Exploring Queen Charlotte Islands Trips: Tours focus on natural history and cultural anthropology of the archipelago off the coast of British Columbia.

Travel Q&A

June 02, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

I would like to visit the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia, touring some of the historic sights as well as visiting contemporary Haida artists.

Long before the archipelago off the western coast of British Columbia was called the Queen Charlotte Islands -- it was given that name by a British explorer in the late 18th century -- the islands were known as the Haida Gwaii, meaning Haida Islands. There are still some 2,000 Haida living there today; the old unoccupied Haida villages, some with giant totems, in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site on southern Moresby Island are among the major attractions of the archipelago.

A number of companies organize tours of the Haida sites; to prevent possible damage from overuse, a cap on the number of visitors is going into place this year, and after July 1 any operator will need to have a license, a reserve official said.

A company called Queen Charlotte Adventures in Queen Charlotte City specializes in natural history and anthropological tours, ranging from one to 10 days by kayak, covered powerboats or live-aboard schooner.

A three-day, four-night tour with a focus on ancient and contemporary Haida art and culture travels by boat to the old Haida village of Skedans; to the contemporary Haida village of Masset, where participants meet with artists; and to the galleries of Queen Charlotte City and the Queen Charlotte Islands Museum at Skidegate. There are numerous departure dates from June into September. The price is $469, based on the U.S. dollar's being worth $1.31 in Canadian funds.

A more intensive introduction to Haida history is the company's 6- to 10-day tour on a 54-foot schooner that accommodates only six passengers. There is a captain, cook and usually a guide on board. The tours leave from Queen Charlotte City and go to the tip of the islands, visiting the village sites in the reserve. The price for the six-day tour is $992; for 10 days, $1,523. Everything is included except air fare to and from Queen Charlotte City. Queen Charlotte Adventures: (604) 559-8990, fax (604) 559-8983.

Another company that runs sailing trips in the Charlottes is Maple Leaf Adventures in Courtenay, British Columbia; (604) 240-2420. The 92-foot Maple Leaf accommodates eight passengers; only one departure is still available this year, Sept. 17-26, for a trip that visits the Haida sites in south Moresby. The price is $1,749, excluding air fare.

It is also possible to meet local artists on your own. According to one artist who lives in the islands, Reg Davidson, most people work out of their homes. "It's pretty laid back," he said.

In addition to the carved wood for which the Haida are renowned, their work includes prints, jewelry and carved argillite (a local mineral).

One place to meet artists is at the monthly receptions held at Rainbows Gallery, 3201 Third Ave. in Queen Charlotte City; (604) 559-8420.

Charlene Greenwood, the owner, who is Haida, says in summer the gallery, about 2,400 square feet, holds one reception each month for a designated artist "and a lot of the other artists will be there."

Her husband, Jack, will arrange tours so visitors can meet some of the artists; the cost for a group of two or three people would range from about $76 to $152 a person, depending on the length of a tour and how many meals are included.

Sandy Adams, who works in the Old Masset Village Council office, (604) 626-3337, can supply visitors with a list of roughly 30 Haida artists in the Masset area.

Those interested in Haida culture and art will want to visit the Queen Charlotte Islands Museum in Skidegate, (604) 559-4643, which has exhibits on Haida history and culture, natural history, Canadian settlement on the islands and contemporary Haida art.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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