The Legend of the Golden Spruce.

Six String Nation Guitar & the Golden Spruce | Feature Article |

Golden Spruce

In 1997, a mentally unstable, unemployed forest engineer committed murder by the lonely banks of the Yakoun River in British Columbia.

Thomas Grant Hadwin didn’t murder a man, but rather he murdered a tree and the hopes of a generation.

That tree was Kiidk’yaas (“ancient tree”) or better known as the Golden Spruce. It was a Sitka Spruce tree with a rare genetic mutation: it lacked 80% of a normal tree’s chlorophyll.

The resulting needles were yellow-gold, producing a stunning golden foliage visible for all to see. This was unique enough to be granted a special scientific name: Picea sitchensis ‘Aurea.’

The Kiidk’yaas grew in Haida Gawii, British Columbia and was revered by the Haida First Nation living there.

Thomas Grant HadwinIn a tale mirroring the Biblical events in which Lot’s wife becomes a pillar of salt, the Haida tell, of an old man and a young boy running from their village, buried with snow as punishment for its inhabitant’s wicked actions. Against the old man’s warnings, the boy, like Lot’s wife, looked back upon the destruction and was turned into Kiidk’yaas.

The legend also stated that the tree would be admired until the last generation. It’s felling at the hands of Hadwin provoked shock within the Haida community.

Thomas Grant Hadwin was a Canadian forest engineer. Hadwin was born in 1948, British Columbia into a family was active in the logging industry. Hadwin himself became a logger and subsequently, a logging engineer.

He made a living surveying logging road but soon saw ecological impacts of the logging industry. He became disillusioned. His form of environmentalism, despite advocating sustainable forestry consisted of abrasive and antagonistic letters to politicians and lumber company management.

As his protests reached fever pitch, to the worry of his family and friends, he began to behave bizarrely and began to exhibit signs of mental instability.

In Hadwin’s mind, the public was missing the forest for the tree. And that tree was the Kiidk’yaas.

His plan was to fell that tree to call attention to this error and provoke protest against the lumber companies.

“Grant Hadwin got a chainsaw and did something terrible.” -John Vaillant

On January of 1997, Hadwin made a trip to Queen Charlotte Islands. In the early hours of the morning of January 20th, 1997, Hadwin executed his plan. Swimming across the Yakoun river he made a series of deep cuts in the Golden Spruce. Triumphant, Hadwin faxed and mailed his confession to news agencies and lumber companied. He called it a ‘wake-up call’.

Held only by a thin colum, the Kiidk’yaas fell two days later in strong winds.

The act of eco-terrorism provoked outrage and protest, but not against the lumber companies but against Hadwin. Amidst blazing media coverage, Hadwin was arrested and ordered to stand trial on the islands. He was released on bail but failed to appear for his court appointment.

Hadwin had tried to cross the Hecate Strait by kayak. He was last seen on the 14th of February in rough weather. On June 1997, his empty kayak and gear were found on an uninhabited island 110 km northwest of Prince Rupert leading to speculation he faked his own death.

Thomas Grant Hadwin, he man who killed the Kiidk’yaas was never seen again.

Golden SpruceThe Kiidk’yaas lives on.

New Trees

That was not the end of the Golden Spruce though. Two decades earlier, a group of botanists from the University of British Columbia had taken cuttings from Kiidk’yaas and grafted them onto an ordinary sitka spruce. The resulting saplings had, like their parent, golden needles. The trees were grown in the Botanical Garden and centre for plant research.

News of the tree’s destruction lead to the centre offering one of the young trees to the Haida. The Haida accepted, planting it nearby the original Kiidk’yaas.

As music

In 1995, radio host and writier Jowi Taylor and luthier George Rizsanyi started a project known as the Six String Nation. In the form of a guitar, Taylor and Rizsanyi have incorporated over sixty pieces of historically significant materials from Canada. These include Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle; Rocket Richard’s Stanley Cup ring and of course, the Kiidk’yaas. A section of the trunk was cut and used for the soundboard of the guitar… read more on the Six String Nation guitar in our upcoming feature article.

Links/references:
Jowi Taylor & Six String Nation
John Vaillant- various sources.
Joe Kissel
Wikipedia
University of British Columbia
New Yorker

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©Terence Tan.
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“Grant Hadwin got a chainsaw and did something terrible.” -John Vaillant
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