Gitanmaax (Hazelton)

Photograph of Hazelton by Horetzky, 1872.

The first settlement in the region was several miles away at the village of Temlaham (‘Prairie Town’). This large community was subsequently destroyed by a massive landslide that began on Rocher Déboulé (Stekyawden) Mountain on the opposite side of the Skeena River. Modern geology has demonstrated that the side of the mountain terraplaned on a cushion of air burying the town on the opposite side of the river from the mountain. This event is now dated at approximately 4,500 years ago. The devastation of the slide blocked salmon from passing this point on the Skeena River for possibly a decade or more, and forced most of the inhabitants down the Skeena and over to other river systems seeking substinance. The restoration of a bountiful environment in this region appears to have taken place two miles north of the landslide on the tongue of land between the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers. Gitanmaax, which means ‘People of the Torchlight Fishing Place’, is located here and has remained as a settlement through the time of contact with Europeans.

The colour zones are only to focus the attention on the photographic locations and they are not meant to be taken as precise territorial boundaries. The locations and attributed colours are mentioned in the following text. Satellite image courtesy of Google Maps.
Torchlight Fishing. Photographer and year unknown.

The confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley River systems has been a very productive region for harvesting salmon and other fish species. Through time, the river connections were amplified with the addition of trails cutting between the drainage network. Eventually, five overland trails converged at the peninsula where the village of Gitanmaax was established. The complex history of Gitanmaax and Hazelton began centuries ago when it became the centre of fur trade fares between the villages further up the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers who were trading for sea products with the Tsimshian villages of the coast. A permanent village site of Gitanmaax was established in the area marked by Old Gitanmaax (purple) on the map, which was located at the junction of the Skeena and the Bulkley Rivers.

In 1866, the Collins Overland Telegraph was established in Hazelton as part of the supply chain for telegraphs. Subsequently, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a stockaded warehouse and docks at the town of Hazelton (green) along the Bulkley River side. At the same time, the Native community relocated their houses to New Gitanmaax (red), located on the bluff overlooking the town. A cemetery (orange) with elaborate grave houses was created on the hill that overlooked  both Gitanmaax and Hazelton. In 1913, the railway was brought to Hazelton, and the sternwheelers were no longer necessary.
With the realization that the poles were falling into neglect, Bill Sargent undertook negotiating the move of the poles to the Hazelton Ball Park in the late 1940’s in hopes to preserve them and have them as tourist attractions. This project encouraged further restoration projects in other villages led by Polly Sargent under the banner of the Skeena River Restoration Society. In the late 1960s the momentum of preservation of both poles and heritage skills led to the establishment of 'Ksan Historic Village and Museum (yellow) on the site at the south end of the town adjacent to the original settlement of Old Gitanmaax.

Textual Information for this page: MacDonald, Personal Communication, 2010.