment and buildings through a self-guided tour.


Terrace’s Heritage Park Museum is a village made up of buildings and artifacts from pioneer times. Structures on display include a trapper’s cabin filled with rusty jaws once used to trap furbearing animals for their pelts.
The George Little House, the original home of Terrace’s founder, is another historical structure, now a hub of tourist activity. As well as housing a gift shop, the centre, built in 1914, is the town’s VIA rail station.


Fifteen kilometres east of Terrace is the largest canyon on the Skeena River, inhabited by people for at least 3,500 years. The Kitselas used the canyon to control traffic on the river, and acted as middlemen in trade between First Nations communities. Recent developments include a recreated village with three long-houses and carving sheds. Cultural activities and artifacts are also on display, and guides are available for tours through the forest.


A moonscape meets visitors who drive up the Nass Valley to the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. About 250 years ago a volcanic eruption covered the valley in lava. The entire area is now covered in moss, with mountains in the background, making a remarkable moonscape-like setting. It’s possible to hire a guide to walk to the Tseax cone, the starting point of the eruption.


Just off Highway 16 between Terrace and Smithers is Gitwangak Battle Hill. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the hill was a stronghold from which the Gitwangak led raids on surrounding First Nations communities. They fought off their vengeful neighbours by rolling spiked logs down the hill.


Far north, close to the Yukon border, Atlin was once a bustling centre in the great gold rush in the late 1800s. Visitors can learn all about the rush in the town’s museum, located in the city’s first schoolhouse. They can also experience history first-hand by trying their luck panning for gold in Spruce Creek.


A popular attraction in Old Hazelton is the Ksan Historical Village and Museum which offers ancient buildings, totem poles, grand performances and, of course, a museum. Just five kilometres away in New Hazelton is an interpretive centre dedicated to demonstrating the history of the local First Nations people and their arts.


Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, 10 kilometres northeast of Smithers, is considered one of the best places in BC to see fossils. The sedimentary formations here are estimated to be 50 million years old, with fossils of various fish, insects and plants. Travellers can also see a number of heritage buildings in close-by Telkwa.


Accessible only by water or trail, the Chinlac Massacre Site has been the focus of archaeological studies for several years. Once the location of a Chinlac First Nations village, in 1745 the southern Denes almost wiped out the group’s entire population because they hated the Chinlac chief. Visitors are advised to contact Vanderhoof visitor’s centre or surrounding First Nations groups before visiting.


Located on Stuart Lake, the Fort St. James national historic site is the home of the largest group of buildings related to the fur trade in Canada. The site is a fully restored Hudson’s Bay Company trading post with traditional artifacts, educational videos and a gift shop.
Tourists can also visit the gravesite of one of the Carrier First Nation’s greatest chiefs, Chief Kwah.
By renting a guide and boat, they can also go to the lake’s north shore to see ancient pictographs.


An array of old equipment from the railway and forestry industry, two major economic drivers for the north, is on display at the Prince George Railway and Forestry museum.
An early 1900s heritage site, Huble Homestead, with costumed interpreters and a variety of heritage buildings, also lets visitors experience the area’s history first-hand.


Close to the Alberta border, Tumbler Ridge is the home of various dinosaur bones and fossil discoveries, some of which date back 97 million years, including dinosaur track-ways—paths of fossilized dinosaur footprints. Guided tours are available.


Wooden boardwalks, original buildings, pioneer artifacts and antique farm machinery are all available to explore at the Walter Wright Pioneer Village. The Northern Alberta Railways Station Museum, located downtown, educates visitors about the region’s rail history. A unique attraction here is also the Dawson Creek art gallery, housed in a restored grain elevator from1930.
War-era propaganda and documentaries about the building of the Alaska Highway are also on display at mile 0, the starting point of the highway, which was completed in 1942 and was considered a war necessity.


Other attractions to look for in northern BC include the Kiskatinaw Bridge near Taylor and the heritage museums in Chetwynd, Burns Lake, Fort Nelson and Vanderhoof. In addition to the listed attractions, many towns have other notable heritage sites, including old rail stations.
Local visitor information centres and historical societies can provide more information about each site. Contact information for individual Visitor Information Centres can be found at www.hellobc.com, and for local historical societies at www.museumsassn.bc.ca.