The Haida migrated to the Prince of Wales area from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) in the latter part of the 17th century. Before the 1900s, the Haida in Southeast Alaska lived in five main villages. Kasaan (Gasa´aan) was the only known permanent village on the east coast of Prince of Wales Island. While there is a substantial amount of written information about the Haida in general, very few studies have focused on the Kasaan Haida. In 1885, Ensign Albert P. Niblack, U.S.N. visited Kasaan and photographed the village and gathered information on some of the houses and totem poles for the Smithsonian Institution. Aside from Andrea Laforet's 1971 interviews with people who lived in Old Kasaan, most studies focused on material culture.
Life at Old Kasaan was different from, but as complex and varied as life is at New Kasaan today. While first-hand information about life at Old Kasaan is almost gone, the memories of people whose parents and relatives lived at Old Kasaan can still provide valuable information. Equally important, the lives of descendants of the people who lived at Old Kasaan and who now live at New Kasaan or other areas are an important historical and cultural resource for the Kasaan Haida. The links below provide access to digital scans of Kavilco's photographs, artifacts, and historical documents.
Historical Collections. This link takes researchers to a selection of online photographs from Kavilco's Archives. These images date from the1860s to the present and document various aspects of Kasaan Haida life. This web album will continue to grow as materials are added by staff.
Old Kasaan: 1880s. Kasaan (Gasa´aan) is a Tlingit word meaning "only place that looked "good" or "pretty place," It can also be translated as "town on a rock." Many Tlingit names remain in Southeast Alaska because Tlingits once controlled the area. There is very little information on the Alaska Haida population before the mid-1800s. Estimates made between 1836 and 1841 by a Hudson Bay's Company employee placed the population at 1,735. The 1890 census reported approximately 75 people at Old Kasaan. According to the census taker, Kasaan "now contains about a dozen native houses mostly built of logs, and some of them large and substantial." In 1895, a sawmill was built at the newly established village of "New" Kasaan and many Haidas took jobs logging for the sawmill.
Old and New Kasaan: 1900-1920s. By the early 1900s, the total Haida population had been reduced by 90% due to the introduction of tuberculosis, measles, influenza and smallpox, among other deadly diseases to which Native people had little natural immunity. Kasaan Bay Fishing and Mining Company built a salmon cannery in 1901. With the promise of permanent employment, a school house, a church and housing, the entire village decided to move to New Kasaan between 1902 and 1904. The move to New Kasaan represented a radical change of life for the Haida.
Old Kasaan Forest Service Evaluation: 1938. The Forest Service recognized the cultural/historical significance of Old Kasaan. The National Park Service acquired the area of Old Kasaan with plans to make Old Kasaan a National Monument and to restore Chief Skáwaal's home, Nahíwaq. Unfortunately, in 1915, a fire of undetermined origin swept Old Kasaan destroying or damaging numerous house and poles in the village. Skáwaal's house was burned to the ground and one of his poles damaged beyond repair. Despite the fire, Old Kasaan Monument was created in 1916. The site restoration would not come to pass. It was just too inconvenient and too expensive. There were much more important things to do with the limited resources at hand.
In 1938, Old Kasaan was evaluated for preservation by District Ranger C.M. Archbold. Negotiations with owners of six poles indicated a willingness of the Natives to have the poles moved to New Kasaan and to have Chief Son-I-Hat's Whale House/Naay I´waans restored as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project with James Peele as the chief carver.
A House without Hardware: CCC Reconstruction 1938-1940. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) reconstruction of Chief Son-I-Hat's Whale House/Náay I´waans stands as a remarkable example of Haida craftsmanship. Experienced Haida craftsmen who utilized traditional tools and woodworking methods were employed to reconstruct and restore the house and various poles from Old Kasaan. Due to its isolated location and hence, lack of subsequent development, this site retains an element of originality and mood often lacking in reconstructions or replicas which have been modified or decorated in a nontraditional manner since their construction. See related unpublished C.R Snow field journals (PDF version).
Louis A. Thompson Audio Files. In 2007, Louis A. Thompson,
President and CEO of Kavilco Incorporated recorded his memories of Kasaan. Mr. Thompson was born and raised in Kasaan. His maternal great grandparents were Carrie Baronovich and Paul Young. Carrie was the daughter of Charles Vincent Baronovich and Mary-Ann Skáwaal-Baronovich, daughter of Chief Skáwaal of Old Kasaan.
Baronovich Family Collection. In 2009, the late Dr. Erma G. Lawrence (1912-2011) donated her collection of Baronovich Family photos and photos of New Kasaan. Dr. Lawrence's paternal grandparents were Charles Vincent Baronovich and Mary-Ann Skáwaal-Baronovich, daughter of Chief Skáwaal of Old Kasaan. Dr. Lawrence dedicated her life to gathering, recording, documenting and teaching the Haida language.
MEMORIES OF KASAAN
C.R. SNOW FIELD JOURNALS
CHARLES VINCENT BARONOVICH
“How Mr. Duncan Became a Judge.” Chpt. XXV, The Apostle of Alaska: The Story of William Duncan. William Duncan (1832-1918) was an English-born missionary who founded the Tshimshian communities of Metlakatla, B.C. in Canada and Metlakatla, Alaska. This chapter describes Duncan’s encounter with Charles V. Baronovich.
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