Most westerly, and only Pacific, province of Canada, area 947,800 sq km/365,851 sq mi; population (2001 est) 3,907,700. It is bordered on the east by Alberta, with the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains forming its southeastern boundary. To the south, it has a frontier along the 49th Parallel with the US states of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. To the north, along the 60th Parallel, lie the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory. In the northwest, the province borders the panhandle of Alaska for about half its length. The province also includes a number of islands to the west, including Vancouver Islands and the Queen Charlotte Islands. The capital is Victoria on Vancouver Island; other main cities and towns are Vancouver, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Surrey, Richmond, and Nanaimo. British Columbia is mostly mountainous and over half the land is forested; it has a deeply indented coastline, over 80 major lakes, and numerous rivers, including the Fraser and Columbia. Chief industries are lumbering and the manufacture of finished wood products, fishing, mining (coal, copper, iron, lead), extraction of oil and natural gas, and hydroelectric power generation; there is also fruit and vegetable growing. Newer industries include ecotourism and film – the province ranks in importance behind only Los Angeles, California, and New York City in the North American film industry.
The region that is now British Columbia was originally home to numerous small Salishan- and Wakashan-speaking groups, chiefly resident along the coast. Europeans (the Spanish and English) first sighted the area in the 1770s. While searching for the Northwest Passage, Captain James Cook explored the coast in 1778 and, after some conflict with the Spanish around Nootka Sound, the region was brought under British control by a 1790 convention. Operatives of both the North West Company (NWC; including Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser) and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) were soon exploring its rivers and coastline. In 1821, the two trading concerns combined under the HBC banner. As part of the huge Oregon Country, the lower coast was the subject of disputes with US interests until the 1846 treaty that established the 49th Parallel as British Columbia's southern boundary. Vancouver Island formally became the first British colony in the region, with Victoria as its capital, in 1849. In 1858 the Cariboo gold rush brought a new influx of settlers to the mainland, which, together with the Queen Charlotte Islands, became a second colony, briefly known as New Caledonia. In 1866 Vancouver Island and the mainland colony were united; New Westminster was the first capital, but was replaced by Victoria in 1868. In 1871, the HBC relinquished its rights over the area, and British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation. Eager to reinforce its sovereignty in the face of possible US encroachment, the new Dominion of Canada had announced that it would build an intercontinental railway to connect British Columbia with the east. Accordingly, in 1885 the ‘last spike’ was driven at Craigellachie on the Canadian Pacific Railway line through Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies. Initially, this line terminated at Port Moody, but was quickly extended (by 1887) to the infant city of Vancouver, a lumbering settlement that immediately boomed, becoming Canada's – and by the mid-20th century, North America's – chief Pacific port. The CPR subsequently opened a second, southern line through Crowsnest Pass, an important coal-mining district. In 1915 lines that were later to become part of the Canadian National Railway network were opened through Yellowhead Pass, continuing on to Prince George and the north coast port of Prince Rupert. British Columbia now had connections that allowed it to ship out local and Prairie Province wheat and other products, and to send its own fruits, fish, and minerals east. The opening of the Panama Canal (also in 1915) enhanced the role of Pacific ports. The CPR developed steamship lines that made Vancouver a leading port in Far Eastern trade.
Physical Three major mountain chains form British Columbia's backbone. In the east, the Canadian Rocky Mountains run south-southeast to north-northwest along the Alberta border and then across the northeast of the province. In the southeast they include the Columbia Mountains, a subgrouping incorporating the Monashees, Selkirks, and Purcells. The headwaters of major rivers, including the Columbia, Fraser, Peace, and Kootenay, flow through the Rocky Mountain and other trenches between the Rockies' high ridges, which include Mount Robson (3,954 m/12,972 ft), the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Paralleling the Rockies in the west, the Coast Mountains are a northern extension of the system that includes the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada. They stand above (east of) the Pacific coast, and reach 3,994 m/13,104 ft at Mount Waddington.
To their west are the discontinuous Coast Ranges, represented in British Columbia by Vancouver Island (where the Golden Hinde peak rises to 2,200 m/7,219 ft), the Queen Charlotte Islands, and, in the far northwestern corner where the province meets the Yukon Territory and Alaska, the Saint Elias Mountains, including Mount Fairweather (4,663 m/15,300 ft; the highest peak in the province).
Between these three mountain chains lie two lower areas that are the population centres of the province. In the west, in the trough between the Coast Mountains and Coast Ranges, is a narrow coastal zone (the ‘Lower Mainland’), in which Vancouver and other cities developed. Much of this trough is water surface, including the Strait of Georgia and Hecate Strait; the Inside Passage runs through it. In British Columbia's interior, east of the Coast Mountains, is an expanse of plateaus and lower ranges that form part of the Intermontane Region. Here, major rivers provide hydroelectric power for industry and irrigation for fruit-growing and other agriculture. Kelowna, Kamloops, and Prince George are the major cities of the interior. Among British Columbia's rivers are the upper Columbia, which loops through the southeast, and the Fraser, which rises near the Alberta border and flows southwest across the province to a large delta in the Vancouver area. (Late 18th-century travellers' hopes that the Fraser might provide a route from the interior to the Pacific Ocean were not realized, as the river is far too rough for commercial navigation; however, the mistaken belief that the Fraser was the Columbia River did spur early exploration.) Further north, the Finlay and the Parsnip rivers meet on the east of the Continental Divide to form the Peace River, which then flows east from the Rockies into northern Alberta; the junction now occurs within Williston Lake, an artificial reservoir formed by the huge W A C Bennett Dam. To the north of the Peace River, in British Columbia's northeastern corner, is a region of High Plains sloping north to wetlands in the Arctic Ocean (Mackenzie River) watershed.
In the southwest, on the Pacific Ocean, the province has thousands of islands; the largest of these, Vancouver Island, dips below the 49th Parallel, and is separated from Washington State's Olympic Peninsula by the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Economic activities Mining is an important industry in British Columbia. Copper, gold, lead, zinc, silver, tungsten, and other metals are extracted chiefly in the Columbia Mountains in the southeast and along the Coast Mountains chain. Trail and Kimberley in the south are important refining and smelting centres. Kitimat, southeast of Prince Rupert, also developed as a centre for smelting, but did so by using its port and nearby hydroelectric power to import and process bauxite from the Caribbean into aluminium.
Lumbering remains important throughout the province, and many local manufactures are wood-based. Vancouver and Victoria have important fishing fleets, and salmon are caught in several rivers, although rights to the catch are often disputed between First Nations and other fishers. Vancouver has grown into a bustling commercial, financial, educational, and cultural metropolis, while Victoria's life revolves around government and tourism.
Transport and tourism British Columbia's spectacular mountain and coastal scenery is a major tourist attraction, and there are 675 parks and protected areas. These include Tatshenshini-Alsek, Carmnanah-Walbran, Churn Creek, Kitlope, Khutzeymateen, Stein Valley, Ts'il-os, and Clayoquot Biosphere. The Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island are also popular destinations for visitors. Skiing is popular at Whistler and other winter sports resorts. At Barkerville and elsewhere in the Cariboo district there are heritage sites devoted to the gold rush of 1858.
People and culture The people of modern British Columbia are predominantly British in origin. In particular, the city of Victoria is famously English in its cultural outlook. Yet there is also a wide range of other national, religious, and ethnic groups in the province. Mass immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries saw the arrival of such diverse peoples as Russian Doukhobors, Indian Sikhs, and Chinese in the area, many of whom are descendants of indentured labourers brought in to build the railways and work the mines. In the late 20th century there was much immigration from Hong Kong.
The indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast fared badly with the arrival of European settlers; for example, the Kwakiutl of northern Vancouver Island were devastated by diseases to which they had no immunity, and many of their villages became deserted. The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas conducted pioneering studies of the Kwakiutl people's culture in the early 20th century. Nowadays, a diversity of First Nations peoples still inhabit traditional communities on the coastal mainland and islands, including the Haida (on the Queen Charlotte Islands), Bella Coola, and Kwakiutl. There are 197 First Nations Bands in British Columbia.
British Columbia – flag
ranching, British Columbia
The westernmost province of Canada, on the Pacific Ocean. Mostly in the mountainous Cordilleran region, it is bounded by the Rocky...
Province of W Canada, on the Pacific coast, bounded N by Alaska, S by Washington state. The Rocky Mountains run N to S through the province. The...