Monday, March 21, 2016

Journey to Remote Masset British Columbia: Haida art, Culture and Natural Beauty

Entrance to Masset (Massett)
Masset (Massett) is a village in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) way up north in British Columbia, Canada. Historic Masset, a living Haida village, has beautiful totems and long houses, native artists and galleries.

Masset is a desired destination for the natural beauty, the fishing and the Haida art and culture. It is located on the northern coast of Graham Island and can be reached by a scenic 1.5-hour car ride from Skidegate. It is also accessible via floatplane and small commercial planes. Popular with sports fishermen the wilderness town of Masset is a place you’ll encounter eagles waiting for returning fishing boats. As you travel, you will experiences stretches of highway with only water and forest views. It is truly a place to get away from it all.
Arrive in Masset via floatplane, small commercial plane or car
Traveling to Masset from Queen Charlotte City and Skidegate
Make sure you have adequate gasoline for your trip. We encountered several closed gas stations along the way. You can gas up at the Co-op in Skidegate.

We drove the Yellowhead Highway from Skidegate through some of the most scenic and sparsely inhabited areas of the islands. The water you will see is Hecate Straits. Along the way the beautiful rocky beaches, eagles and deer kept us busy sight-seeing.

Masset is the true end of the Yellowhead Highway, the northernmost point.

Artists of Tlell
There are some worthwhile stops on your way to Masset. Once you reach the village of Tlell, watch for signs to galleries and artists. The town, and the talent, is well worth the stop. Many enjoy the eclectic Crystal Cabin that represents local artists, including, but not limited to Native artists. Typical of island businesses, when we stopped by, the gallery owner had gone to the local coffee shop for a long break.

However, just down the road we pulled in to a wood carving shop with a “open” sign. This was a true backwoods find.  Ernie Burnett is an excellent wood carver who uses local salvaged red and yellow cedar for hand carved boxes, wall plaques, paddles and even cribbage boards. His work is meticulous and he uses both European and Native designs. (Phone: 250 557-4531)
Artist, Ernie Burnett carves beautiful cedar boxes
Ernie was exposed to wood carving and wood working by his father and grandfather. His Father, Ernie Sr., was a well-known woodcarver. His wood carving heritage goes back to England and this is evident in some of his designs. What I found most attractive were his carefully hewn boxes.

Since he uses found wood, there will be interesting colors and grains in his work. A visit to Ernie’s wood carving shop is a must-do when traveling the highway to Masset.

Tlell is known for the Edge of the World Music Festival and Tlell Fall Fair. It is mid-island and has some great hiking trails and scenic rocky beaches. There are some B&B's in the area.

Exploring Masset
Once we reached Masset, we visited the Co-op which is a great well-stocked grocery store (it has a rest room). We then traveled through the streets were marked in the Haida language on canoe shaped signs. The Haida people are friendly and helped us with directions and recommendations. You'll get a sense of Haida life as you travel slowly through the streets. At one home a man was sitting outside tending drying strips of salmon.

One special stop that you must take as you travel through Old Masset admiring the beautiful totem poles, is Sarah’s Haida Arts and Jewelry. While Sarah is not Haida, her shop is full of carefully selected Haida jewelry, cedar baskets and hats, books on local art and collectible carvings.
Sarah's Haida Arts is located in a longhouse.
Sarah is highly knowledgeable about Haida art and artists. She purchases from the locals in town and you will be ensured of authenticity when you purchase from her. She also has a great selection of books about the local art, history and culture. She is located at 387 Eagle Road and her phone is 250.626.5560. Her shop is in a scenic long house with beautiful totem in front.
Sarah has a wonderful selection of Haida arts and crafts.
If you are hungry after your journey, consider stopping in town for a sandwich. We found that restaurants come and go. We watched for where the locals dined and had a great hamburger. The locals can advise you on where to go… just ask.

If you decide to stay in Masset, there are fishing lodges that may have rooms. It is a fairly remote area so having a reservation ahead is recommended. There is a Vistors Center as you enter town. Places to stay in Masset.

This journey is an excellent day trip from Sandspit (which has an airport). You’ll cross to Graham Island by a quick 25 minute ferry ride to Skidegate and then turn right on the Yellowhead Highway.

Flying to Masset
From Vancouver B.C. you can fly direct to Masset's Municipal Airport (ZMT) with Pacific Coastal Airlines 1-800-663-2872. Located 3km from the village center. Taxi service and rental car pick-ups are available at the airport. Masset also features twice daily floatplane service to Prince Rupert with Inland Air  250-626-3225

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