SGang Gwaay (Ninstints)

Cartouche by Bill Reid

The Haida name for this village was Red Cod Island Town (Sga’ngwa.i Inaga’-i). The early European traders, however, named it after the head chief of the village, Nan sdins or Ninstints (“He who is two”). In the late 1830's, John Work completed a census for the Hudson’s Bay Company and assigned the village twenty houses with a population of 308 people.

Anthony Island is a relatively small island exposed to the sweep of the open Pacific. However, the village site of SGang Gwaay (Skungwaii) is the most secluded and protected of all major Haida villages, since it is located in a sheltered bay on the eastern side of the island and further protected by a rocky islet facing the village. There is a single, narrow, navigable channel to the south of the islet providing access to the sheltered bay at high tide. At low tide the bay is completely dry. On the islet was a small fortification which served as a refuge in times of war. Burials were common on the islet, including small grave houses and shaman graves, and Swanton also lists a dwelling that once stood there.

The main house row at SGang Gwaay straddled a natural terrace bordering the bay. The northern end was bounded by a low marshy area, and the southern end opened onto a small meadow. The front row of houses was broken by the incursion of the beach. Wilson Duff and Michael Kew assume that the terrace was the preferred area for houses, but once the terrace sites had been occupied, expansion of the village resulted in a new row of houses, in front of the terrace, at the northern and southern ends of the village. Swanton distinguishes the two rows only at the southern end of the village, merging them together at the northern end.

The small pox epidemic of 1862 spread north from Victoria decimating the villages. SGang Gwaay remained occupied until the mid 1880‘s when the surviving population relocated to Tanu, Skedans and Skidegate.

SGang Gwaay is a World Heritage Site.

Photography by C.F. Newcombe, ca. 1901.

Textual Information for this page: G.F MacDonald, 1983; J. Swanton, 1907 & 1909.