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- Official report of the exploration of the Queen Charlotte Islands - 1/16 -

Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions.






_Hon. Wm. Smithe,

Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works,

of the Province of British Columbia:


I have the honor to submit herewith my report of the exploration of the Queen Charlotte Islands, made under your direction, for the Government of British Columbia.

Very Respectfully,

Your Obedient Servant,

Newton H. Chittenden.

Victoria, B.C., Nov., 1884._

Geographical Position and Extent.

The Queen Charlotte Islands, the extreme north-western lands of British Columbia, lie in the Pacific Ocean, between fifty-one and fifty-five degrees of north latitude. They comprise over 150 islands, and islets, their length being 156 miles, and greatest width fifty-two miles. Provost, Moresby Graham and North Islands, extending north-westerly in the order mentioned, twelve, seventy-two, sixty-seven and five miles respectively, constitute over eighty per cent, of their entire area. Dixon Entrance on the north, with an average width of thirty-three miles, separates Graham Island from the Prince of Wales group of Alaska. Queen Charlotte Sound, from thirty to eighty miles in width, lies between them and the mainland of the Province. The nearest land is Stephen's Island, thirty-five miles east of Rose Spit Point, the extreme north-eastern part of Graham Island, and also of the whole group. Cape St. James, their most southern point, is one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Cape Scott, the northernmost land of Vancouver Island.

* * * * *

Discovery and Exploration,

The Queen Charlotte Islands were first discovered by Juan Perez, a Spanish navigator, on the 18th of July, 1774, and named by him, Cabo De St. Margarita, and their highest mountains, Sierra de San Cristoval.

La Perouse coasted along their shores in 1786, and first determined their entire separation from the mainland. In 1787, Captain Dixon sailed off and on their north-west shores, with his vessel, the Queen Charlotte, naming the group, also North Island, Cloak Bay, Parry Passage, Hippa Island, Rennell Sound, Cape St. James, and Ibbitson's Sound, now known as Houston Stewart Channel. The first white men known to have landed upon the islands, were a portion of the crew of the _Iphigenia_, under command of Captain William Douglass, who remained about a week in Parry Passage in 1788, trading with the natives. The most extensive explorations made of any portion of the islands, by those early navigators, whose voyages for purposes of discovery, trade and adventure, extended into these northern seas, were those of Captain Etienne Marchand in the French ship _Solide_, who in 1791, examined the shores bordering on Parry Passage, and also about twenty miles of the west coast of Graham Island, from near Frederick Island southward. Since that date, although several parties of prospectors and others have visited various parts of the islands, no systematic effort has hitherto been made for the exploration of the entire group.

Under the direction of the Dominion Government, the waters and shores of the north and east coast of the islands including those of Massett Inlet and Sound, Naden Harbor and Skidegate Inlet, have been partially examined, and mapped with considerable accuracy; but almost the entire west coast, so far as the number, extent and character of its numerous indentations are concerned, has hitherto remained a _terra incognita_. Judge James G. Swan, who, under the direction of the U. S. Government, visited the islands in 1883, and voyaged in a canoe from Massett to Skidegate, gave in a lecture before the Provincial Legislature of British Columbia, the first public confirmation of the entrances to the inlets and harbors on the west coast of Graham Island, approximately, as reported by Captain Marchand.

* * * * *

General Physical Features

High steep mountains, dense and almost unbroken forests, islands and islets in great number and water-ways most wonderful, extend for a thousand miles along this north-west coast "Only mountains, forests and water," replied an Indian, of whom I made inquiries concerning this region. The Queen Charlotte Islands, in common with all those lying off the north-west coast of the continent, are evidently the mountain tops of a submerged land, separated from it by a mighty volcanic upheaval followed by the sinking of the earth's surface, and the inflowing of the waters of the ocean, forming the most remarkable labyrinth of inlets, sounds, straits, channels and passages on the face of the globe. A continuous range of mountains from 600 to 5,000 feet in height, extends the entire length of the islands nearest their western coast, reaching their maximum elevations on Moresby Island, between Darwin Sound, and the head of Cumshewa Inlet. These are clothed with an evergreen forest of spruce, hemlock and cedar from near their summits down to the coast, with the exception of the comparatively small areas, as hereafter specified. The shores of the islands from Cumshewa Inlet southward to Cape St. James, and from thence northward around the west and north coast to Massett, are uniformly rock-bound, containing however, many stretches of fine, sandy, or gravelly beaches. From Massett to Dead Tree Point, Moresby Island, a distance by the coast line of about seventy-five miles, a magnificent broad beach of white sand, extends the greater portion of the way. The shores of Naden Harbor and Skidegate Inlet and channel are also generally low and sandy. With the exception of the north and eastern portion of Graham Island, the base of the mountains reaching down to the sea, with only occasional narrow benches and gradual foot-hill slopes. The highest elevations on the immediate coast, from North Island east and southward to Cumshewa Inlet, Klas-kwun Point, Tow Hill and Cape Ball of Moresby Island, do not exceed four hundred feet. From thence to Cape St. James, there are several bold, rocky bluffs, from three to eight hundred feet in height, but along the west side of Moresby Island, between Henry Bay and Gold Harbor, the mountains present, for considerable distances, an almost perpendicular front of from one to two-thousand five hundred feet in height, and in many places the mountains bordering the inlets to the northward, are almost equally high and precipitous.

* * * * *

Passages, Inlets and Channels.

The principal islands of the group, as mentioned, are separated by narrow water-ways, admitting the passage of the largest ships through them, with the exception of the narrows of Skidegate Channel and Inlet, navigable only for small vessels at flood tide. These are Parry Passage, between North and Graham Islands, a mile-and-a-half in width, and two miles-and-a-half in length, Skidegate Inlet and Channel separating Graham from Moresby Island, together thirty-five miles in length, and from 250 feet to seven miles in width, and Stewart Houston Channel twelve miles long, with an average breadth of a mile and-a-half, between Moresby and Provost Island. We also found a short canoe passage between the latter island and Cape St. James. Besides these sea channels extending across the group, there are twenty inlets from three to fifteen miles in depth, generally running in an easterly and westerly direction, and reaching to the base of the high mountains described. These numerous inlets, with the bays therein embraced, leave but a skeleton land of Moresby Island and the south-western portion of Graham. Massett Inlet, the deepest indentation in the archipelago, penetrates the latter island for eighteen miles, and then expands into an open sea nearly twenty miles in length and over six miles in width.

* * * * *

Bays, Harbors and Sounds.

The waters surrounding these islands embrace numerous bays, harbors and sounds, of which Cloak Bay, North Island, Virago Sound, Naden and Massett Harbors of Graham Island, Darwin and Juan Perez Sounds, Laskeek, Sedgwick, Henry and Robson Bays, Gold Harbor of Moresby Island, Cartwright and Rennell Sounds, and the excellent harbors afforded by Kio-Kath-li, Skaloo, Athlow, and Seal Inlets on the west coast of Graham are the most important. There are no harbors, except for small boats, between Massett and Skidegate Inlets by the east coast.

* * * * *


Of the great number of islands and islets contained in the archipelago the largest and most important except those mentioned are, Louise, Lyell, Barnaby, Tal-un Kwan, Tanoo, Ramsay, Murchison, Kun-ga, Faraday and Huxley Islands, all lying off the east coast of Moresby; Maud and South Islands in Skidegate Inlet; Cub, Edward Kwa-kans, Wat-hoo-us and Multoos of Masset Inlet and Sound; Frederick and Nesto on the west coast of Graham and Chathl island between the entrance waters of Skidegate Channel and the canoe passage connecting therewith. Of these named Lyell and Louise islands, the largest, are about 15 miles in length and from five to ten miles in width. Barnaby, Talun-Kwan, Tanoo

Official report of the exploration of the Queen Charlotte Islands - 1/16

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