Many of the islands are among the largest in the world, the largest being Ellesmere Island. Other major islands include Amund Ringnes Island, Axel Heiberg Island, Bathurst Island, Borden Island, Cornwall Island, Cornwallis Island, Devon Island, Eglinton Island, Ellef Ringnes Island, Mackenzie King Island, Melville Island, and Prince Patrick Island. They consist of Silurian and Carboniferous rocks covered with tundra.
The islands, together 418 961 km² (161,762 square miles) in area, were renamed as a group after Elizabeth II on her coronation as Queen of Canada in 1953. Most are uninhabited, but their main industry is oil drilling. The largest municipalities are the hamlets of Resolute, on Cornwallis Island, and Grise Fiord, on Ellesmere Island.
First sighted by Europeans in 1616, the Queen Elizabeth Islands were not fully explored and charted until the British North West Passage expeditions and later Norwegian exploration of the 19th century.
These islands were known as the Parry Archipelago for over 130 years. They were first named after British Arctic explorer Sir William Parry, who discovered them on ship Hecla in 1819.