Now a National Historic Site, the pretty little village of Kitwanga is located near where the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) meets the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37), west of Hazelton.
The grass-covered hill at Kitwanga was the scene of fierce First Nation tribal battles two centuries ago, which resulted in the destruction of the Gitwangak fort and cedar dwellings that once stood to protect the Gitksan people, their fishing sites and the active trade routes in the region.
This area has nurtured northwest coast native cultures for over 7,000 years, with the Gitksan and Wetsuwet’en peoples always living here, near where the Skeena River meets the Bulkley River. The Skeena River served as an ancient trade route, navigated by 60-foot cedar canoes travelling from the coast upriver to totem-filled villages with magical names like Temlaham, Gitanmax and Kispiox.
Location: Kitwanga is located on the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy 37, 4 km north of the junction with the Yellowhead Highway 16, between Kitwancool and the Gitwangak Indian reserves. The nearest communities are Hazelton (30 miles/48 km) and Terrace (50 miles/80 km).
Kitwanga Fort National Historic Site: Explore the fascinating history of the First Nations of the Northwest at the Kitwanga Fort National Historic Site. Known locally as Battle Hill, this is the site of the Gitksan fortress that fell to encroaching clans.
Neighbouring Gitwangak, Place of Rabbits features intriguing totem poles and the 100-year-old St. Paul’s Anglican Church.
Gitwangak Fort: A trail to a steep mound, know as Ta’awdzep or Battle Hill, is all that remains of a palisade and five cedar plank longhouses that were occupied for at least 100 years. They burned down around 1835, after a tribal war over fishing sites and trade routes. Seven panels along the trail tell the story.
Formerly known as Kitwancool, the village of Gitanyow, 15 kilometres to the north on Highway 37, boasts 15 awesome totem poles, including the 140-year-old Hole in the Sky totem pole. Visit the seasonally-operated Gitanyow Museum.
‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum: A “must see” in nearby Hazelton, is one of the finest native heritage sites in Canada, the world famous ‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum. Seven decorated tribal houses fronted with several elaborately carved totems stand silently on the banks of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers, telling the legends of the totem poles and portraying the lifestyles of generations that lived long ago. See Native carvers performing their craft and, when available, attend the ‘Ksan Dancers’ performance of local native dances. The troupe, which has toured both nationally and internationally, are most widely known for their performance of The Breath of Our Grandfathers, which interprets the highlights of the potlatch celebrations that were outlawed in 1884.
Driving Tour: Follow the Hands of History Tour, a self-guided, 110-kilometre, 15-plaque circle loop between Hazelton and Kitwanga, through the history and culture of the wilderness Northwest.
Totem Poles: Take a self-guided Totem Pole Tour of neighbouring Kispiox, Gitanyow, Gitwangak and Kitseguecia – over 50 standing totem poles located in eight scenic Native villages.
Fishing: Fish the nearby Kispiox River, designated a trophy river by the province of British Columbia, and widely known for its world-class native steelhead trout. In addition to ‘the finest steelhead fishing in all of North America’, the Kispiox yields an abundance of coho salmon, rainbow, cutthroat and dolly varden. Within half an hour’s drive is excellent fishing in the Babine, Bear, Bulkley and Skeena Rivers.
About 155 km (100 mi) north of Kitwanga, reach the Meziadin Junction. A tough choice awaits; head southwest on the aptly named Glacier Highway 37A for an extraordinary drive to the communities of Stewart and Hyder, or continue north on Highway 37 through the Coast Mountains, towards the Yukon? While you decide, you can camp (June to mid-September), swim, water-ski, fish, and during late summer, watch spawning salmon ascend the fish ladder in scenic Meziadin Lake Provincial Park.
Circle Tours: See the best of Northern BC on one of the Circle Tours that capture the wonders of the north. The Circle Tour of Northern British Columbia incorporates the Alaska Highway through the Rocky Mountain foothills to Watson Lake in the Yukon, linking with the Stewart/Cassiar Highway and Yellowhead Highway 16 in the south. The Inside Passage Circle Tour and the Native Heritage Circle Tour follow the same route, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island north by ferry to Prince Rupert. Catch another ferry to the Queen Charlotte Islands, or venture east on the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, and south through the peaceful Cariboo to Vancouver along the historic Cariboo Wagon Road.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.