Skip to page content

A Journey to a New Land

Sea Mammals
Multimedia Library

Daryl Fedje

Geoarchaeologist, Parks Canada

Refugia in Haida Gwaii

One of the other areas we have been looking into is the question of whether or not there was a refugium in the area of Haida Gwaii during the last glacial maximum – that is the time when glaciers were at their greatest extent, 17,000, 18,000 or 20,000 years ago. It has been an area of controversy for some time, with some people suggesting that animals and plants survived in the area of Haida Gwaii throughout the last ice age and others who say the area was entirely covered by ice. Work recently by Tim Heaton and colleagues in southeast Alaska has shown that there were animals and plants that did survive through the glacial maximum, but that these were limited to a very small number of very cold-environment adapted animals, like ring seal for example, and arctic fox. In Haida Gwaii we are just starting to get into this work, with the paleontological studies that we have done in a couple of cave sites. We do have records now of animals, specifically brown bear, as early as 16,000 -17,000 years ago. This is a time in which the area to the north of us (the Alaska coast) and the area to the south (Vancouver Island) were entirely covered with ice. So this makes a fairly strong case that there may have been a refugium in the Haida Gwaii area in which there were still animals living on a productive landscape. Whether or not people were in the picture we really don’t know. There is no evidence at all at this time. But it is certainly a possibility that there were refugia in this area.