Photo: Kasaan's new restaurant, totem pole and cabins.
One of my goals for this year's trip to SE Alaska was to return to places we'd been before to see how they'd changed. The Haida village of Kasaan was high on my list because we hadn't been there since 2007 and I had heard that they had replaced the marina, raised at least one new pole, renovated the longhouse and opened a café, all ambitious undertakings for a small town.
Motoring across Kasaan Bay in a morning calm, we could see the small village, looking not very different then when we had last seen it 12 years ago. Then the marina came into view, bigger and sturdier than before and to the east, beyond the village, we could see a lone totem pole standing next to a new building: the café.
We had no sketches of the marina, as it had just been finished this year, so we were unsure how deep the water was and where to tie up. We chose a spot on the outside facing into the wind. Once we were tied up, we could see that a large metal dock served as both moorage and breakwater. Docks from the old marina were now inside the new marina and protected.
Photo: Kasaan Marina. Osprey tied to an outside dock facing into the wind.
From the marina, we walked along the shore into the small town.
When we first came here in 2006, we had wandered around town looking for the trail to the totem park. No signs announced its location and we had to guess where the trail started. There were still no signs near the marina but they were no longer necessary as the café and pole marked the beginning. But when we reached the café, we a sign on the café door announced, "Closed." A list of hours told us the café was only open on weekends, Friday-Sunday. It was Tuesday. We looked through the glass door to see a large room with lots of windows and new wooden tables and chairs. We wished we'd come on a weekend.
Next to the café stood the new pole and beyond the pole the trail to the Totem Park. We walked up to the pole. At its bottom was a miniature longhouse with several figures above it. A sign next to the pole explained that the pole was to be read from the bottom up. The longhouse represents the past. A rope (carved) running up the pole ties the present and the future to the past. In the middle of the pole were a crab and a cockle, representing the environment and its importance to the people and a figure with large ears showing the intent of the present to listen to the lessons of the past. The top of the pole represents the future and includes a baby's face. (highly simplified explanation.)
Photo: New Kasaan pole at the entrance to the trail to totem park.
From the pole we walked into the forest on a wide well-maintained trail. We were pleased to see new sturdy bridges crossing creeks. After a walk about a half a mile, we turned a corner and there, as before was the first totem, partially hidden in the trees. More poles were scattered around the park. The poles showed their age, with seedlings sprouting from their sides but were still majestic.
Photo: A Haida Pole in the forest
Next to the beach stood a longhouse. Built with both new and old lumber from the old longhouse, the new longhouse had the same feel and look as the old one.
At first we thought we wouldn't be able to get in as the doors had wooden door knobs that turned without opening the doors. Then Steve moved one of the knobs up and down instead, and the door opened to a scene with a firepit and three carved stately, imposing and frightening figures from the old longhouse.
Photo: Inside the longhouse.
We walked back to the marina, happy to have seen the totem park again and its improvements. With its well carved figures hidden in the forest, it's still one of the best totem parks in SE Alaska.
That evening as the wind died, we sat in our cockpit enjoying the sun. A Native man, about our age, stopped by and said hello. We chatted and he asked where we were from. "Seattle," I said. Then he asked, "Where in Seattle?" and I answered, "Ballard." The man smiled and I laughed as I realized I should have dispensed with the Seattle and just said Ballard. Although the connection between Ballard's Scandinavian residents and Alaska through fishing is well known, the connection between SE Alaska's Native residents and Ballard is less so. We've met Native residents who lived in Ballard while they attended the U.W., moved to Ballard in the winter so their children could attend the Ballard High School, and others who just said they used to live there.
"I own a house in Ballard," the man said. "And I used to work there. I worked at Marco Shipyard."
"Steve worked at Marco Shipyard, too," I told him.
We talked some more. We learned his name is Louie Jones and he is President of the local native association. The white powerboat across the marina from us named Kasaandra J
. was his
"Lots of people envy me that name, he said. I wished I'd thought of naming one of my daughters that.
"I'm the only one in Kasaan who actually is from Kasaan," he told us. "My grandparents and parents worked in the old cannery."
We showed him a copy of Glaciers, Bears and Totems
including the chapter on Kasaan. He saw the reference to "New Kasaan" and told us that when the village moved from Old Kasaan New Kasaan, now called simply Kasaan, they left the old culture behind. There was no talk about preserving that culture. Now things are different. Residents want to grow the town and also to preserve the culture.
We were glad we had come to Kasaan and seen the new marina, pole and longhouse. The old marina hadn't been safe in a south wind and we had not felt comfortable staying overnight. Now we could.