Rugged British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province
stretches along the Pacific coast,
with the vibrant City of Vancouver at its south border.
Dominated by mountain ranges, it's a major skiing destination and home to Whistler, co-host of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Hikers, campers and anglers are drawn to its sprawling parks and reserves including Glacier National Park and the Pacific Rim National Park.
On July 20,1871, British Columbia entered Confederation as its sixth province...
extending the young Dominion of Canada to the Pacific Ocean. The Government offered that a transcontinental railray would penetrate the Rocky Mountains and join British Columbia to the east within 10 years. It was a massive, expensive undertaking... most of the land between British Columbia and Ontario was barely inhabited.
Geography and Climate:
Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on its west, by the American state of Alaska on its northwest...and to the north by the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, on the east by the Province of Alberta and on the south by the U.S. States of Washington, Idaho and Montana, British Columbia's rugged coastline stretches for more than 27,000 kilometres (16,780 miles) including deep mountainous fiords and about 6,000 islands (most of which are uninhabited).
British Columbia's capital is Victoria, located at the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island. BC's most populace city is Vancouver, located in the southwest corner of the BC mainland which comprises several other major cities. Prince George is the largest city in the northern part of the province.
The Coast Mountains, the Canadian Rockies and the Inside Passage's many inlets provide some of BC's renowed spectacular scenery, which forms the backdrop for growing outdoor adventures and eco-tourism industry. 75% of the province is mountainous (more than 1,000 metres...3,280 feet) above sea level...60% is forested and only about 5% arable. The Okanagan area is one of only 3 wine-growing regions in Canada. The Fraser Canyon towns have some of the warmest and longest summer climates in Canada where temperatures often surpass 40C (104F).
Much of the western part of Vancouver Island and the rest of the coast as far north as the Alaska Panhandle to northern California, is covered by temperate 'rain forest'. This overall region is one of a mere handful of such temperate rainforest ecosytems in the world. The mainland (unmoderated by the Pacific Ocean) range from desert and semi-arid plateau to mountain range and canyon districts of the interior plateau. However, a few interior valleys feature snowy, cold winters while those in the Cariboo are as cold as anywhere else in wintertime Canada due to altitude and latitude.
Parks and Protected Areas: There are 14 designations of parks and protected areas...141 ecological Reserves...35 provincial marine parks...7 Provincial Heritage Sites...6 National Historic Sites...4 National Parks and 3 National Park Reserves. These designations incluce over 800 distinct areas.
The Great Bear Rainforest... home to Spirit Bears, grizzlies, black bears and wolves
is the largest intact rainforest in the world.
British Columbia contains seven of Canada's National Parks: Glacier National Park...Gulf Islands National Park Reserve...Gwaii Haanas National Part Reserve and Haida Heritage Site...Kootenay National Park...Mount Revelstoke National Park...Pacific Rim National Park Reserve...Yoho National Park. Also, over 4.7 million hectares of arable land are protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Recreation: Given its varied mountainous terrain and its coasts, lakes, rivers and forests, BC has long been enjoyed for pursuits like hiking and camping ,rock climbing and mountaineering, hunting and fishing. Water sports, both motorized and non-motorized are highly enjoyed: sea kayaking abound on the coast, white-water rafting and kayaking on inland rivers, sailing and sailboarding.
In winter, cross-country skiing, telemark skiiing downhill skiing, snowboarding are highly popular.
Ample opportunities are offered for joggers, bicyclists and cross-country bike touring, horse-back riding. British Columbia also has strong participation levels in other sports: golf, tennis, soccer, rugby, softball, basketball, curling, figure skating and professional teams of the NHL and CFL.
Consistent with both increased tourism and diverse recreations...
has been the proliferation of lodges, chalets, bed and breakfasts, motels and hotels,
fishing camps and park-camping facilities in recent decades.
Wildlife: Much of the province is wild or semi-wild...so that populations of very many mammalian species that have become rare in much of United States, still flourish in BC...including a very wide range of birds (including Canada geese, swans, loons, hawks, ravens, ducks and smaller birds)...bears (grizzly, black and the Kermode bear or 'spirit bear' found only in British Columbia) live here...as do deer, elk, moose, caribou, big-horn sheep, mountain goats, marmots, beavers, muskrats, coyotes, wolves, wolverines and badgers, mountain lions, eagles, ospreys, herons.
Many sorts of fish are found in the waters...salmon, trout, char, halibut, bass and sturgeon. Harbour seals and river otters are common along the coastlines. Native to Pacific waters are Orca, Gray Whale, Harbour Porpoise, Pacific White-Sided Dolphin and Minke Whale.
Culture and History: Since the retreat of the great glaciers 10,000 years ago,
Aboriginal populations have inhabited the BC landscape.
BC's first people may have journeyed to the region from Asia via a land bridge across the Bering Sea. As the ice receded, forests advanced and fluctuating sea levels exposed the temporary land passage linking Asia to the New World. It is thought that BC's coastal region became one of the most densely populated areas in North America. Prior to European contact, BC's first nations populations may have numbered 300,000. The Aboriginal way of life would continue undisturbed for thousands of years until the arrival of the British in 1778.
European Arrival: When British explorer Captain James Cook reached the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1778, he was eager to trade with the Nootka people. In his wake, waves of European settlers arrived carrying smallpox and other diseases that decimated Aboringal populations in the late 1700's. Nearly a century later, British agent James Douglas was searching the Pacific Coast for a new Hudson Bay Company headquarters. He was welcomed by the Lekwammen, whose villages dotted the shores of what is now 'Greater Victoria'. A year later, in 1843, Fort Victoria was built in the heart of Victoria's downtown...now known as 'Old Town'.
Gold Rush in BC: The discovery of gold in the Fraser River and the Cariboo, brought a rapid infux of prospectors, merchants, pioneers and other colourful figures to BC in the 1860's. They came from around the world, arriving from as far away as China. It was a time of rapid expansion; sleepy hamlets became bustling cities...and new roads, railways and steamships were constructed to carry the extra load. Boomtowns were born and legends made...but not all experienced good fortune. The Aboriginal peoples lsot most of their ancestral lands...and in 1876, First Nations populations were made subject to the federal Indian Act which regulated every aspect of their lives.
Rapid Expansion in BC: Transportation and development marked another period during the 1950's and 1960's. Massive building projects changed the shape of the BC Landscape. Expansive damming projects turned rivers into lakes; giant turbines powered dozens of new pulp mills and smelters; and the Trans Canada Highway was completed, while bridges, railways and BC ferries linked land, people and technological progress.
Symbols of British Columbia
Name origin ~ 'British' (it was a British colony in 1858); 'Columbia' refers to the Columbia River.
Flag ~ The Union Jack is set above the province's shield. Below is a half sun on blue waters. Waves are for the Pacific Ocean off the BC coast. The setting sun represents the most westerly province.
It became the official provincial flag in 1960.
Flower ~ Pacific Dogwood which grows best in the southwestern forests, along the Fraser River and on Vancouver Island. Flowering in April and May, it has many white blossoms and in the fall, clusters of bright red berries are produced.
Tree ~ Western Red Cedar which grows up to 60 metres high...is on the list of provincial plants protected by law.
Mammal ~ 'Spirit Bear' (with white fur) living in the Great Bear Rain Forest.
Bird ~ Stellar's Jay
Gemstone ~ Jade (a green gem used for jewellery and scupltures)
Information compiled by Merle Baird-Kerr