They lie on the edge of the province’s collective memory like a
dream scarce remembered; mythical and elusive, full of meaning and
great beauty, yet incomprehensible to the waking mind. Impossible
not to marvel at, and revel in, these are the Queen Charlotte Islands
(Haida Gwaii), arguably one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes
in the world.
This group of islands nestled under the Alaska panhandle is the ancestral
home of the Haida – the West Coast Aboriginals who have lived here for
thousands of years.
The Queen Charlotte Islands were officially renamed Haida Gwaii in
December 2009 as part of an historic reconciliation agreement between
the Haida Nation and the province of British Columbia. Haida Gwaii was
created as an alternative name for the islands to acknowledge the history
of the Haida Nation.
The name Haida Gwaii translates as “islands of the people”
in the Haida language.
According to Haida legend, Haida Gwaii is the place where time began.
There is an older name for this place, a name that comes from the
mists of time and seems to be the most appropriate name of all:
Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai – Islands at the Boundary of the World.
Certainly it is not hard to miss the spiritual, even mystical nature of the place.
The unusual and abundant flora and fauna that thrive in this Galapagos
of the North and the marine and wildlife diversity of the surrounding
waters and forests make it an ecological marvel.
There are 1,884 islands in the archipelago, a mixture of snow-top
mountains and fiords that plunge into the sea, mist-enshrouded forests
and windswept sandy beaches.
The seven largest of the islands are – from north to south – Langara,
Graham, Moresby, Louise, Lyell, Burnaby, and Kunghit Island.
They rise as peaks of a submerged mountain chain, with the tallest peaks
perpetually capped in snow. Just 2 or 3 kilometres offshore,
the continental shelf falls away dramatically to the immense depths of
the Pacific Ocean.
Haida Gwaii is the most active earthquake area in Canada.
Natural landslides are a common occurrence, and scarred mountainsides
are visible from the fjord-like inlets.
The total land area of Haida Gwaii is approximately 3,840 square miles;
156 miles (250 km) from north to south.
Haida Gwaii has been home to the Haida people for as long as oral history
and archaeology have recorded occupation of the islands –
at least 7,000 years.
At least 14,000 people have lived in over 126 known village sites.
Following first contact with Europeans, the population plummeted
to 589 by 1911, all resident in either Skidegate or Old Masset.
Today, the Haida Gwaii islands are less populated, at 6,000 people,
than they were a century ago when Haida communities thrived along
Today, two out of three Haida live off-island, many of whom are
planning to return.
The islands were the first place in British Columbia discovered and recorded
by Spanish explorer Juan Perez in July 1774. Fur traders followed a decade
later and were the only visitors for the next 100 years, with a major
impact on Haida culture.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the area was a thriving fur trading centre,
as the Europeans arrived in huge sailing ships to trade in the Haida villages.
The islands were named after HMS Queen Charlotte, Lord Howe’s flagship
named in honour of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. Dispatched
by King George’s Sound Company to trade in sea otter furs between the
Pacific coast of America and China,
Captain George Dixon named the islands after his vessel in the
summer of 1787.
There is a continuum of rich and lively history here that belies the
quiet wilderness of the islands today.
The people still make their living in traditional ways – off the land.
Each island community has its own unique features that reflect the
richness of the culture, geography, and history.
A microcosm of the British Columbia coast, these sparsely populated
, beautiful islands offer an escape to a rough-edge paradise.
There are countless beaches, streams, fishing holes, coves, and ancient
First Nation villages to explore.
Many unique subspecies of flora and fauna share these islands with
Visitors to these enchanting islands will never forget their visit.
In spite of modern transportation and communication, the islands
are still relatively isolated, an attraction in itself, and recreation and
native culture are the main attractions.
Sport fishing, hiking, camping, kayaking, boating, whale watching,
beachcombing and sightseeing are the major recreational activities.
Haida Gwaii is largely a resource-based economy.
The main industries are logging, commercial fishing, mining, and tourism.
The local economy is heavily dependent upon the forest industry,
located primarily on the east and west sides of Graham Island, with a
smaller portion on northwest Moresby Island.
The timber supply area is around half a million hectares of western
hemlock (49%), western red cedar (30%), Sitka spruce (21%), and yellow
cedar (less than 1%).
Salmon, herring, halibut, black cod, and crabs are the main products
in commercial fisheries.
In addition to these industries, employment is also high in the service
industries and government, which employs 32% of island residents.
Haida Gwaii is located in British Columbia, Canada, west of the
northern BC town of Prince Rupert.
Two Islands, Graham Island to the north and Moresby Island to the south
comprise the majority of the land mass.
For transport information see Getting to the Haida Gwaii on page two –
follow the link below to ‘More Attractions’.
SAANICH PENINSULA REALTY
SIDNEY B.C www.cherylyoung.ca