The small village of Masset is the largest town on Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands. Located at the northern end of Graham Island, the largest of the more than 150 significant islands that comprise Haida Gwaii, Masset is the northern gateway to North Beach and Naikoon Provincial Park.
The small community is one of the two incorporated settlements on the islands, incorporated in 1961, and is the oldest municipality on Haida Gwaii.
Originally known as Graham City, it was named in June 1909 after the president of the Graham Steamship, owned by the Coal and Lumber Company and Benjamin Graham. Graham City eventually became known as New Masset, as it was located a few kilometres south of the Haida village of Old Masset.
A story told in Haida today of how the name “Masheet” came into existence relates that one of the first ships to come into Masset Harbour anchored off what is now the Village of Masset. One of the officers, a man named Masseta, died and was buried on the little island off which the ship lay anchored. The Haida named the island after him, but finding it difficult to pronounce, they corrupted the word to “mah-sh-t”. From this, George M. Dawson, a geologist and naturalist well known in the vicinity, named the island “Maast” in 1878.
A Canadian Forces Base was established here in 1971, operating until its downsizing in 1997, when the base houses were sold off to interested investors and homeowners. Logging and fishing are the main industries in Masset today, with tourism becoming an increasingly important industry.
Location: Masset is located on the northern shore of Graham Island. The Haida Gwaii islands are accessed by ferry from Prince Rupert to the Skidegate Landing Ferry Terminal on Graham Island, by air from Vancouver to Sandspit (770 km), and by air from Prince Rupert to Sandspit on Moresby Island. Masset is located at the northern end of Graham Island and there are also direct flights to the Masset Municipal Airport from Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Other commercial air services (including float planes and helicopters) are available at Sandspit, Queen Charlotte City and Masset. A 20-minute ferry ride connects Graham and Moresby Islands.
Visit St. Paul’s Anglican Church, a heritage building built in 1912, and still in use today. The Anglican Church had established a mission at the old village in 1876.
The Old Schoolhouse was built alongside the St. Paul’s Anglican Church in about 1912 and used as the schoolhouse until the early 1940s, when it was sold and moved to its present location near the church. Today it is a private residence.
At the west end of Collison Avenue is the The Old Hospital, a heritage building dating back to 1914. It was used as a hospital and doctor’s residence until the 1920s, serving the settlements of Buckley Bay and Naden Harbour. During the 1930s it was used as a residence, later a school, a teacherage, and the School District’s Resource Centre.
Take a stroll down to the Government Wharf and watch the comings and goings, with boats docking, fishermen preparing for trips or unloading their catches – there’s always something of interest happening.
The beautiful Masset Cemetery on Tow Hill Road is well worth a visit. The graves are marked by mounds of moss planted with flowering bulbs in a peaceful setting of trees and shrubs.
A fish canning and freezing plant located on the east shore of Masset Sound is a significant source of employment in the community, and a hive of activity during the fishing season. With the downturn in salmon fisheries, the fish plant in Masset was facing hundreds of lay-offs until they switched to processing the lowly Dogfish, locally abundant and a source of high value by-products. The processing plant offers custom processing, vacuum packing, smoking, freezing and shipping for locally caught sport fish. Fresh or frozen fish and crabs are also sold.
The old Haida village of Yan, on the west shore of the mouth of Masset Inlet, is a 30-minute boat ride from Old Masset. The large village of seventeen houses built along the shoreline was established in the late eighteenth century, and occupied by two Haida clans – the Eagles and the Ravens – before the villagers left the site and moved back to Masset. Tours by boat can be arranged at the Visitor Centre.
Beachcombing near Masset and along North Beach can be very rewarding for those seeking to combine the excitement of searching for treasures with the exercise of hiking along the vast expanse of beach. Top treasures include Japanese glass fishing floats, sperm whale teeth, shells, sand dollars, and agate gemstones.
Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum is housed in a heritage building at the western end of Collison Avenue in Masset. Originally the community’s first hospital, the building has been restored to its historical style (circa 1914) and remodeled to house the maritime collection. The charming museum is an integral partner with two other existing museums on Haida Gwaii. Each museum has concentrated on one or two areas of expertise to develop its own individual theme: Haida culture and natural history at the Haida Gwaii Museum; forestry and its history at the Port Clements Museum; and maritime culture and history at the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum. Exhibits include the early European settlement of Masset, the maritime history of the former Queen Charlotte Islands, and artifacts and historical accounts from the days when clam, crab, salmon and even whale blubber processing plants lined the northern shores. On display are glass Japanese floats, sea shells, and a collection of canned salmon. Open daily from early June to early September.
The largest log barge in the world operates in Masset Inlet and Masset Sound. The self-propelled and self-dumping barge, the Haida Monarch, is 129 metres (423 ft) long and 26 meters (85 feet) wide, and can transport 15,000 tons of felled trees per load – equal to the contents of 400 logging trucks, or 12,000 telephone poles. The self-loading barges are fitted with enormous cranes and water tanks that are flooded during offloading, causing the barge to list and dump its load into the water, to be manoeuvered into log sorting grounds by tugs. The smaller Haida Brave is 121 metres (397 ft) long and 25 metres (82 ft) wide, with a load capacity of 10,000 tons.
Golf: The delightful oceanfront Dixon Entrance Golf & Country Club is located on Tow Hill Road, 3 miles (5 km) from Masset. One of two golf courses on Haida Gwaii, the 9-hole public course is signposted from the highway and at the road entrance. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Take a walk through the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary, a refuge for 150 different species of both migrating and resident birds, including bald eagles, great blue herons and Canada geese. The once endangered Trumpeter Swan winters here in small numbers, and the Sandhill Crane does its stately dance in the spring. There are observation towers and several trails through the refuge, starting from points along Trumpeter Drive, and from the gates along Cemetery Road.
Agate Beach near Tow Hill offers a campground and great beachcombing – watch out for agates, glass balls, driftwood and shells. Visitors can get splashed at the Blow Hole or climb 109-metre high Tow Hill.
The fabulous North Beach is a must-see on any visit to Masset, offering clam digging for razor clams, crabbing, beachcombing, and great hiking in Naikoon Provincial Park. Attractions in North Beach include Tow Hill, a huge outcrop of basalt pillars formed from volcanic rock, Agate Beach, a campground at Agate Beach, Tow Hill Picnic Grounds on the Hiellen River, a natural Blow Hole, and the spectacular North Beach. There are two ecological reserves near North Beach: Tow Hill Ecological Reserve and Rose Spit Ecological Reserve. Golfers will be delighted with the Dixon Entrance Golf Course, located right on the oceanfront. At North Beach, according to Haida legend, raven first brought people into the world by coaxing them out of a clam shell, making North Beach the site of creation.
Camping: There are two campgrounds in Naikoon Provincial Park, one of which is located at North Beach on the Tow Hill Road. Agate Beach Campground is equipped with cooking shelters, pit toilets and water – located approximately 1.5 km west of the Tow Hill parking area. The interior of the park remains undeveloped, and wilderness camping is permitted throughout Naikoon Provincial Park.
Camping in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).
The village of Masset maintains an RV Park & Campground opposite the scenic Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary. Open year round, the campground is close to downtown and the beaches, with 22 shaded gravel sites, some electric hook-ups, firewood, water, hot coin showers, heated washrooms, a laundry facility, and a summer kitchen. A sani-station is available at the Visitor Centre 1 km away. Some of the lowest rates in BC!
Hiking: Two trails start from the 109-metre high Tow Hill on the north side of the park. The first leads to the summit of Tow Hill, an easy 0.6-mile (1-km) uphill climb. From the top of this unusual basalt tower, the hiker is rewarded with expensive views of the ocean, Graham Island, and even Alaska away in the distance. A second trail leads 6 miles (10 km) to Cape Fife on the east coast. From here it is possible to hook up with the East Beach Trail, and hike a two-day, 13-mile (21-km) loop back to Tow Hill. It is from Tow Hill that legend says the cruel Tow threw boulders to slay the Haida warrior Hopi.
Fishing: Fishermen should try their skills at Hiellen River, Sangan River or Chown River.
Pure Lake Provincial Park is a popular swimming and picnicking spot encompassing and protecting Pure Lake, located about 15 kilometres south of Masset on the island highway. No camping facilities are available at the park, but public toilets, picnic tables and firepits are provided.
There are two large parks in Haida Gwaii: Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in the south, and Naikoon Provincial Park in the north, which attracts visitors with its almost 100 km of beaches. Naikoon gets its name from a corruption of the Haida term for ‘long nose,’ which was the Haida name for Rose Spit, one of the most prominent features in the park. Naikoon Provincial Park is largely low and flat. Most of its topographic features are formed by underlying glacial deposits.
Be sure to visit the Islands newest emerging community, Tow Hill, an area along the northwestern boundary of Naikoon Provincial Park , 10km east of Masset.
Masset Sound (25 miles/40 km long) is a fast-flowing connection between Dixon Entrance, the body of water between Haida Gwaii and Prince of Wales Island in Alaska, and the ecologically unique Masset Inlet. The village of Massett is located at the mouth of Masset Sound, and Port Clements sits on the eastern shore of Masset Inlet, which leads into Juskatla Inlet, and the logging camp of Juskatla on the eastern shore.
Five minutes down the coastal road from Masset is the village of Old Masset (2 miles/3.2km), also known as Haida. Search here for Haida treasure, or visit the Ed Jones Haida Museum, located in an old schoolhouse, whose exhibits include historical photographs, Haida art, and original Queen Charlotte totem poles. Across from the museum is a carving shed where Haida artists can be seen at work during the summer months.
Circle Tours: See the best of Northern BC and Haida Gwaii on one of the Circle Tours that capture the wonders of the north. The Inside Passage Circle Tour and the Native Heritage Circle Tour include Haida Gwaii by catching a ferry from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).
Circle Tours in British Columbia.