Story Ideas

Wade Davis: my five favourite places in Canada.

The National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence reveals the destinations closest to his heart in his homeland.

11 September 2013

Suggested tweet: Wade Davis: my five favourite places in Canada #explorecanada @NatGeo

According to TED, “Wade Davis is perhaps the most articulate and influential western advocate for the world’s indigenous cultures.” The National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence has left Washington, DC, to live full-time on Bowen Island, BC. Here, Davis, the author of the recently published “The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass,” discusses his five favourite places within his native Canada.

Cape Crauford, Baffin Island, Nunavut (summer solstice)

“Seventeen million marine mammals pass through Lancaster Sound across the top of Baffin Island,” explains Davis when describing his fascination with this region. “The Inuit from Arctic Bay camp out at the edge of the ice floe awaiting the returning belugas, narwhals, bearded seals and walrus. They hunt by day and sing by night, even as they wonder if the ice will hold until dawn.” The ice floes don’t always co-operate, casting camps adrift, but the never-setting sun can be counted upon to provide, according to Davis, a “photographer’s dream.” His own images have appeared in scores of publications.

The Grand Canyon of the Stikine, northwest British Columbia

“Five million people visit Arizona’s Grand Canyon every year, 27,000 [of them] by raft,” recounts Davis, adding that the Colorado River has been reduced to a series of dams and reservoirs, with its once mighty flow controlled by engineers. The Grand Canyon of the Stikine remains wild, the full length of its rim travelled by less than a dozen explorers, its turbulent waters negotiated by fewer than 100 world-class kayakers. Nobody has attempted a passage by raft. “The Colorado has a single Class 5 rapid: Lava Falls. The Stikine features more than 40 that come at the paddler with incessant zeal. The Stikine Canyon is the K2 of whitewater challenges.”

Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park, northwest British Columbia

In 1978, Davis was the first park ranger in the Spatsizi Wilderness, BC’s largest road-less wilderness park. “My job description—wilderness assessment and public relations—was deliciously vague,” recalls the Harvard-educated anthropologist and botanist. Davis saw less than a dozen people in two four-month seasons. John Muir, the American naturalist and early advocate of wilderness preservation, called this area “Yosemite 150-miles long.”  

The Sacred Headwaters, British Columbia

For several years, Davis has devoted much of his time to preserving this valley adjacent to the Stikine, Skeena and Nass rivers. “In a long day, perhaps two, it is possible to walk through open meadows, following the trodden tracks of grizzly bears, caribou and wolf, and drink from the very sources of the three rivers that inspired so many great cultures of the Pacific Northwest.”

Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

“At a time when Montréal was entering its third century and the Amazon had been explored for 400 years, the Tahltan had yet to be contacted,” explains Davis, who has studied the most isolated indigenous cultures around the world. He calls the Haida the “Vikings of the Pacific Northwest,” citing raids as far south as California, and considers the southern half of the archipelago as the “Galapagos of North America,” so great is its biological diversity. “The Gwaii Haanas [National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site] is administered and controlled by the Haida. There is a new spirit on the islands that is wonderfully infectious, inspiring indigenous peoples throughout the world who are coming together to reclaim their lands and take control of their futures.”  

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