British Columbia

Queen Charlotte Lodge closes for the year after B.C. bans non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii

The Haida Nation declared a state of emergency earlier this year, asking for all non-essential travellers to stay away to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The Queen Charlotte Lodge, which brings in tourists, opened anyway.

Closure follows angry dispute with Haida Nation during pandemic

Queen Charlotte Lodge is a 20-acre luxury fishing resort at Naden Harbour on the northern end of the Haida Gwaii archipelago. (Queen Charlotte Lodge/Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0)

The Queen Charlotte Lodge, a luxury fishing lodge off B.C.'s north coast, is shutting down operations for the rest of the year to comply with an order from the provincial government banning non-essential travel to the Haida Gwaii archipelago. 

The lodge had only been open for three weeks; typically, it would continue to operate into September.

The early closure comes with significant financial losses for the company, and for owner and president Paul Clough. More than 150 people have been laid off, and Clough said they will eventually lay off 25 office and clerical staff.

"It's a very sad situation," he told CBC's Pamela McCall.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Haida Gwaii on July 24, and the B.C. government restricted non-essential travel, which includes tourists, to the region on July 30. 

Tensions between the lodge and local First Nation communities have been high since the lodge announced it would be open for the season, despite ongoing requests for tourists to stay away from the community to minimize the spread of COVID-19. 

Clough said the Queen Charlotte Lodge went to great lengths to transfer guests by air, bypassing the communities in Haida Gwaii to ensure guests did not spread the virus. 

"We're very pleased to say that we did not have any incident whatsoever."

He said the Haida Nation used the COVID-19 pandemic for political gains.

"They weaponized COVID to get that state of emergency posted and that's all they needed to do to stop the fishing [lodges] from operating," Clough said. 

"But really this is all about sovereignty. This is a political move on their part to gain control. It's all totally 100 per cent political."

CBC contacted the Haida Nation for comment, but didn't hear back. 

On July 21, the Haida hereditary chiefs' council issued a statement saying the Queen Charlotte Lodge has shown disregard for the land, wildlife and Haida people since its arrival, and pointed to specific incidents during the pandemic that tarnished the nation's relationship with the lodge.

"QCL has been dishonest in its representations to the public and its patrons when they claimed to be cooperating with the Council of the Haida Nation in the face of COVID-19," the statement reads. It goes on to say "QCL has been disrespectful to the Haida Guardians over the years and the Gaandlee Guu Jaalang Daughters of the River who initially appealed to QCL to remain closed through the COVID-19 pandemic."

"If Queen Charlotte Lodge had ever been welcomed, it has lost its welcome on Haida Gwaii," the statement closes.

Despite this, Clough said he and his business wants to continue to operate, and have a good relationship with their neighbours, the Haida Nation. 

"We own our land here, and by being a landowner you should have certain rights yourself," he said. 

"We also want to be respectful, good neighbours to the Haida people. I don't know how we get there at this particular stage."

With files from Pamela McCall