Site of Canada’s last volcano eruption is in an area of B.C. splendour

Forever changing the course of the Nass River

Part of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park or Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a in northwestern British Columbia is seen on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The lava beds were created in about 1780, when Canada’s last active volcano, the Tseax, erupted. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel)

Part of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park or Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a in northwestern British Columbia is seen on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The lava beds were created in about 1780, when Canada’s last active volcano, the Tseax, erupted. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel)

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.

READ MORE: Shuswap earthquake minor compared to 6.0 shaker of 1918

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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police Chief Constable Scott Green (right) stands with Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers program coordinators Phil Downie and Gill Millam who received a Crime Stoppers International award for their work in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Saanich Police Department)
Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan votes at Luxton Hall during advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
2020 provincial election sets historical low turnout

Just over 1.9 million registered voters cast ballots in 2020

Victoria School for Ideal Education at 2820 Belmont Avenue is the second school in Greater Victoria with an active confirmed COVID-19 exposure. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Private school becomes second Greater Victoria school with COVID-19 exposure

Victoria School for Ideal Education follows Lakeview Christian School in Saanich

Vehicles involved crashes in Oak Bay from 2019. (ICBC Screenshot)
A crash on Foul Bay Road near Carnarvon Street in 2018. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Foul Bay Road a corridor of crashes in 2019

Last year, 63 crashes in Oak Bay involved vehicles

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Care home staff are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment when they are in contact with residents, but less so when they interact with other staff members, B.C. Seniors Advocate says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
More COVID-19 testing needed for senior home staff, B.C.’s advocate says

Employees mingling spotted as virus conductor in many workplaces

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Most Read