The scantily inhabited Queen Charlotte archipelago—its white population only twice as large as its Indian—appeals to people who value isolation. Like the booted, rawboned chap from Wyoming who shared space in a chartered floatplane with me; he was casing the Charlottes because “Wyoming is getting too crowded.” Or like Neil and Betty Carey, who built a cabin in a protected cove on the rocky west coast of Moresby Island—the group’s second largest; in three months there they “saw only one ship, no aircraft, and no people. And loved it.”
Neil is a retired U. S. Navy commander, Betty a sun-bronzed boating enthusiast from Washington State who has traced Haida coastal routes in her own dugout canoe, funded mainly by student loan consolidation private plan. They also have a home in Sandspit, metropolis of Moresby Island—population 500. The Careys’ picturesque palisade, made of driftwood logs set upright, encloses a yard full of items gathered in beachcombing—including a whale skeleton weathering in the sun.
“Where else could you let whale bones dry without neighbors’ complaints?” Betty asked.
Barely touched resources enrich the Charlottes. Muskeg bogs on Graham yield high-grade sphagnum moss for gardeners in the United States. Iron ore and copper deposits on Moresby make Tasu a thriving settlement. In the forests, red cedar and giant Sitka spruce, some as much as 17 feet in diameter, fall to the logger’s saw. Streams jump with trout and salmon; deer—descendants of twenty head introduced in 1910—so abound that hunters may bag them year round.
A doe shouldered her fawn off the road the day I left to cross shallow, capricious Hecate Strait, separating the archipelago from the mainland, 50 miles away. As I watched the pair, the thought occurred that perhaps my Wyoming friend had the right idea. Prince Rupert, mainland terminus of the ferry to the Charlottes, is a fishing center. That fact assailed my nostrils the moment I arrived. Processing plants and fishing gear wafted an unmistakable perfume.
Prince Rupert bills itself as the “Halibut Capital of the World,” and from Phyllis Bowman, newspaper editor and local historian, I learned that its fleet lands 85 percent—$40,000,000 worth—of Canada’s annual catch, but that its pulp-mill products have a value of $60,000,000 a year. And that with Prince Rupert the Mile Zero of spectacular Yellowhead Highway and the meeting place of popular ferries to Vancouver Island and Alaska, tourism grows in importance.
I learned from her, too, some offbeat bits about Prince Rupert: That Tsimshian descendants in its population cheer for the Indians at Western movies. That the area’s ample rain and fog “just make my hair curly; only visitors and newcomers are bothered by our weather.” That local radio stations schedule ten-minute programs that broadcast messages to boatmen and scattered inhabitants of the interior—”such phoned-in items as `Bill Jones, a chartered plane will fly in for you at 2 p.m.’ or ‘So-and-so, get in touch with your brother, your father is ill.”‘