In January of 1997, the natural wonder known as the Golden Spruce was felled in a strange and confused act of eco-terrorism, supposedly meant to protest the logging of old growth forests. Also known as Kiidk’yaas, or “ancient tree” in the Haida language, the tree was a Sitka spruce growing on the banks of the Yakoun River of Graham Island, in Haida Gwaii. Kiidk’yaas had a rare genetic mutation that made its needles gold instead of green, and it was sacred to the Haida people.
The culprit of the crime was Grant Hadwin, a logger-turned-environmentalist, who in a strange act of environmentalist activism cut large holes in the tree with a chainsaw so that it would necessarily fall in high winds. Sure enough, within days, the tree fell. Grant then sent a letter to the Haida Nation, Greenpeace, and various media outlets explaining what he had done as a protest against what he saw as “university trained professionals and their extremist supporters, whose ideas, ethics, [and] denials . . .appear to be responsible for most of the abominations towards amateur life on this planet.”
The people of local communities were devastated by the destruction of this tree, and they mourned for Kiidk’yass as if it had been a human who was murdered. They held memorial services. Wood harvested from the tree was made into a guitar dedicated to Canadian history.
Hadwin was arrested shortly afterwards, and was ordered to appear in court. These court proceedings required him to cross the Hecate Strait, which normally would have been done by ferry, but Hadwin defiantly insisted he would cross by kayak, even though it was the dead of winter when the Strait was particularly treacherous. He never appeared in court, and was not seen or heard from again, although some reported seeing him paddling towards Alaska.
Interestingly, the tree features in Haida mythology in complex environmental themes. Haida stories tell of a little boy who disrespects nature, thus causing a terrible storm to fall upon his village. Only he and his grandfather survive the storm, and as they flee, the grandfather warns the little boy not to look back towards the settlement. The boy disobeys, and immediately is transformed into the golden spruce where he stands.
In June of 1997, just months after the tree’s felling, the wreckage of Hadwin’s kayak was found. Some have suggested foul play in revenge for his crime. Others, evoking the tree’s original story, have suggested that it was mother nature who caught up with him.
The Golden Spruce has returned to stories, and it is memorialized today in popular narratives. In 2005, John Vaillant published The Golden Spruce, a gripping book detailing the tree’s cultural importance and its tragic felling. Luckily, before Kiidk’yaas’s death, a group of botanists from UBC had taken grafts. One, which was sent to Haida Gwaii to replace the original, died before it could be replanted. Other saplings do still exist, however, including one that was planted in 2001 at Port Clements, Haida Gwaii, to symbolize new beginnings. Another grows in UBC’s botanical gardens.