THIS interesting group of Canadian islands, forming a part of the province of British Columbia, now claims our attention. They were discovered about the year 1592, but they have made little or no progress towards development or settlement since that time. Though small when compared with the sections of the mainland of which we have been speaking, yet they are not insignificant in size, and are much larger than some of the provinces of Canada or states of the American Union. They unitedly contain an area of some 4,500 square miles, which is over twice the area of the province of Prince Edward Island. They are nearly five Hanes as large as the state of Rhode Island, twice the size of Delaware, and about equal to the state of Connecticut. These states have from a half to three-quarters of a million people, and are, perhaps, no better fitted for their maintenance than are these islands.
Certainly there seems to be as many advantages in their favor as exists in the island provinces on the Atlantic coast, and with a similar population they would be as much entitled to govern themselves. They are certainly far removed from the seat of authority on the Pacific Coast, and their nearest point to the mainland is from 75 to 100 miles. The group. consists of three principal islands, Moresby, Graham and Prevost, of which the two former are by far the largest, and are separated only by a very narrow channel, so that they are practically one. Their greatest area is at the north, tapering wedge-shaped to the south.
The latitude of these islands is exactly the same as the northern counties of England, and in many respects the climate is similar. They are affected by the great Japan current of the Pacific, as England is by the gulf stream of the Atlantic. The winters are free from excessive cold, but are inclined- to be wet. In some years snow never falls, except on the western mountain range; and in ordinary years it never lasts more than a few days at a time. Cattle at the Hudson’s Bay post in the north are said to winter themselves on the natural grass of the country, without receiving any attention whatever. Even the summer climate of the islands is somewhat humid, though often delightfully fine. The Rev. B. C. Free-man says: ” Considering the high latitude, that of Labrador, the climate is remarkably mild. Snow rarely lies longer than a day or two. Tins year, in mid-February, daisies, primroses, snowdrops, tulips and crocuses are in full bloom. The summer climate is very temperate, and the weather is frequently delightfully bright.”
This feature of the climate has produced .a forest growth perhaps the most dense, varied and luxuriant of any in Canada; Menzies spruce, western hemlock, and cypress are the principal trees, all of which grow in plenty, and of immense size. Mr. Dawson observes in his report: “Before many years extensive saw mills will doubtless be established at Naiden Harbor, which is well suited for the export of lumber. The quality of spruce timber is excellent, and much stands near the shores of the harbor.” No doubt, this industry in time will surpass Mr. Dawson’s anticipations of it.
The climate, as far as its suitability to agriculture is concerned, is beyond question, as has been demonstrated on the spot. The nature of the climate, however, is more suitable to grass and root crops than to grain, on account of the tendency to moisture, but this is probably more an advantage than otherwise. There is no department of farming in that part of the country that would be so profitable as cattle raising. Lying so close to the great northern mining camps, agriculture on suitable lines ought to be very profitable on these islands. The physical formation of the country contributes much to agricultural possibilities. A range of irregular and comparatively high mountains extend from north to south, quite near the western coast; in the broad sections of the north this leaves a low, comparatively level country east of the mountain range, and sheltered by it from the Pacific storms. It is said , this large area of undulating country in the northeast, though now heavily timbered, is well adapted to agriculture.
The scenic beauties of the islands are very fine, some of the peaks rising to a height of over 5,000 feet, and being quite steep, seem even higher than they really are. The many inlets and passages studded with large and small coastal islands also add to the general charm of the scenery. Skidegate, Cumshewa, Masset and Naiden are examples of these. Plenty of water of good average depth, as a rule, characterize these land-locked harbors. Masset, on the north coast, is rather extraordinary in its formation, and may be briefly described.
An opening in the coast seems to indicate the existence of a river of considerable importance, this, however, is the entrance of Masset Inlet, which is reached by following this narrow river-like tidal arm, about a mile in width, twenty miles Into the interior. This sometimes cuts through rocky banks, and is from nine to twelve fathoms deep, but at last it opens into the magnificent expanse of Masset Inlet, seventeen miles long by five and a half broad, with many bays, islands, harbors and tributary streams. In some places there are stretches of gravelly beach, other places the hills rise sheer from the water, while again the shore may be low and marshy. The scenery is thus varied and most beautiful and at present great forests everywhere touch the margin of this salt lake.
The water in places in this wonderful inlet is very deep, and if some great city were situated somewhere on its shores one could not conceive, or desire to have, a more romantic or securely sheltered place for the accommodation of its shipping. At one time there were many Indian villages on this inlet, and evidences of a large population exist here as well as on other parts of the island. The Haida Indians, however, are fast passing away, though in some respects they were a superior type of the aboriginal race. A conservative estimate places the Haida race on these islands at one time at 30,000. They now number less than 1,000.
There are many indications of mineral deposits on these islands; coal, lignite, gold and copper have all been found, and in some places attempts have been made to work the mines, but whether these deposits exist in paying quantities or not has yet to be determined. Boiling springs, sulphur springs and mineral waters exist at different points, the medicinal qualities of which are said to be considerable, and it may be that in the future they may become quite as attractive as similar springs in other localities.
The surrounding waters at the present time, perhaps, give the largest promise of present wealth and profitable employment. It is said that no part of the Pacific coast is so rich in its fisheries as the waters surrounding these islands. In the past they have contributed the most of the food to the native Indians. Halibut abounds in these waters, and it is regarded by some to be the best halibut fishery in the world. Other varieties are also plentiful, such as different varieties of salmon, cod, herring, mackerel, pollock and others of less importance. The dogfish fishery is, at the present time, carried on chiefly by natives. This fish is a rich oil producer. In time this great fishery of the west coast, in the vicinity of these islands, must assume its true importance among the industries of the country. Queen Charlotte Islands may be regarded as the Newfoundland of the west coast.
The natives of these islands are most intelligent people, and in many ways differ from the ordinary Indians of the coast. One marked feature of their superiority is evidenced by their more settled habits; their villages are permanent and their houses large and most ingeniously built, involving much skill and labor. The late Mr. G. M. Dawson gives a most interesting description of the Haida race in his report of these islands in 1878; space will not here permit of further reference.
It must be apparent to all that these favored islands are of great importance and have great future possibilities, and cannot escape development in time. Probably half a million people could subsist upon them. With the development of the Yukon and northern British Columbia, now apparently so well assured, must come the development of these islands also.