The volcanic eruption was as brutal in its ferocity as the famous Vesuvius that buried Pompeii about 2,000 years ago.
But this was in Canada, only 240 years ago, and just as deadly in its impact.
About 2,000 people, one-third of the Nisga’a population, died in two villages in what is now northwestern British Columbia as a result of the Tseax eruption in about 1780. The catastrophe produced enough molten rock to smother the surrounding landscape, sparking raging fires in the lush forests, forever changing the course of the Nass River.
The lava has long solidified into a massive, metres-deep rocky bed. The result of the geological drama that was Canada’s last volcanic eruption is today one more awe-inspiring vista in a province where superlatives ultimately fail.
B.C.’s unsurpassed opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, skiing, photography and wildlife spotting make it an internationally recognized destination. But seeking out the lesser-known wilderness of northwestern B.C. while hugging the Yellowhead Highway means discovering enchantment, history and the eye-opening pleasures of vistas imbued with Indigenous culture.
“The draw of British Columbia is nature, wildlife and culture,” said Deklan Corstanje, with the regional district of Kitimat-Stikine in Terrace. “With northwest B.C., we have those things (but) they’re just a little less filtered. It’s a little bit more authentic. Everything is a bit bigger, a bit more raw, a bit more natural. You’re not fighting for space.”
The 179-square-kilometre Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park, or Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a, in the Nass Valley is considered sacred territory. Locals tell the story of tourists who defy entreaties against taking a piece of rock as a souvenir, only to return it when the spirits of the dead complain.
Beyond the lichen-covered lava, the road crosses the Nass by way of a bridge with a totem at each abutment into Gitwinksihlkw or Canyon City, a village settled in the wake of the volcano. In the community, visitors hold their breaths as they walk over the river on a heaving 130-metre suspension bridge, once the only way to enter and exit the village.
Everywhere, soak in an age-old culture expressed through majestic totem poles, interpretative signs, museums and visitor centres that retell both history and legend.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press