Haida Culture – Bill Reid – Vancouver Art Adventure

One of the coastal tribes, the Haida, lived for centuries on the Queen Charlotte Islands, a remote archipelago off the Northwest Coast of North America. Ceremony, story telling, myths and art were an integral part of their daily lives; over time they developed a rich, unique and potent method of sculpture and painting. When the first Europeans arrived on their shores, Haida art had attained a polished style displaying their complex myths, customs and history of creation and transformation. The Haida people have no word for art in their vocabulary, although every aspect of their life permeates the objects we see in their work. Animals and people, each object is imbued and depicted with mystical and allegorical stylization. Amazingly, despite civilization encroaching in their lives, their artistic sense has persevered.

Bill Reid was born to a Haida mother and European father, he studied jewelry making late in life. His passion for Haida art was kindled by a visit to Haida Gwaii in 1954 where he saw a pair of bracelets masterfully engraved by the great carver and his great-great-uncle, Charles Edenshaw, after which, to use his own words, “the world was not the same.”

In 2004, when the Bank of Canada chose four of Bill Reid’s masterpieces to adorn the $20 banknote it was clear that the Haida artist had become a national icon.


Bill Reid was the pivotal force in introducing to the world the great art traditions of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast. When he died in 1998, the Haida took him home, bringing his remains back to his mother’s ancestral village, Tanu, aboard Lootaas.

Enjoy a personal visit to the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver, we have exclusive opportunities, of course! Among highlights in the gallery’s permanent exhibit are more than 40 pieces of Reid’s gold and silver jewelry; several of Reid’s works that appear on the Canadian $20 banknote, and a full-scale totem pole carved by James Hart of Haida Gwaii.

In the public eye, Bill Reid is best known for his massive sculptures. The latter part of his career saw these monumental sculptures commissioned for public locations including: Raven and the First Men, the iconic centerpiece of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia; laminated yellow cedar.


Killer Whale – Chief of the Undersea World, Vancouver Aquarium; bronze casting. Lootaas (Wave Eater), a 51 foot long canoe for Expo 86 in Vancouver designed and constructed with a small group of Haida artisans; red cedar

Mythic Messengers, the lively 27.8 foot frieze for Teleglobe Canada’s international center in Burnaby, BC, now in the Bill Reid Foundation Collection, with a twin casting installed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec; bronze

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (The Black Canoe), a monumental sculpture for the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC; bronze with black patina (1986 – 91). The Jade Canoe, was subsequently executed for the Vancouver International Airport; bronze with jade patina.

Photo credits: Bill Reid Wolf Pendant, 1976. Kenji Nagai  Bill Reid Mythic Messengers, 1984. Kenji Nagai