Next stop was the Hazetons. This is a group of three towns – Old Hazelton, New Hazelton and South Hazelton at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. This has been a traditional area of the Gitsxan First Nation for thousands of years, and is ideally situated to take advantage of the rivers for trade and transportation. Gitsxan means people of the Misty River (Skeen River). The Skeena River is one of the most important waterways for the Northern Coastal First Nations in BC. The area seemed to be one of the more prosperous First Nations towns that we saw on the trip.
The Ksan Native Village is a collection of longhouses that represents a traditional Gitsxan village and is used for ceremonies today as well as a museum to showcase the history of the area. A guided tour brings the rich history alive, and is well worth the time and money. A self guided tour in Old Hazelton, which is being restored to its former 19th century look is also worth the time to get a sense of what the first European settled towns looked like in this area.
The deep canyons carved by the rivers were crossed by some narrow bridges which added to the sense of adventure especially when crossing in our large camper.
We did a brief stop at Gitanyou village, which has the largest collection of Totem Poles in the area. This was very close to the junction of Highway 37 (the Stewart Cassiar Highway) and the Yellowhead Highway, and would be the last place we would have cell phone coverage for almost a week!
Highway 37 is only one of two highways connecting the southern part of BC with the North. This was an alternate route to the Alaska Highway when routes to connect Alaska with the lower part of the continent were planned during World War 2. The highway wasn’t completed until 1972 when the bridge over the Nass River was built.
Like the other highways in BC, Highway 37 follows different river valleys. The first part of the journey followed the Skeena River to the nearby Meziadin Lake. This is the junction with Highway 37A to Stewart BC and Hyder Alaska The highway then follows the Nass River Valley, a series of lakes including Dease Lake, and then the Dease River and Liard River to the Alaska Highway.