Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, August 1999
The Queen Charlotte Islands are mountainous, with a spectacular coast, including long beaches. The rainy islands and surrounding ocean support abundant and varied wildlife and vegetation. The economy is dependent on (eco)tourism, logging, and fishing, which are somewhat in conflict. There is a strong Native American presence, and a large national park. The trip included hiking in the mountains and along the coast, study of geology and ecology, and meetings with the Haida people, including paddling a 50-foot cedar canoe.
Queen Charlotte Islands
by Fern Henderson
The Queen Charlotte Islands are the visible tops of the submerging Coast Range Mountains. . . 720 km (450 mi.) north of Vancouver and 128 km (80 mi.) west of Prince Rupert. . . north to south, approximately 240 km (150 mi.) and east to west, a maximum of 64 km (40 mi.). The western topography is 925 m (3000 ft.) mountains while the eastern is plateau-like. The walking is mostly flat. . . 0 to 95 m (300 ft.) through open muskeg, sheltered tree slopes and exposed sand dune beach. The sea and forest dominate, subtly enriching our lives. The latitude being 52 degrees north, we have 18 to 20 hours of daylight in May, June and July. Evening hiking is peace par excellence.
It is variable and unpredictable both long range and within a 24-hour day. August has least precipitation, most hours of sunshine and highest temperatures. . . though May is a close second. "Sample" weather, i.e., a bit of sun, a bit of rain, greyness and wind can happen within minutes even in July. Rainbow time!!! The temperature during the whole year varies only 20 degrees so there are no extremes. Wind is usual: from the southern sector storms. . . from the northern, clear skies. Rainfall on the east coast compares favourably with Vancouver, but we have fewer hours of sunshine and grey skies predominate.
The Haida Indians have been here approximately 8000 years; the white traders, 200 years; the white settlers, 100 years. The Islanders have a rich heritage from our native population now centered in Skidegate and Massett. It was first shared with the traders in return for iron, guns, alcohol and disease and then the missionaries. Following the mainland goldrush many white settlers appeared. 1908-1915 was a time of surveys, pre-empting, land drainage, cabin building and small community enterprise. But agriculture never prospered then and seemed dead until the late '60s since when a new breed of pioneers are buying the old homesteads. The first selective logging for airplane spruce was done during the First World War; now clearcut logging is the No. 1 industry. Fishing is a close second with the deep-freezers of most Islanders well filled.
Flora and Fauna:
The Islands have at least 300 varieties of moss, 150 varieties of mushrooms, 98 percent of the varieties of B.C. sea birds. We have no fir trees, but spruce, pine and hemlock re-seed themselves. Because of its slow growth and negative natural regeneration, the cedar is becoming more rare unless replanted. The shore and forest flowers bring surprise and delight. There are many eagles, deer, geese and agates; there are fewer beaver, martin, black bear and bugs; there are no predators and no snakes. There is an abundance of edible plants and sea food.