Archipelago in the north Pacific Ocean, about 160 km/100 mi off the northwest coast of British Columbia, western Canada, of which it forms part; area 9,790 sq km/3,780 sq mi; population (2006) 5,000. It is separated from the mainland by Hecate Strait to the east, and from the islands of Alaska to the north by Dixon Entrance. Graham, Moresby, and smaller Kunghit are the largest of about 150 islands, and Masset and Queen Charlotte City the principal ports. Timber processing, fishing, canning, and game hunting are the main economic activities.
Graham Island is the most populated. A military base is located at Masset to the north, and ferries from mainland Prince Rupert dock at Queen Charlotte City to the south; most of the island's population live at these two settlements.
Native Canadian Haida people have inhabited the island group and southern Alaska for over 10,000 years. The Haida's sophisticated culture, architecture, and art developed around the availability of red cedar; huge cedar-plank houses were dominated by intricately carved totems displaying the kin-groups crest. Smallpox epidemics decimated their population after contact with Europeans, and the Haida mainly live on reservations at Skidegate Mission and Masset on Graham Island. In 1987 Southern Moresby, a group of 138 islands, became the Gwaii Haanas national park reserve; Ninstints, an original Haida settlement preserved on Anthony Island, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981. In the 1980s there was a major environmental campaign to restrict logging on Moresby Island.
Visited by the Spanish navigator Juan Pérez in 1774, and the British naval explorer James Cook in 1778, the islands were surveyed for the Royal Navy by George Dixon in 1787, and named after his ship, the Queen Charlotte. The islands' nickname, the ‘Canadian Galapagos’, refers to the rich variety of fauna and flora found in the region. Relatively untouched by glaciation, the area is host to a number of rare species, including the world's largest black bears.