GilaKas’la! Welcome to Kwa’lilas Hotel. Kwa’lilas is a kwak’wala word used by Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw people meaning a place to sleep. A group of Elders chose this word in hopes that travelers and guests would find a peaceful rest after a day of exploration on the Northern Vancouver Island.
Our History goes back over 12,000 years where our old people lived off the land and waters of our old countries. Travelling by sea between our villages allowed families to practice our culture through ceremonies like feasts, and potlatching. We also travelled to surrounding villages for trading and harvesting.
In the 1964 the Canadian Government moved both the Gwa’sala and the ‘Nakwaxda’xw people from their traditional territories to the current location in Tsulquate – Port Hardy, traditional land that belongs to the Kwakiutl People.
The Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw are a resilient people and the population is now over 1,000 strong and growing. On the reserve, we have our own school and health clinic. Families are once again holding potlatches and our young people are learning to dance and sing and speak their language.
In 2014 the k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) was established to create opportunities for our future.
One opportunity is k’awat’si Tours – a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw company that provides aboriginal cultural experiences and locally guided eco-tour adventures on the North Island.
The Kwa’lilas Hotel was built by our very own k’awat’si Construction company. The building makes extensive use of local cedar and the design is meant to resemble the traditional big house style with a smoke hole at the top of the building. Traditionally, when visitors see smoke coming from a big house, it means welcome.
You will find many expressions of our culture throughout our Port Hardy hotel including masks and designs by our artists. This is our way of us sharing our history and our legends and opening up our hearts to welcome you to the North Island. Gila’kasla!
For more information about Kwa’lilas Hotel, including the signature copper art in the lobby, please visit our YouTube Channel.
At center stage, the feature wall in the lobby of Kwa’lilas Hotel is a large, copper art piece. This stunning 18-footwide focal point depicts the history and the legends of the Gwa’sala Nakwakda’xw people. Look closely and you will find mythical creatures as well as respected Chiefs and elders who lived when the people still occupied their traditional territories.
The copper art piece is a magnum opus for Shain Jackson, the Coast Salish Artist who created it. Despite his acknowledgement that the artwork is seminal, it is also, in his words, simply the visual expression of the many stories told to him by the elders over a two- year period. He is proud to have been a conduit for creating the piece and helping to preserve their culture and history.
“Growing up as a child the legend goes that if you were out past dark you would have to be very careful to get home. We were told to stay away from the tree line because the Dzunukwa would come and take little kids from the village and take them home to eat them. She waited for children that were out after dark. If she found you she’d scoop you into her basket that was deep enough so that you could not get out. She is always walking around very tired and yawning all the time. She has to always be on her feet because if she ever sat down she’d get stuck. The roots from the ground would come up and plant her down to the ground so that she could never get up again.“
Wayne Walkus is from the Gwa’sala Nakwaxda’xw territories.
Wayne Walkus started drawing boats as a child.
His grandpa Larry had boats. One day he opened a book and it was a book on Smokey Top (Willie Seaweed, famous carver and Kwakwaka’wakw chief) and when he saw things he just fell in love with it. Wayne Walkus wanted to do that and asked her grandma questions about this man. Little did he know that he was my great grandfather Willie Seaweed and the stories were amazing. They were touching to hear them and it made him want to be like this wonderful man.
Today Wayne Walkus carve listening to the stories in memory from her Grandma Louisa Joseph who was his mentor and he thank you today her Gran. He remember everything. You said never lose what I have -always remember who you are and where you come from gwa lat’u.
Morris created the design for the beautiful red head board
seen in the Standard Guest Rooms. Morris Johnny is of Kwakwaka’wakw and Cowichan First Nations descent. He has lived In Alert Bay since 1998.
He has carved alongside Aubrey Johnston and Marcus Alfred and apprenticed with Stephen Bruce, learning all of the skills necessary for authenticity in his art.
Morris credits his lineage for the legacy of traditional
carving held in his family and that he continues to carry on.
His family crest includes the toothed Thunderbird,
the Killer Whale and the Grizzly Bear.
The ‘Button Wal l Hanging” is on display at the front entrance to the Kwa’lilas Hotel.
The button design is indicative of w hat could be seen on button blankets used in big house ceremonies such as a potlatch . Button blankets are part of ceremonial regalia and therefore considered a treasure. They are never to be displayed in a public setting.
While this wall hanging is not a button blanket, it offers the outside viewer a chance to see a powerful Aboriginal design they might otherwise never see.
Wesley is the innovative artist who created the design
for the carved salmon found throughout Ha’me (food),
the hotel restaurant.
Wesley knows the subject matter well. Starting at the
age of 12 he gillnetted salmon with his father Clyde.
In keeping with the cycle of life, the large group of salmon seen on the restaurant wall are swimming upstream to create the next generation. The head of each salmon are white to indicate they are spawning.
Walter Brown is a young and upcoming artist. He comes from a rich family history, having ties into the Gixsam tribe of the ‘Nakwaxda’xw people from his mother’s blood line, as well as Tla-o-qui-aht tribe of the Nuu Chah-Nulth people through his father.
Throughout Walter’s whole life, he has always shown an interest in his cultural ways.
His thoughtful, balanced designs are based in traditional lore. In 2010, he was inspired to learn more about traditional artwork after seeing a plaque and totem pole carved by his late grandfather William George. His dream is to continue his grandfather’s legacy of creating art.
Walter created the headboard that can be found in the Mountain View King Rooms. The design of the backlit headboard is of two Thunderbirds that meet in the middle. Walter chose the the Thunderbirds because this mythical creature represents both the Gwa’sala and Nakwaxda’xw bands and shows they are connected.
The room divider or screen found in the Standard Guest Rooms, is also designed by Walter. The screen tells the story of the Nakwakda’xw people as descendants of the Killer Whale.
For Walter, creating the designs for Kwa’lilas Hotel was a bit nerve wracking because so many people would see his designs and because of the importance of getting it right.
Although Walter is sometimes self-taught or learns new techniques from other artists, he considers Charles Willie as his main teacher in the work he does. In 2011, under close mentorship, Charles taught Walter the basic steps on how to carve on a scrap piece of cedar.
Walter specializes in creating one of a kind, original canvas paintings, and drum making and designing . He carves anything from plaques to masks and rattles for ceremonial l uses. He mainly carves with red cedar but he sometimes uses yellow cedar, alder and yew woods in his creations.
The exceptional work of John Henderson of the Nakwaxda’xw nation is featured in many areas of the hotel. The large 3D design in the ballroom serves as the main motif for the wallpaper in the meeting rooms, back of the gift boutique, and the entrance to Ha’me’, the restaurant.
“My parents are Kenneth and Alice Henderson. My art and carvings were inspired by my grandfather Willie Seaweed. My grandfather’s son – my late uncle Joe, and his late wife Nellie Seaweed requested that I keep their legacy as carvers alive in our family.
I was very late in starting my art and carving practice. While at St. Michaels Residential School at Alert Bay for a short time, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from two great people, the late Harry Joseph and Henry Speck.
Most of my work is very limited and has been given away to friends and family. I’ve carved one totem pole in my life, with the help from my friend Dorey Brotchie, for our school. I’ve painted a few potlatch curtains including the last one for Dorey’s potlatch. A lot of my work has been for funerals, designing crosses and building and designing caskets.
I submitted artwork to our band to be displayed at our hotel if I was successful. I’ve never really tried to promote my work to the public as I’m not well known anywhere near what my Uncle Joe and Grandfather Willie Seaweed’s work is.
I’m very proud to have had the help to hold onto who we are as First Nations from the likes of Harry Joseph, Henry Speck, Dorey Brotchie, Joe & Willie Seaweed.”
Also, to my family who allowed me to help paint our two totem poles years ago before their passing, Harry & Albert Walkus and Willie & Henry George, Dennis McDougall, William Scow and JimmyWalkus.”
The Kwa’lilas Hotel is located in the traditional territories of the Kwakiutl people and is a demonstration of the commitment of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations to share our history, culture and passion for our traditional territory in a meaningful and permanent way by showcasing and celebrating it in a beautiful, comfortable space that is representative of the community.