The village of Metlakatla, sometimes spelled Metlakahtla, is located on the northwest side of Venn Passage (Metlakatla Pass), facing Digby Island, just west of Prince Rupert.1 The contemporary spelling is an anglicanized corruption of the Ts'msyan (Tsimshian) word Metla-kah-thla (Maxłakxaała), meaning a passage between two bodies of saltwater.2 Other spellings of the name include Metlah Catlah, Metla-kathla, Methlakahtla and Metla Catla.3
According to Parks Canada, which operates the Metlakatla Pass National Historic site on Pike Island, the entire region once played host to Tsimshian wintering village sites and has a rich archaeological record.4 Metlakatla features in the Despatches, such as this one, in reference to the founding of the anglican mission, there, by William Duncan.
By the late 1830's most of the Tsimshian living at Metlakatla had moved to new wintering grounds surrounding the HBC camp at Fort Simpson.5 It is here, that Duncan found his calling, amongst the savage spirits of the Tsimshian.6 Concerned with enlightening the Indigenous peoples surrounding the fort, Duncan began to learn their language and translate the Bible from which he also preached.7 It soon became apparent to Duncan that if this enlightenment project was to be successful, the Tsimshian would have to leave the evil influences of the heathen homes and surroundings of Fort Simpson behind.8 In 1862 Duncan and his band of Indigenous followers set out to create a model Christian village at Metlakatla.9 The community grew rapidly, eventually supporting the largest church in the north west, as well as a school—which went on to become a part of the Canadian Indian Residential School system—a sawmill, cannery, and many other services.10
In 1887, Duncan and approximately 600 followers left Metlakatla and established New Metlakatla, on Annette Island in Alaska, out of the jurisdictional reach of the Dominion of Canada and its Indian policy.11 According to Sean Carlton, they were fleeing from what they viewed to be increasing state intervention within the community.12 The community's population continued to decline following Duncan's departure. In 1901 a great fire destroyed most of the original buildings.13 Today, the Tsimshian First Nation own the land, but few of its members live in the village.14
  • 1. Andrew Scott, Metlakatla, The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Parks Canada, Metlakatla National Historic Site of Canada, Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Sean Carleton, Colonialism, Capitalism, and the Rise of State Schooling in British Columbia, 1849–1900, PhD diss., Trent University, 2016, 166.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. John W. Arctander, The Apostle of Alaska: The Story of William Duncan of Metlakahtla, (Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1909), 151.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Scott, Metlakatla, Raincoast Place Names.
  • 11. Carleton, The Rise of State Schooling in British Columbia, 1849–1900, PhD diss., Trent University, 2016, 256.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Scott, Metlakatla, Raincoast Place Names.
  • 14. Community Profile: Metlakatla, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations; Metlakatla First Nation Land Code.
Mentions of this place in the documents
People in this document

Duncan, William

Places in this document


Lax Kw'alaams

Prince Rupert