The Queen Charlotte Islands form the western margin of the Tertiary Queen Charlotte Basin, which is situated on the western margin of the North American Plate. They contain seven major dyke swarms of Late Eocene to Miocene age, a period when the relative motions of the Pacific and the North American plates in this region were dominantly dextral strike slip (transform margin), with intervals of highly oblique divergence and convergence. Within each swarm, dykes have a systematic trend. However, trends vary from swarm to swarm, indicating that the stress field varied. A total of 678 cores (1352 specimens) were collected from 129 dykes in six swarms over a distance of about 200 km. Magnetic stability is variable. One hundred and one dykes yielded records of the paleofield. Data are also reported from an Oligocene pluton (5 sites, 27 cores, 52 specimens) and Miocene lavas (8 sites, 52 cores, 101 specimens). Both normal and reversed magnetizations occur, but irrespective of sign, the mean directions of remanent magnetization of each swarm and of the pluton and the lavas have systematically steeper inclinations than the value calculated from coeval rocks in North America. To explain this it is proposed that, after dyke emplacement, the sampling areas were tilted to the north or northwest by amounts that vary between 9 and 16°. Apparently, crustal tilting, similar in magnitude and direction, extended over distances of approximately 200 km. This cannot reflect tilting of a single block. Instead, it is argued that at least the southern Queen Charlotte Islands underwent considerable northerly or north-northwesterly directed extension and normal block faulting, which followed and in part was concurrent with the formation of widespread mid-Tertiary dyke swarms, plutons and lava flows. Making use of the fact that dykes propagate perpendicular to the direction of extension, and combining previously measured dyke orientations with paleomagnetic data, three stages of extension are proposed: east–west extension sometime during the Late Eocene to Early Oligocene; north–south extension sometime in the interval Late Oligocene to Early Miocene; and northwest–southeast extension sometime during Late Miocene or later time.