Juan Perez, exploring under the orders of the Spanish Viceroy of California, is credited with being the first European to see Haida Gwaii in 1774.
In the early 1900s, the provincial government encouraged settlers to farm at Haida Gwaii. There were many who chose to homestead in the area that is now Naikoon Park, growing vegetables, raising cattle and taking gold from the sand beaches. However, difficult drainage, poor access, World War I and the lack of markets caused most people to abandon their efforts before the Great Depression. Many of the place names in the area are reminders of their presence.
Naikoon park is the traditional territory of the Haida Nation and figures prominently in their present lifestyles and history. There are many places of cultural and spiritual importance as well as historic village sites and important food gathering sites throughout the park.
Naikoon is a corruption of “Nai-kun” meaning “house point” – the Haida name for Rose Spit. This five kilometre point of land juts northward from the park separating the riotous waters of Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait. The park was created to help preserve the natural diversity of this unique coastline.
Haida Gwaii has been called “The Misty Islands”, referring not only to the moist, mild climate, but to the mystique of its inhabitants, the Haida Nation. Visitors to Naikoon can easily find the solitude to reflect on the highly developed culture of these legendary seafarers, with their reputation for adventure, 20 metre dugout canoes, fascinating ceremonies and ferocious exploits. The art of the Haida Nation is famous throughout the world. Majestic and intriguing cedar totem poles and carvings, argillite statuary and intricately designed woven baskets and hats of spruce root were once representations of a clan’s wealth and prestige. These and many items were frequently given away at potlatches to help cement the socially complex kinship system.
The park occupies part of the Hecate Depression, a trough between the Outer Mountains to the west and the Coast Mountains on the mainland to the east. The park is largely low and flat. Most of its topographic features are formed by underlying glacial deposits. In the northeast corner, Argonaut Hill, the highest point in the park, rises only 150 metres above sea level. Tow Hill, an outcrop of basalt columns, is a prominent landmark about 100 metres high on the north beach.
Wildlife is a curious mixture of introduced and native species. Sitka Blacktail deer were brought in about 80 years ago and, with abundant forage and no wild predators, they have prospered. Other species such as raccoons, red squirrels, beaver, and muskrat have been introduced. Small herds of wild cattle, remnants of domestic stock from the days of early settlement, have been seen along the east coast.
Species native to the park area include black bear, marten, river otter, and several other mammals that made the salt water crossing from the mainland. Sea mammals include dolphins and harbour porpoises. Hair seals can be seen regularly at Rose Spit and all along the north and east beaches. Northern fur seals and California grey whales migrate northward during May and June.
The bird population of Haida Gwaii is similar to the nearby mainland although many species have not crossed Hecate Strait. Others, such as the hairy woodpecker, the saw-whet owl and Steller’s Jay, have developed into unique sub-species. A sub-species of pine grosbeak is found only on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island. A sub-species of song sparrow is found here and on the Alaskan Islands.
Rose Spit is an excellent spot for observing migrating birds travelling south on the Pacific Flyway. Upwelling currents produce much food along the spit, attracting pelagic species rarely seen from the shore. Sandhill cranes gather here after nesting in the park bogs and shorebirds abound.