B.C. Post Offices: Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)

Off the west coast of British Columbia lie thousands of islands, some snuggled up to the mainland and others a day’s travel by boat, Most of these are small. Two are very large. Vancouver Island lies off the south coast – well populated and easily reached by numerous methods, and it is the playground of the west. Off the north coast are Graham and Moresby – the Queen Charlotte Islands [now called Haidi Gwaii] – remote, almost unknown, hidden in the mists of the Pacific and only now coming into recognition. These islands are the home of the Haida, a warrior race who roved the seas in giant canoes as far south as Vancouver Island. They have a very distinct culture of their own and a very proud of heritage.

The Haida argillite carvings are from a black stone found only on the north island, and today are sought most fervently. Anyone visiting Victoria should go to our Indian galleries in Heritage Court Museum. Here is a group in argillite that cannot be equalled anywhere.

The early visitors to the Charlottes were few and consequently the post offices in this group are sparse, and quite short-lived in many cases and naturally on the sea coast and inlets.

The Islands were named for Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of England and daughter of the Duke of Mecklenberg. The capital is Queen Charlotte City with about a thousand population. The post office was established on August 15, 1909.

The Islands are covered by – huge stands of spruce and it was from this source that material was secured for the wartime aeroplane industry. This developed many far-flung settlements and their post offices. Aero on Cumshewa Inlet was such a place, and spruce was the backbone of its mill. The post office was established October 23, 1948 and closed January 1, 1958. The main method of travel to this spot was by air from the mainland, and so the post office got the name, Aero.

Quite a few of the post offices were around Skidegate Channel. which divides Graham Is. from Moresby Is. Alliford Bay was near Skidegate Mission. This post office was named after William Alliford, quartermaster of the S.S. Beaver. It was short-lived – May 1st, 1913 to October 10th. 1913. During the second war, an air base was located there.

A recent post office was Haida on Graham Island, named after the native people. After a short period, the people moved to Masset, so the post office which opened March 28, 1957 closed on April 30, 1960. An earlier post office had a similar name, Hydah, This office was also on Graham Island about five miles from Skidegate, opening April 1, 1911 and closing February 28, 1918.

Jedway was on the west coast of Moresby Island and had a two-fold existence. The first Jedway was established August 15, 1909 and closed May 31, 1931. In 1962 the town was re-opened as a mine site, and the post office existed from November 13, 1962 to June 1968, In many of the companies, the post office was located in the office and had limited hours.

Juskatla, west of Port Clements was established January 31, 1950 and is still open. It was named after a Haida god, brother of Tow. Lawn Hill was 12 miles north of Skidegate: opened April 1, 1911 and closed October 31, 1930. Masset or Massett was named after the Haida word ‘Maast’. It was originally called Atewan, meaning ‘white slope down’ and the post office opened May 25, 1946. It remains one of the larger villages. Port Clements is another growing town 22 miles south of Masset, named after H. Clements, an M.P. for Skeena. The post office opened May 1, 1914. Rose Harbour is on Rose Spit near Sandspit. The office opened and closed several times between its opening July 1, 1911 and final closing October 6, 1943. It was a whaling station.

Sandspit is the airport for the Charlottes and is on Moresby Island with regular schedules giving a dependable access to the Islands. The post office is 8 miles west of Skidegate on Spit Point. Established November 1, 1915. Sewall, named after Samuel Dart Sewall, is 18 miles from Masset, The post office was established September 1, 1917 and closed January 31, 1919.

Skidegate is three miles east of Queen Charlotte City, It is a Haida word meaning ‘red painted stone’. Opened September 1, 1897, it was closed October 29, 1971. Skidegate Mission and Indian School, two miles from Skidegate, opened January 1, 1921 and closed January 30, 1956,

Tlell, 25 miles north of Skidegate, has a ranch house as the post office. It is the Haida word for ‘land of plenty’. It was opened April 1, 1912. Tow Hill on north Graham Island was named after the god Tow. It is 14 miles east of Masset: opened April 19, 1913 and closed June 30, 1921. Watun River is 8 miles from Masset: opened November 16, 1923 and closed November 16, 1932. Woden River, 3 miles from Masset, was opened November 1, 1913 and closed November 1, 1917.

The Queen Charlottes are only coming into tourism at this late date. With the Haida culture, their argillite carvings, and preserved totem carving lore, they offer a challenge to anyone wishing a completely different background with a mysterious civilization and a partially unexplored area.


  1. Post Offices of B.C., by George Melvin.
  2. Jot Book, and personal contact with a person who travelled the Queen Charlotte Islands.

First published in The Guideline, Journal of the VIPS, September 1984
by Lester Small

About Lester Small
From 1984 to 1988, there were a number of articles about Canadian postal history (most of them about British Columbia) in The Guideline, the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Philatelic Society. Almost all of these were written by Lester Small (Member #341). Lester – a clerk at the Victoria Post Office – was also active in the Greater Victoria Philatelic Society. He organized the junior programme of the GVPS, and looked after the junior stamp club for 35 years.

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