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The Queen Charlotte Islands or Haida Gwaii ("Islands of the People"), and originally in Haida, Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai ("islands on the edge of the world"), are an archipelago on the British Columbia Coast, Canadamarker. They consist of two main islands: Graham Islandmarker in the north, and Moresby Islandmarker in the south, along with approximately 150 smaller islands with a total landmass of . Other major islands include Langaramarker, Louise, Lyellmarker, Burnabymarker, and Kunghit Islandsmarker.The islands are separated from the British Columbia mainland to the east by Hecate Straitmarker. Vancouver Islandmarker lies to the south, across Queen Charlotte Soundmarker, while the U.S.marker state of Alaskamarker is to the north, across the Dixon Entrancemarker.

Some of the islands are jointly protected under federal and Haida legislation as Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Sitemarker, which is mostly Moresby Islandmarker and adjoining islands and islets. Also protected, but under provincial legislation, are several provincial parks, the largest of which is Naikoon Provincial Parkmarker on northeastern Graham Islandmarker. The islands are home to an abundance of wildlife, including the largest subspecies of black bear (Ursus americana carlottae) and the subspecies of stoat Mustela erminea haidarum. The black-tailed deer and raccoon are introduced species that have become abundant.


The cash economy is blended, including art and natural resources, primarily logging and commercial fishing. Furthermore, service industries and government jobs provide about one-third of the jobs, and tourism has become a more prominent part of the economy in recent years, especially for fishing and tour guides, cycling, camping, and adventure tourism.


At the time of colonial contact, the population was roughly 10,000 to 60,000 people , residing in several dozen towns and including slave populations drawn from other tribes. Ninety percent of the population died during the 1800s from smallpox; other diseases arrived as well, including typhoid, measles, and syphilis, affecting many more inhabitants. By 1900, only 350 people remained. Towns were abandoned as people left their homes for the towns of Skidegate and Masset, cannery towns on the mainland, or for Vancouver Island. Today, some 5000 people live on the islands. Indigenous people (Haida) live throughout the islands, and are concentrated around Skidegatemarker and Old Massetmarker, each with a population of about 1000. Anthony Islandmarker and the town of Ninstints were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006; in the decision, the decline in population wrought by disease was referenced when citing the 'vanished civilization' of the Haida.

European exploration

The archipelago was visited in 1774 by Juan Pérez (at Langara Islandmarker) and in 1778 by Captain James Cook. In 1787 the islands were surveyed by Captain George Dixon. The islands were named by Captain Dixon after one of his ships, the Queen Charlotte, which was named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of the United Kingdom.

The name Haida Gwaii is of modern coinage and was created as an alternative to the colonial name "Queen Charlotte Islands", to recognize the history of the Haida Nation. "Haida Gwaii" means "our land", while "Haida" on its own means not only "us" but also "people".

No longer in common usage is the more ancient and original name of 'Xaadala Gwayee' or, in alternative orthography, 'Xhaaydla Gwaayaay', meaning Islands on the Boundary between Worlds (Xhaaydla), 'Worlds' referring here to the forest, sea, and sky; indeed, the coastal villages of the Haida often occupy the meeting-point of these realms.


The last glaciation receded from the archipelago 16,000 BCE, about 2000 years earlier than the rest of the BC coast ice age. That, and its subsequent isolation from the mainland, has produced what some call the "Galápagosmarker of the North", a unique biological zone with many endemic animals and plants. Its climate, like that of the rest of the British Columbia and Alaskan coast in the area, is moderated by the North Pacific Current, and features heavy rainfall and relatively mild temperatures throughout the year.

The Yakoun Rivermarker, the largest on Graham Island, was the site of one of the naturally occurring yellow-coloured spruce trees, that due to a genetic variation sometimes survive in places with heavy fog and cloud cover, Kiidk'yaas (The Golden Spruce) was a popular tourist attraction until it was illegally cut down by Grant Hadwin on 22 January 1997 as an apparent political protest against Canadian-government-sanctioned logging companies.

The islands are home to a wide variety of other large native trees, including the beautiful Western Redcedar, Yellow Cedar(Nootka Cypress), Shore Pine, Western Hemlock, Mountain Hemlock, and Red alder.

A popular attraction for tourists to the islands was the White Raven. This was an albino raven that was often mistaken for an eagle or seagull owing to its unusual colouring. The White Raven lived around Port Clements and would commonly be seen taking food handouts from locals and visitors alike. It died after making contact with an electrical transformer, temporarily knocking out power to the town and surrounding area.

Earthquake hazards

The Queen Charlotte Islands are located along the Queen Charlotte Fault, an active transform fault that produces significant earthquakes every 3–30 years. The fault is the underwater meeting of the Pacific and North American Plates along the Queen Charlotte west coast. The most recent earthquakes were on Nov 17th 2009.


Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay

Visual arts

The artwork known as Spirit of Haida Gwaii, by Bill Reid, is featured on the reverse of the Canadian $20 bill. It depicts a Haida Chief in a canoe, accompanied by the mythic messengers Raven, Frog and Eagle (the first casting of this sculpture, Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Black Canoe, is on display in the atrium of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC, the other, Spirit of Haida Gwaii: the Jade Canoe, is on display in Vancouver Airport). Haida art is also frequently seen on large monumental sized cedar totem poles and dugout canoes, hand-crafted gold and silver jewellery, and even as cartoons in the form of Haida Manga.

Haida language

The Haida language has been classified as part of the Nadene family of languages on the basis of a few similarities with Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit. Many linguists consider the evidence inconclusive and continue to regard Haida as a language isolate. All 50 remaining speakers of Haida are over 70. Telus and the Gwaii Trust recently completed a project to bring broadband internet to the island via a 150 kilometre microwave relay. This enables interactive research to be carried out on the more than 80 CDs of language, story and spoken history of the people.


The main transportation links between the Islands and mainland British Columbiamarker are the BC Ferries terminal at Skidegatemarker, the Masset Airportmarker, and the Sandspit Airportmarker. The westernmost leg of Highway 16 connects Massetmarker and Skidegate on Graham Island, and Skidegate with Prince Rupertmarker on the mainland via regular BC Ferries service by the MV Northern Adventure. There is also regular BC Ferries service between Skidegate and Alliford Bay on Moresby Island. Floatplane services connect to facilities such as the Alliford Bay Water Aerodromemarker and Masset Water Aerodromemarker.

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