History

Archaeological and ethnographic evidence suggests people have occupied the Kitselas Canyon area for at least 5,000 years. This air photo of Kitselas Canyon and the Skeena River, indicates the five known village sites of the canyon.  The earliest village sites are called Tsunyow, Gitaus and the Paul Mason Site. The word Tsunyow means 'the landing place.' You can see from the map that the site is in a somewhat sheltered bay area. Gitaus means 'the people of the sand bar.' This old village site was built beside a sand bar overlooking the Skeena River. The Paul Mason site is named after a Gitselasu elder who was part of the group that found the site in 1981. The site is on a wooded ridge and was lost from the memory of the Gitselasu. The knowledge of the other sites have been remembered by Gitselasu historians. For that reason, the Paul Mason site remains somewhat of a mystery. All three of these sites were abandoned hundreds of years ago.

The villages of Gitlaxdzawk and Gitsaex developed after Tsunyow, Gitaus and Paul Mason Site villages. Gitlaxdzawk is situated on what was a small island in Kitselas Canyon. It is now connect to land by a ravine created as a result of rock debris infill when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad tunnels were constructed between 1910 and 1913. The name of the village of Gitlaxdzawk according to the elder Paul Mason means the 'people of the place where they steal canoe bottom boards.' This name refers to the fact that the village was a fortress overlooking the river and enemies would have boulders thrown into their canoes. The name Gitlaxdzawk has also been given the meaning 'people of the ravine' and the 'fortress.' This village had ten large longhouses and many totem poles. The largest house belonged to Sim'oogit Gaum, a Chief of the Raven, or Ganhada clan. This house measured around 14 metres square. The village would have been home to at least 300 people. The people were ravaged by a smallpox epidemic in the 1860's and 1870's. They vacated Gitlaxdzawk during that time.

The village of Gitsaex is located opposite and upriver from Gitlaxdzawk. Both villages were occupied during the same time period and both communities were closely allied. The name Gitsaex means 'the people who live at the edge of the lake.' Gitsaex was a large village with seventeen longhouses and at least four if not five totem poles. The village was home to as many as 600 people. That village was also abandoned because of the smallpox epidemic of the 1860's and 1870's.

Two other sites were located in the canyon, Dry Island and Ringbolt Island. No one lived at those sites, but petroglyphs have been located on these sites. The Ringbolt Island site has five known petroglyphs and there are four known petroglyphs on Dry Island. The exact meaning of those petroglyphs are unknown but their location near the village of Gitsaex suggest the sites were associated with the people of the community and the neighbouring village of Gitlaxdzawk.