Answering Canada’s Call of the Wild on a Voyage Through the Wilderness

<i> Fitzpatrick is a free-lance writer living in Don Mills, Ont</i> .<i> , Canada</i>

Above the stream flowing into the Pacific Ocean, the majestic bald eagle circled lazily, its outstretched wings barely moving.

Suddenly, in a single movement, the bird swooped down, hardly broke the surface of the water, seized a salmon in its talons and rose triumphantly. Before disappearing, the eagle turned and flew over its awe-struck audience as if to show off its kill.

At the foot of a high cliff, relentless breakers pounded the rocky shore. Above the roar of the surf came the cries of a family of eagles wheeling far above on the wind currents swirling around the cliff.


Unforgettable Images

These were two unforgettable images in a 10-day sailboat voyage through the South Moresby wilderness of the Queen Charlotte Islands, 62 miles off British Columbia. Known as Canada’s Galapagos, the area is protected as a national park reserve.

By sailboat, South Moresby can be seen much as the Haida Indians see it. Once south of Sandspit you enter an area without roads, communities, facilities or services, a true wilderness.

Sailing in South Moresby means anchoring at whim, putting a canoe over the side, paddling ashore and exploring for hours.

Take the Bischof Islands, a group of tiny islets at the head of Juan Perez Sound. Beach the canoes and climb over the rocks. A red-billed black oyster catcher scarcely notices as he sits on a nearby rock. A placid tidal pool covers dozens of brilliant red sea urchins and an octopus scuttles under a rock as its solitude is broken.

On a ridge perfectly sited between two beaches, an old weathered hammock sagging between two trees is still strong enough to support an after-lunch siesta.

A few years ago a hermit called Butterfly Ron decided this was the place to get away from it all. In the bushes is his old bathtub and a beautifully shaped piece of driftwood that formed an elegant toilet seat.


Butterfly Ron used to make his own beer. When unsuspecting visitors came ashore on what they thought was a deserted island, he would jump out from behind a tree and offer a cold one.

Close to the Bischof Islands is Hotspring Island. The springs bubble out of the ground near the highest point of this tiny island and fill the pools maintained by the Haida. One pool is covered by a hut and there you can soap away in privacy. The other open pools offer a more communal form of relaxation.

Untouched Rain Forest

North of Hotspring is Lyell Island, which contains Windy Bay watershed. Windy Bay symbolizes the struggle to preserve South Moresby and contains one of the last untouched stands of rain forest in the Charlottes.

No neat footpaths weave through the woods of Windy Bay. Instead, walk is on a springy carpet of thick moss that covers the forest floor.

Moss covers everything like a mantle of gentle green snow, from the smallest twigs to the rocks in the creek. It softly rounds the trees that have fallen over the years so that it is impossible to tell exactly what is beneath the moss.

Giant cedars tower straight and true, living things that are hundreds of years old. Some soar for more than 100 feet before a branch occurs.


Even the trees that have fallen to the forest floor over the centuries are not really dead. Ferns sprout from their exposed roots and the moss-covered trunks act as “nurse logs” to the seeds that fall and take root, sending up new trees. Other living trees wear a shaggy overcoat of moss from which spring small plants and grasses.

At the extreme southern tip of South Moresby is Kunghit Island, and on its northern shore, on Houston Stewart Channel, is Rose Harbour, the site of an old whaling station deserted in the 1940s.

This channel is reputed to be one of the best places on the Pacific Coast to view whales, though we had only a glimpse of one.

From Rose Harbour it is a short sail to Anthony Island and the remains of the village of Ninstints, the most isolated of all Haida villages and designated a United Nations World Heritage cultural site.

A visit to this remote village is a high point of any trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands, for it is here that the spirit of the people who inhabited these islands for centuries remains the strongest.

Anthony Island is exposed to the open Pacific, but Ninstints occupies a sheltered site with a single approach on its lee side.


To reach the village you paddle ashore through a cleared channel in the rocks. Above the beach stand the gray, weathered totem poles raised by the Haida more than 150 years ago.

Many of the best poles have been removed over the years; some are in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The poles are more visible now than they were a few years ago when the growth of the forest threatened to swallow them up. Trees that sprouted between the poles have been felled and the weeds on the poles removed.

Remaining poles offer a dramatic impact, with the images of Eagle, Bear and Raven glaring out as fiercely as when they were carved by the skilled Haida.

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Ecosummer Canada Expeditions, 1516 Duranleau St., Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6H 3S4, phone (604) 669-7741, conducts seven-day sailing trips in the Queen Charlottes from June to September. The cost is about $1,385 U.S. from Sandspit. Sea kayaking trips of eight and 15 days are also offered in the same area.

Pacific Synergies, P.O. Box 86773, North Vancouver, B.C., Canada V7L 4L3, phone (604) 932-3107, conducts about 20 charters each summer for about $1,300 U.S.


Accommodations in Sandspit include the Sandspit Inn, P.O. Box 215, Sandspit, B.C., Canada VOT 1TO, phone (604) 637-5334. It’s at the Sandspit airport. Singles are $38 U.S., doubles $55.

Seaport B&B;, P.O. Box 244, Beach Road, Sandspit, B.C., Canada VOT 1TO, phone (604) 637-5698. Singles $20, doubles $30.

Moresby Island Guest House, (604) 637-5307, single $30, double $38.

Queen Charlotte City: Gracie’s Place, Box 447, Queen Charlotte City, B.C. VOT 1SO, phone (604) 559-4262, single $34-$38, double $38-$42.

Inlet Lodging, RR No. 1, Queen Charlotte City, B.C., phone (604) 559-4649, double $34.

Sea Raven Motel, Box 519, Queen Charlotte City, B.C. VOT 1SO, phone (604) 559-4423, single $45, double $54.

New Masset: Copper Beech House, 1590 Delkatla, New Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C. VOT 1MO.

Prince Rupert: Prince Rupert Hotel, P.O. Box 338, Prince Rupert, B.C. V8J 3P9, phone toll-free (800) 663-7760 or (604) 624-6711. Singles $38 to $42, doubles $48-$55.


For more information on travel to British Columbia, contact the Government of British Columbia Trade & Tourism, 2600 Michelson Drive, Suite 1050, Irvine 92715, toll-free (800) 663-6000 or (714) 852-1054.