Blunden Harbour forms a welcome haven on a long stretch of open, exposed coastline on the east side of Queen Charlotte Strait. Inside are extensive intertidal mudflats along with a huge tidal lagoon, a number of streams and miles of protected shoreline.
The ‘Nak’waxda’xw (Nakwakto) people who moved here in the 19th century from Seymour Inlet to the north must have thought they’d found paradise: plenty of fresh water; an endless supply of clams and other shellfish; a flat, low area above the beach for erecting homes; plenty of cedar and other building materials in the forest; and close proximity to rich fishing grounds.
In 1901, when Charles F. Newcombe photographed Blunden Harbour (the photo that later inspired Emily Carr’s famous painting), a long line of houses and totems stretched along a boardwalk street above the beach and harbour. Called Ba’as by its residents, this village was a culturally rich and vibrant place.
But by the 1960s everything had changed, and in 1964 the people of Ba’as decided to move to Port Hardy. They really had no choice, as the federal government threatened to close their school and remove all its support for housing and other services unless they relocated. And so the beautiful village of Ba’as died – killed by the Canadian government’s increasing push to amalgamate and centralize First Nations in fewer, more convenient locations.
Nowadays, almost nothing remains: the forest and wild flowers have overgrown the area where the boardwalk, totems and homes once stood. Only a couple of fallen house posts and a long white shell midden mark the site of this once important coastal village. Looking at them, I visualize Emily Carr’s painting and think about the vibrant community that once lived here, and all the life and promise that this beautiful place must have held.
We’re off the grid for most of the summer, with only occasional access to the internet. I welcome your comments, but it might be awhile before I can reply.