Monumental Art of Kiusta

On site drawing of Kiusta in 1791 by J. Bartlett.

Language Group or Village

Kiusta Painting by Gordon Miller based on map from 1791.

By the time of Dawson’s visit to the village site in 1878, Kiusta was already so overgrown with brush that he did not photograph it as he did its inhabited neighbour of Dadens; although he notes the visit in his journal and mentions that he couldn’t imagine what caused the village to be abandoned and that he has seen many personal objects such as boxes, wooden utensils and stone mortars that had been left behind.

Dawson himself removed some of the furnishings of the Kiusta houses including the stone mortars he mentioned in his journal, and they are now found in the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Kiusta as it may have appeared to a visitor in 1791 (based on J. Bartlett drawing). Painting by Gordon Miller.

Archaeological survey began at Kiusta with a brief mapping project by the Archaeological Survey of Canada of National Museum of Man in 1966. A portion of a badly defaced monument which was restored by the project is now in the small museum in Masset. A more extensive archaeological project was conducted at the village in 1972. It indicates that there were at least fourteen house sites and thirty-one poles, including frontal poles, memorials, and mortuaries. There were several isolated houses at the far northwest end of the village, near some mortuary posts. It would be tempting to interpret there as mortuary houses from their isolated position and the fact that Swanton’s informants did not mention them with the other houses. However, there appear to have been cultivated patches of ground behind the structures which usually indicates occupation.

The archaeological project turned up much evidence of argillite carving at Kiusta, and it is evident that it was a centre for carving in that material. Many of the early panel pipes of argillite that have been attributed to the Edenshaws may have been carved there.

Due to the lack of a photographic record for the monuments at Kiusta we will look at a few monuments in greater detail.


The arrival of Albert Edward Edenshaw's father-in-law from Klinkwan, Alaska, to celebrate the opening of the Story House. His slaves were described by Reverend Collison as jumping from the canoe covered in black paint and laying down a path of copper shields on which the canoe was to be dragged to the beach over.

This is Gordon Miller's impression of the Story House on the day that it was opened by Chief Albert Edward Edenshaw. Chief Edenshaw is seen here in his sea otter cloak anticipating the arrival of his guests from the Kaigani Haida village of Klinkwan, Alaska.

House 1

C.F. Newcombe, 1913.

1M. A memorial pole depicting a grizzly bear with a plain column above its head. Squat figures of owls are carved in the ears of the bear. The pole appears in the photograph to be remarkably well preserved in relation to the others on the site and was probably erected just prior to the abandonment of the site.

The mapping project of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1966 reconstructed the mostly fallen face of the grizzly bear on this memorial pole. This pole is now preserved in the collection of the Haida Heritage Centre.

© G.F. MacDonald, 1967.

House 7: Story (Myth) House

"Edinsa's house at Kiusta" by J.G. Swan.

One of the most important houses that stood on Haida Gwaii was the Story (or Myth) House that was owned by Albert Edward Edenshaw. A former house on this site, named Property House, also belonged to an Edenshaw (likely the uncle of Albert Edward Edenshaw). According to anthropologist J.R. Swanton, the house was originally intended for his son, rather than his nephew, who according to Haida inheritance laws should have assumed the title of chief, but he later changed his mind.

The remains of the house at the village site are of the type 2 style. The house is more than 12 metres square, with an interior pit of 8.4 metres square at the first stage and almost 6 metres square at the lowest stage, which is 1.8 metres below the surface of the ground.

Model (AMNH #16-8771).


Charles Edenshaw, the nephew and successor of the Kiusta chief, was asked by Swanton to make a model of the later Story House. The figures on the frontal pole of the model illustrate the Lazy Son-in-Law story.

Crests on the frontal pole of the model:

1. (top) the children used as bait (shown as watchmen)
2. man wearing the su-san’s skin
3. bird-in-the-air
4. mother-in-law of the man, as a shaman
5. su-san
6. black whale, on which su-san preyed 

The corner posts of this house were also elaborately carved with the following figures:

1. (top) figures illustrating the story of Raven and the halibut fishermen
2. bullhead (fish)
3. grizzly bear

To the left of the house is the painted interior screen from the image above. The model illustrates a special feature of this house which were the figures of six grizzly bears carved on the projecting ends of the roof beams.

During the survey of the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1878 by G.M. Dawson, he was hosted in this house by Chief Albert Edward Edenshaw who presented him with this large stone mortar. The human figure transforms into a large frog as shown at the front of the bowl.


This memorial pole is associated with Albert Edward Edenshaw's Story House. At the top of the pole sits a raven. The circular section represents a nest with baby raven inside and another raven directly below. Then there is a large grizzly bear with long extended tongue, which is holding a dragonfly. At the base is a grizzly bear and an unidentified figure.

On the left is a drawing by J. Swan. The photograph by C.F. Newcombe shows the pole as it was in 1913. The reconstruction drawing is by Gordon Miller.

Frog Mortuary

Sketch by R.B. Inverarity, 1932.
C.F. Newcombe, 1913.

This mortuary post featured a crest figure of a large frog wearing potlatch cylinders on its head surmounting a plain post. When the frog figure fell from the top of the post it exposed a small chamber which would hold a burial box (seen above). The chamber likely held the child's coffin that was collected by C.F. Newcombe for the Royal British Columbian Museum (Artifact #1321).

In the figure to the left, the cloud-like object that the frog is seated on is actually Inverarity's attempt at showing vegetation that has grown on the mortuary.


© Adelaide de Menil, 1968.

Mortuary GX

A set of three carved mortuary poles still stands on a well-protected curve of beach 135 metres west of the last group. It is undoubtedly the most elaborate Haida mortuary and unlike any other on the islands. The central pole was originally about 5.4 metres tall, with those on the sides only slightly shorter. A fourth plain post at the back helps to support the burial chamber about 3.6 metres from the ground, which appears to have held the remains of a single individual.

© Adelaide de Menil, 1968.

Shaman Graves

J.G. Swan, 1883.
C.F. Newcombe, 1913.

On a flower-pot shaped island near Henslung Cove, which is located across from Kiusta, was the grave house of a famous shaman of Kiusta. This island was described by Dorsey as “the little egg-shaped rock of Gorgie Sethlingun Nah, or Gorgie’s Coffin House”.

In 1883, Swan sketched this island with its grave house depicting an elaborate frontal pole that was unusual for a grave house.

Shaman Graves

© Adelaide de Menil, 1968.
© Adelaide de Menil, 1968.

On a sizeable island about 270 metres to the east of Kiusta is a shaman’s grave with only one of the original pair of posts remaining. The figure is in a typical pose with one arm down against his stomach holding a rattle and the other up against his chin holding a soul-catcher. His conical shaman’s cap has almost completely disintegrated.

Textual Information for this Page: G. Dorsey, 1897; G.F. MacDonald, 1983; Swanton, 1909.