An internet search for BC’s Queen Charlotte Islands may not be as straightforward as it sounds; the region was renamed Haida Gwaii (pronounced Hy-de-gwy) in the late late 1980s as a way to recognize the history of the Haida First Nations people. Meaning “island of the people”, the name Haida Gwaii was created as an alternative to the colonial-era name Queen Charlotte Islands. As of 2010, all levels of the Canadian Government recognize Haida Gwaii as the official name of the area.
Unfortunately for me, Haida Gwaii doesn’t start with a Q – so today we’re relying on the colonial name Queen Charlotte Islands, first bestowed upon the cluster of nearly 150 small islands in the late 1700s.
The name game doesn’t stop here. The Queen Charlotte Islands were also given the nickname “Galapagos of the North” by environmental activists and Haida people in the 1970’s. The region experiences heavy rain and mild temperatures annually, which supports its dense old-growth rainforests. Many tree species found on the island, including Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, and Western and Mountain Hemlock are endemic to Haida Gwaii.
Within these dense forests, a rich diversity of wildlife thrives. Bear watching and wildlife tours are popular for visitors to Haida Gwaii, however one of the largest tourist draws to the area is the marine mammals that call the islands’ coastline home. Sea lions, porpoises, killer whales, and migrating grey whales, are in abundance, while bird watchers can take in a variety of seabirds, puffins, and eagles.
Haida Gwaii is also home to the SGang Gway UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of eight UNESCO designated cultural sites in Canada. As one of the last authentic examples of a west coast First Nations village, the site protects a way of life that is quickly disappearing within BC.
Visitors to the Queen Charlotte Islands will find an array of authentic First Nations experiences, including museums, arts and crafts, music, and dance, as well as ample outdoors and wildlife experiences. Sailing, kayaking and canoeing, fishing, and surfing are all popular water activities in the area. For those wanting to stay on land, camping and hiking provide the chance to explore the old-growth forests up close.
As one of the most remote parts of BC, the Queen Charlotte Islands are accessible by boat and float plane only. However the journey is well worth the effort to discover pristine, untouched, and completely authentic British Columbia.