Haida Gwaii
Feature Type:Islands - Land area surrounded by water or marsh. Plural of Island.
Status: Official
Name Authority: BC Geographical Names Office
Pronounced: hy-dah gWHY
Relative Location: Off NW coast of British Columbia, separated from mainland BC by Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Land District
Latitude-Longitude: 53°14'59"N, 132°14'59"W at the approximate centre of this feature.
Datum: WGS84
NTS Map: 103F/1
Related Maps:
Origin Notes and History:

"Queen Charlotte Islands" adopted 15 October 1920 on Ottawa file OBF 0557, as identified on charts from 1790 onward. "Queen Charlotte Islands" and the approved French form "Îles de la Reine-Charlotte" identified as names of pan-Canadian significance per Treasury Board Circular 1983-58, 23 November 1983. Re-named Haida Gwaii per Bill 18: Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act, which legislation received Royal Assent 3 June 2010.

Source: BC place name cards, files, correspondence and/or research by BC Chief Geographer/Geographical Names Office.

Xhaaidlagha Gwaayaai is the oldest name, pronounced hy-dah-gah gWHY-eye. The name means "Islands at the Boundary of the World" The spelling is presented as X̱AAYDAG̱A GWAAY.YAAY on the First Peoples Language Map of British Columbia. In the early 1970's the name was restyled as Haida Gwaii ("Islands of the People") by the Haida people.

Source: BC place name cards, files, correspondence and/or research by BC Chief Geographer/Geographical Names Office.

"The natives of the Queen Charlotte Islands were known as Haidas, which means in their language 'people' - this word is pronounced hada-i by the natives of Masset, and by the Skidegates haidai-gai."

Source: Walbran, John T; British Columbia Coast Names, 1592-1906: their origin and history; Ottawa, 1909 (republished for the Vancouver Public Library by J.J. Douglas Ltd, Vancouver, 1971)

This offshore archipelago, the traditional home of the Haida First Nation, is the largest on the BC coast – 9,596 sq km in area. It consists of hundreds of islands, including Graham and Moresby, the largest in BC after Vancouver Island. Spanish naval officer Juan Perez was the first European to sight the QCI, in 1774 but did not land. The name was applied in 1878 by early British fur trader George Dixon after his vessel, the ‘Queen Charlotte,’ which, in turn, commemorated the wife of England’s King George III. Dixon and Nathaniel Portlock, of the ‘King George,’ spent 1786-87 in the PNW (Pacific Northwest), sponsored by the King George’s Sd Co of London. Dixon was the first European to trade extensively with the Haida. He sailed the length of the west coast of the QCI in 1787, then rounded Cape St James and cruised partway up the east side of the archipelago. The French explorer Lapérouse, in the area in 1786, had suspected the insularity of the QCI; Dixon was sure of it, Neither made a circumnavigation, however, nor did Charles Duncan, in the ‘Princess Royal,’ following year, though he sailed father north in Hecate Straight. The US fur trader Robert Gray, in 1789, called the archipelago Washington’s Island. The Haida people know their homeland as Haida Gwaii ("islands of the people"), and this name is becoming increasingly popular. As BC premier Gordon Campbell said in 2007, “I hear people talk far more about Haida Gwaii today than the Queen Charlotte Islands.” An older Haida name is Xaadala Gwayee (Xhaaydla Gwaayaay), meaning “islands on the boundary between worlds” – the worlds being those of forest, sea, and sky. Another name in popular usage is “Galapagos on the North,” referring to the unique ecology on the QCI, which partly escaped recent glaciation. The village of Queen Charlotte, which if often referred to locally as Queen Charlotte City, takes its name from the QCI, as do the Queen Charlotte Mountains.

Source: Scott, Andrew; "The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names"; Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, 2009, pages 483-484.

The Queen Charlotte Islands have been known by many names – from the old Haida reference of ‘Islands of the People’ to the modern day Misty Isles often affectionately bestowed upon them.
The first European name given to them as a group was probably that of James Hanna’s Nova Hibernia in 1786. Hanna had sailed from Macoa that year in the Sea Otter, a brig of barely 60 tons, and traded briefly around the southern shores of the Charlottes. Twelve years previously, in 1774, Juan Perez had named two features, Cape Santa Margarita and the San Christoval Mountains but, since he believed the Islands were part of the mainland continent, he did not give the archipelago a separate designation.
On August 3, 1787, Captain George Dixon reported, “This is not one continued land, but rather a group of islands.” In true seafaring tradition he named them for his ship, Queen Charlotte, a British snow of some 200 tons. She was one of two ships sent by The King George Sound Company of British trade in the New World. The other, King George, a larger vessel commanded by Nathaniel Portlock, had accompanied the Queen Charlotte to the west coast of the Islands the autumn before. Find no signs of life during this first visit they left to winter in the Hawaiian Islands. When they returned to the northwest coast the following summer the two ships separated in Prince William Sound, with Dixon sailing his vessel again to the Charlottes and subsequently naming them.
Entrepreneur John Meares of Nootka, an ex-British Navy man, head of the fur bonanza Dixon discovered on the Charlottes, but unaware, or uncaring, that Dixon had given the islands a name, Meares called them The Great Island. He despatched one of his ships, ‘Iphigenia’ under Captain Douglas to trade along the shores of The Great Island in August 1788.
The following year the Islands received another name when, in June 1789, Captain Robert Gray of the American sloop Lady Washington called them Washington’s Isle. And about this time a map drawn under the direction of Esteban Jose Martinez showed still another name, Isla Infante Don Fernando, a name corrupted to “Elefante” by the man who drew the map.
As an omen of the future, perhaps, it was Dixon’s British name Queen Charlotte Islands which became the accepted name.

Source: Dalzell, Kathleen E; "Queen Charlotte Islands - Book 2: of places and names"; Prince Rupert: Cove Press, 1973, pages 13-14.