Saturday, 11 January 2014

British Columbia

British Columbia, Pacific Coast province in western Canada, bounded on the north by Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories; on the east by Alberta; on the south by the states of Montana, Idaho, and Washington; and on the west by the Pacific Ocean and Alaska. The crest of the Rocky Mountains forms the southeastern boundary. The province is the only part of Canada on the Pacific Ocean, and it includes Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands off the western coast.
British Columbia is Canada’s third largest province in area and population, behind Québec and Ontario. Much of it is rugged and mountainous. More than half the population lives in the southwestern corner of the province, which includes the largest city, Vancouver, and the provincial capital, Victoria.
British Columbia joined the Confederation of Canada on July 20, 1871, as its sixth province. It is richly endowed with natural resources, including mineral deposits, forests, and fisheries, all of which have been important in the development of a diversified economy in which manufacturing and service activities are also important. Tourism has been encouraged by the many scenic and recreational attractions of the province.
British Columbia has an area of 944,735 sq km (364,764 sq mi). The province is roughly rectangular in shape; its extreme dimensions are 1,310 km (810 mi) from north to south, and 1,250 km (780 mi) from east to west. Elevations range from sea level to 4,663 m (15,299 ft) at Mount Fairweather in the Saint Elias Mountains. British Columbia’s shoreline along the Pacific Ocean, including the coasts of islands and land bordering estuaries, is 32,747 km (20,348 mi) long.
A Natural Regions
Mountain ranges, collectively known as the Canadian Cordillera, cover much of British Columbia. The northeastern corner of the province, referred to as the Peace River district, is part of the western prairie and also includes the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In the southwestern corner of the province, the Lower Fraser Valley forms a flat, fertile triangle of intensively used land.
The Eastern Mountain System comprises a complex belt of glacier-covered ranges and valleys running southeast to northwest. This region is dominated by the Rocky Mountains. Lesser ranges include the Cassiar and Omineca mountains in the north, and the Cariboo, Selkirk, Monashee, and Purcell ranges of the Columbia Mountain system in the south. The most prominent valley in the region is the Rocky Mountain Trench, a deep, narrow rift valley between the Rocky Mountains in the east and the Columbia Mountain system in the west.
The Intermontane, or Interior, Region is also a rugged area. The central section, around Prince George and Williams Lake, has broken, rolling terrain, but both the northern and southern portions contain mountain ranges with elevations only slightly lower than those of the Rockies. The valleys of the southern interior run north to south, and many contain large lakes.
The Western Mountain System is dominated by the glacier-covered Coast Mountains, which include the province’s highest peak, Mount Fairweather, in the extreme northwest. The many islands along the Pacific coast are the highest points of a partly submerged mountain range. Much of the coast has fjord scenery, consisting of many narrow inlets between steep cliffs. The only significant coastal lowlands are in the lower Fraser River Valley and around Victoria on southeastern Vancouver Island.
B Rivers and Lakes
Runoff from the mountains feeds many streams and large rivers in British Columbia. The most prominent are the Fraser, Skeena, Nass, Stikine, Columbia, and Kootenay rivers, all of which run toward the Pacific Ocean, and the Peace River, which flows northeast toward the Arctic Ocean. The Fraser rises in the Rocky Mountains and is joined by the Nechako, Quesnel, Chilcotin, and Thompson rivers along its 1,370-km (850-mi) course to the Strait of Georgia, near Vancouver.
The Columbia River, one of the largest rivers in western North America, begins in southeastern British Columbia and flows 740 km (460 mi) before entering the United States. Rivers and their valleys have provided important, if often difficult, routes through the mountains for people in British Columbia. The Fraser, in particular, forms an important transportation corridor.
British Columbia has many large natural lakes, especially in the valleys of the southern and central interior. Among these are Babine, Atlin, Kootenay, Ootsa, Okanagan, Upper and Lower Arrow, and Quesnel lakes. Several high dams have impounded large reservoirs, particularly on the Columbia, Nechako, and Peace rivers. Williston Lake, on the Peace River, is the province’s largest freshwater body. Hydroelectric power generation is well developed, although the Fraser, Nass, and Skeena rivers have not been dammed in order to protect the salmon runs on them.
C Climate
Climatic conditions vary greatly within small distances in this mountainous region. In broad terms, coastal British Columbia has a mild climate; winters are wet and cool, and summers are warm and somewhat drier, especially in the south. The average coastal temperature is about 0°C (32°F) in January and ranges between 16° and 21°C (60° and 70°F) in July. Moist ocean winds bring large amounts of precipitation to the coastal region, especially in autumn and winter. Annual precipitation generally exceeds 2,500 mm (100 in) on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but is less than 1,000 mm (40 in) in some areas around Georgia Strait.
The interior (eastern and especially northeastern) parts of the province have a more extreme climate. Winters are cold, summers quite warm, and there is moderate precipitation. Average temperatures range from -15° to -10°C (5° to 14°F) in January, to July temperatures between 16° and 22°C (60° and 74°F). Average precipitation varies greatly with height above sea level and the rain-shadow effect of the mountains. Parts of the Rocky and Columbia mountains average 1,500 to 2,500 mm (60 to 100 in) a year; some plateau areas receive less than 300 mm (12 in). Coastal areas and lower elevations south of Quesnel (in the central part of the province) and west of the Columbia ranges generally have at least 100 frost-free days; lack of rainfall is thus more of a constraint on agriculture than is temperature in these areas. The lowest temperature ever recorded in British Columbia was -58.9°C (-74° F), in Smith River in 1947. The highest was 44.4°C (111.9°F), at Lillooet in 1941.
A Plant Life
Forests cover 69 percent of British Columbia, and the province contains nearly 40 percent of Canada’s commercial-quality wood. The coastal forest, with western hemlock, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and various cedars, grows rapidly in the mild, wet climate and produces the largest trees in Canada. In the dry lowlands of the southern and central interior, ponderosa and lodgepole pines, aspen, and bunchgrass are characteristic. Spruce dominates the Prince George region. Prairie grasses and stands of aspen are found in the northeastern corner of the province. At elevations higher than about 1,800 m (about 6,000 ft), an alpine vegetation of shrubs, mosses, and grasses occurs. Because parts of the Queen Charlotte Islands remained uncovered during the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago, they are biologically unique in Canada. Rare plant species occur in these islands, and many of the native land mammals and birds are unique subspecies.
B Animal Life
Large mammals are abundant in British Columbia and include grizzly bear, black bear, moose, caribou, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat. Other mammals include beaver, lynx, marten, mink, and otter. The great diversity of habitat also harbors a wide range of bird life, especially waterfowl. Also found are various species of frogs, toads, and snakes, including rattlesnakes in the southern interior. Coastal waters are rich in salmon, herring, tuna, and shellfish. Trout, pike, and sturgeon are important game fish in many of the rivers.
C Conservation
Mining and oil- and gas-extraction industries have been challenged since the 1970s as governmental policies regarding natural resource use have been criticized by environmentalists and indigenous peoples. There have been several well-publicized confrontations. A dispute over logging and land rights on the Queen Charlotte Islands embroiled the government, timber interests, environmentalists, and the indigenous people of the region in a lengthy debate. It led eventually to the designation of a national park reserve in the southern part of the islands.
In the 1990s, protests sought to limit exploitation of the Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound areas of Vancouver Island. The New Democratic Party provincial government of the early 1990s responded by establishing a Commission on Resources and the Environment and by setting aside substantial areas as parkland for recreational use. The revocation of mining rights in the remote Tatshenshini-Alsek wilderness area of northwestern British Columbia was spurred by protests organized by Tatshenshini Wild, a coalition of North American environmentalists. As a result, the government had to pay substantial compensation to Royal Oak Mines, which had acquired mining rights to that area.
With the arrival of European traders and settlers beginning in the late 18th century, the economy of British Columbia came to be dominated by the exploitation of natural resources, including furs, gold, fish, lumber, and metallic ores. The economy is now more diversified, and Vancouver is one of Canada’s leading commercial centers. Agriculture is far less important in British Columbia than in other western provinces because good agricultural land is scarce. Lumbering, mining, and ocean and inshore fishing all remain important sources of both employment and income. The many rivers also provide enormous hydroelectric power resources. In 2006 the gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of all goods and services produced, was C$180.3 billion.
Alternating periods of economic prosperity and hardship that mark most natural resource economies have affected the economic fortunes of the entire province, especially the resource-dependent smaller communities. In consequence, the provincial government (which controls more than 90 percent of British Columbia’s land), has been promoting recreation and tourism recently in an effort to bring in newer and more stable sources of revenue.
A Agriculture
In 2006 British Columbia had 19,844 farms, which average 143 hectares (353 acres) in size. Only about 3 percent of the province’s total area is agricultural land, but the land that is farmed is extremely productive. The Peace River area produces most of the grain harvested in British Columbia. Ranching is concentrated on the grassland plateau of the south central interior. Dairy farming is especially important in the Lower Fraser Valley.
Important crop-raising areas are the Lower Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, where truck farming (farming for nearby urban markets) predominates, and the Okanagan Valley, where fruits and vegetables are raised on irrigated land. Fruit is also grown commercially in the Creston area of southeastern British Columbia. The province is a leading Canadian producer of apples, cherries, and plums (mainly from the Okanagan Valley), and raspberries and cranberries (from the Lower Fraser Valley). Flowers and bulbs are a specialty crop of the southwest.
B Fisheries
While the commercial fishing industry accounts for only a small share of the annual gross domestic product in British Columbia, it remains important to many coastal communities with fishing fleets. Five species of Pacific salmon—pink, coho, chinook, chum, and sockeye—are caught. These fish are anadromous, that is, they are hatched in fresh water, then spend their adult lives in the sea before returning, three to five years later, to their native stream to spawn. Although heavily managed, salmon stocks have fluctuated widely.
Competition between U.S. and Canadian fishing fleets is regulated by the Pacific Salmon Commission, which was formed to oversee implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty that was signed in 1985. As fish resources have declined, tensions have risen. The issue has been further complicated by the expansion of fishing by indigenous peoples in recent years. Beginning in the mid-1990s, chinook and sockeye stocks were far lower than expected, and “openings” of the Fraser River fishery (short periods when boats are permitted to catch migrating fish near the river mouth) were severely limited. Many salmon fishers have taken advantage of an offer by the federal government to buy back their licenses in order to trim the size of the fleet and thereby ease the demand on the depleted stocks.
Salmon farming was introduced in the region in the 1970s, as companies built fish pens to grow and harvest Atlantic salmon in the province’s coastal waters. The industry has become a significant sector in British Columbia’s agricultural economy, accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity annually. However, salmon farming also has become controversial because it can be a source of pollution, as well as a potential threat to wild salmon populations through disease, parasites, and interbreeding with escaped farmed stock. See also Aquaculture.
Declining wild fish stocks have also affected sport fishing, which became more popular in the 1980s. In the 1980s and 1990s herring provided another valuable catch—especially for the roe (eggs), which is marketed in Japan—but this fish stock has also declined. Hake, rockfish, halibut, crab, oysters, and shrimp are also harvested.
C Forestry
Among British Columbia’s natural resources, forestry was the leading sector of the economy throughout the 20th century; the province has about one-fifth of the commercial forest land in Canada. Forestry supplies raw materials for the province’s most important manufacturing industries. About 40 percent of the lumber cut in British Columbia comes from the coastal regions, which is where logging began in the province in the 1840s. After 1945 exploitation of interior forests grew. Beginning in the 1970s approximately half of provincial forest products, by value, came from noncoastal areas. Nearly all of the output is Douglas fir, hemlock, and western red cedar. Most of Canada’s plywood, well over half its lumber, and between one-fifth and one-quarter of its pulp and paper come from British Columbia.
In recent years, the timber industry has come under heavy criticism for the extent of its logging, its insistence on the need to cut remaining old-growth forest, and the ecological impacts of its logging practices. It has also suffered severe competition from producers in areas where trees grow more rapidly than they do in British Columbia, where environmental regulations are less stringent, and where labor costs are lower. The industry has responded by upgrading its mills, reducing its workforce by introducing new technologies, reconsidering its cutting and reforestation practices, and mounting publicity campaigns. Still, the proportion of the labor force employed in logging and forestry is falling, and the industry is no longer as important in the British Columbian economy as it once was.
D Mining
The principal metals produced by the British Columbia mining industry are gold, copper, zinc, and all of Canada’s molybdenum. Silver, lead, and sulfur are also mined. Natural gas and coal are the most important products in terms of value. The major copper mines have been concentrated in the intermontane plateau (Ashcroft, near Kamloops; Merritt; Princeton; Summerland; Williams Lake). Coal has long been mined in southeastern British Columbia, near Fernie. Large amounts of capital were invested in the North East Coal project to open mines at Tumbler Ridge, between Prince George and Dawson Creek. These mines were intended to supply Japanese markets, but their costs have been prohibitively high. The major markets for British Columbia’s mining industry are outside of Canada, making the industry subject to changes in the international economy. Petroleum and natural gas are extracted in the northeast, and new large natural gas reserves have been located in the sedimentary rocks of this area, which already supplies markets in southern Canada and the northwestern United States by pipeline.
E Manufacturing
Manufacturing accounts for 10 percent of the annual gross domestic product in British Columbia and employs 10 percent of the workforce. Wood processing is the province’s most important manufacturing industry. It provides jobs for a significant proportion of the manufacturing labor force, and accounts for one-quarter or more of the value added by manufacturing in the province. Much of the production is dimension lumber (lumber cut to specific sizes), large quantities of which are sold to the United States for building construction. Some new mills (such as that at Chemainus on Vancouver Island) produce lumber for the Japanese market. Pulp and paper production is also of great significance to the provincial economy and serves a range of markets, including the U.S. market. Food and beverage production (including fish canning, wine making, brewing, and freezing fruit and vegetables) is mainly for local markets.
Other significant manufacturing output comes from petroleum and coal products, fabricated metals and ore, printed materials, and chemical products. The Vancouver metropolitan area is by far the province’s most important manufacturing region. Victoria and Prince George are much smaller manufacturing centers. Other manufacturing, mainly wood and mineral processing, is distributed in small towns across the province.
F Energy
British Columbia has enormous potential for energy development. Potential hydroelectric sites and fossil fuel reserves are capable of developing tens of thousands of megawatts if fully exploited. Some of them are remote, for example, the Yukon-Taku and Liard River basins of the far northwest; and others are currently environmentally unacceptable, such as the development of dams on major salmon spawning rivers. Still, the province produces more energy than it requires; electrical power is exported by transmission lines to the United States, and large quantities of coal are shipped to Japan.
Four-fifths of the electricity generated in the province comes from hydroelectric installations. Transmission lines carry electricity generated on the Bridge River, the Peace River, and Mica Creek to metropolitan Vancouver and, with smaller generators closer at hand, provide power to its urban areas. Peak demands are met using the output from thermal plants in Port Moody and on the Fraser River; these plants use petroleum distillates and natural gas. The costs of new hydroelectric development, as well as concern about the environmental impacts of new hydroelectric and thermal sites, have led the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority to encourage energy conservation. See Waterpower.
G Tourist Industry
Tourism is a significant and growing sector of the British Columbian economy. Vancouver and Victoria are major tourist destinations. Victoria has celebrated its “Englishness” to appeal in particular to visitors from the United States. Vancouver holds a great variety of attractions from the scenic to the cultural, from sports events to fine restaurants. It is a major port of entry for visitors arriving in British Columbia by air, and a departure point for cruise-ship vacations on the British Columbian and Alaskan coasts.
In the summer, camping is popular among provincial residents, and campgrounds on Vancouver Island, in the Okanagan Valley, and in the Rocky Mountains in particular draw sizable numbers from the western United States and Alberta. Resort destinations and luxury hotel accommodations are also a significant part of the tourism infrastructure. The Whistler-Blackcomb area, less than two hours drive north of Vancouver, is a world-class ski resort and a year-round recreational center. Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island draws many tourists every year. Large and rapid growth in tourism from Asia (and Japan in particular) occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Initially concentrated on sightseeing, this traffic has diversified to include significant numbers who come to British Columbia for skiing or golfing holidays.
H Transportation
The mountains of British Columbia have presented a significant challenge to development. Even today, land transportation routes are concentrated in narrow river valleys and are relatively rare in the northern and north-central parts of the province. The Fraser River Valley, which carries two transcontinental railways as well as the Trans-Canada Highway, is a principal transportation corridor. The Nechako and Skeena valleys, which carry the railroad and highway into Prince Rupert, fill a similar role in the north. The provincial highway network was poorly developed before the 1950s, but was much improved by the development policies of the Social Credit government after 1952. Paving of the British Columbia section of the Trans-Canada Highway was completed in 1962.
Generally, the topography of the province has allowed movement from north to south more easily than from east to west. Only four passes cross the Rocky Mountains, and vast areas (the triangle between Prince Rupert, Prince George, and Vancouver, and the north central interior) are almost devoid of public roads. Construction of the high-speed Coquihalla toll highway between Hope and Kamloops in the mid-1980s and the later development of a connecting link to the Okanagan Valley have greatly improved access to the southern interior from the Lower Mainland (Vancouver and its vicinity). These highways stimulated a development boom in the communities of Kamloops and Kelowna, and encouraged tourism in the Okanagan Valley and southern Cariboo regions.
In 2004 British Columbia had 204,800 km (127,257 mi) of roads and streets. The Alcan (Alaska-Canada) or Alaska Highway, which links Dawson Creek with Delta Junction, Alaska, was built in 1942 for strategic reasons following the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands during World War II. At the same time, the Hart highway linking Prince George and Dawson Creek was improved. The only north-south line is the British Columbia Railway, which connects Vancouver with Prince George and the Peace River district by crossing the Coast Mountains between Squamish and Lillooet, and following the Fraser River and Rocky Mountain Trench to Pine Pass through the Rocky Mountains. Transcontinental lines, which use the Crowsnest, Kicking Horse, and Yellowhead passes through the Rockies, terminate in Vancouver, and an additional transcontinental route through Yellowhead Pass runs to Prince Rupert.
The port of Vancouver is the busiest in Canada, handling about one-third of the tonnage loaded for export. It is essentially a bulk cargo port handling grains (especially wheat) and minerals. Other ports in British Columbia include Prince Rupert and East Vancouver Island. Vancouver International Airport is one of the busiest in Canada, and both terminal and runway facilities were expanded in the mid-1990s. Victoria also has an international airport. Fast and efficient ferries link the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island and serve many of the islands in the Strait of Georgia.
A Population Patterns
According to the 2001 census, British Columbia ranked third among the provinces (after Ontario and Québec), with a population of 3,907,738. This figure represented an increase of 19 percent over the 1991 figure of 3,282,061. The overall population density in 2006 was only 4.6 persons per sq km (12 per sq mi); the distribution of population, however, was extremely uneven, with the majority concentrated in the southwest and in the valleys of the south central part of the province.
Indigenous peoples in the province account for 4.8 percent of the population. The great majority of indigenous peoples in British Columbia belong to seven linguistic groups: Kootenay, Salishan, Haida, Tlingit, Wakashan, Tsimshian, and Athapaskan. Overall in the province, according to the 2006 census, English is the primary language of 82 percent of the people; 7 percent speak both French and English. People of Asian descent, particularly people from China and India, make up a significant and growing minority in British Columbia, concentrated primarily in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland area. The United Church of Canada, a Protestant denomination, is the largest religious group in the province.
Residents of cities and towns account for 85 percent of all British Columbians. The province’s largest cities are Vancouver, with a 2006 population of 578,041 in the city and 2,236,100 in the metropolitan area in 2006; Victoria, the provincial capital and main city of Vancouver Island (city, 78,057; metropolitan area, 334,300); Kelowna (106,707), the hub city of the Okanagan Valley; Prince George (70,981), the major center of north central British Columbia; and Kamloops (80,376), a transportation center that serves the southern Cariboo country.
Recent growth has occurred mainly in the greater Vancouver area and in regional centers. Of particular note has been the population increase attributable to the migration of retirees to such places as Victoria, White Rock (near Vancouver), Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo, and the Okanagan Valley. The influx of immigrants from Asia has placed large demands on education; in many Vancouver elementary schools a majority of children speak English as a second language. The growing number of senior citizens has also increased demands on the health care system.
The first schools in what is now British Columbia were established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in about 1853 on Vancouver Island. The present public school system originated with the Public School Act of 1872. Education is free and compulsory for children ages 7 to 15, and schools are funded by the provincial government and local property taxes. There are also several independently funded private schools, and some schools operated by religious groups.
Postsecondary education is offered in universities, university colleges, colleges, and institutes. Universities include the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (founded in 1908); Simon Fraser University (1963) in Burnaby; the University of Victoria (1963) in Victoria; Trinity Western University (given degree-granting status in 1979), a religious foundation in Langley; the Open Learning Institute, which provides education by correspondence; and the University of Northern British Columbia (1994) in Prince George. The British Columbia Institute of Technology (1964) and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (1925), in Burnaby and Vancouver respectively, are the leading technical and vocational institutes. Colleges in Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and the Fraser Valley recently achieved independent degree-granting status. Two-year colleges, which offer vocational and academic programs, are located in most cities.
Vancouver is the cultural heart of the province, but Victoria and other communities also have many cultural institutions. The leading museums in Vancouver include the Vancouver Museum, with historical and anthropological collections; the Museum of Anthropology, on the campus of the University of British Columbia, with a large and important collection of Northwest Coast artifacts and a building designed by renowned local architect Arthur Erickson; and the Maritime Museum, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch, which twice completed the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Vancouver Museum, Planetarium, Maritime Museum, and Archives are located in a waterfront park near the entrance to False Creek. The Pacific National Exhibition, with agricultural and industrial exhibits, is held in Vancouver every year in late August. Museums in Victoria include the Royal British Columbia Museum, containing artifacts and displays relating to the lives of indigenous peoples and European settlers, and a maritime museum. Thunderbird Park in Victoria has an excellent collection of totem poles. Many communities have local museums, several of which are excellent. Ksan Indian Village in Hazelton is a detailed village reconstruction from the 1800s, and there are cultural performances there every summer.
British Columbia has more than 550 municipal, regional, academic, and special libraries. The largest public library system is in Vancouver, where the central library is housed in a new building designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie. The leading research library is at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The Legislative Library and the Provincial Archives, which have materials related to the province’s history, are in Victoria.
Both Vancouver and Victoria have symphony orchestras and opera companies, and Vancouver also has a ballet company. Prince George also has a symphony orchestra. The province’s foremost theaters and concert halls include, in Vancouver, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum, and the Chan Shun Centre, and in Victoria, the McPherson Playhouse. Nearly 30 professional theater groups and nine dance companies are active in British Columbia.
A Communications
In 2002 British Columbia had 54 AM and 44 FM radio stations. The first radio station to begin broadcasting was CKMO in Vancouver in 1922. The province has 8 local television stations.
As of 2002 the province had 16 daily newspapers. The leading newspapers include the Vancouver Sun and the Province in Vancouver, and the Times-Colonist in Victoria. The first newspaper published in what is now British Columbia, the Victoria Gazette, appeared in Victoria in 1858.
British Columbia is famous for its spectacular mountains and beautiful coastal scenery, which are well represented in the many provincial and federal parks, including Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Pacific Rim national parks. Parts of the Queen Charlotte Islands have been designated a National Park reserve.
National and local politicians have worked actively to preserve the rugged wilderness of British Columbia. In the mid-1990s the provincial government set aside a large area in northwestern British Columbia as the Tatshenshini-Alsek wilderness. With adjacent Kluane National Park and Reserve in Yukon Territory and Alaska’s Wrangell-Saint Elias and Glacier Bay national parks, this area forms a continuous, spectacular, undisturbed wilderness totaling 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq mi) in three political jurisdictions.
In early 2006 provincial officials announced the creation of the Great Bear Rain Forest, which preserves 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of British Columbian coastal wilderness as parkland. The park is about twice the size of Yellowstone National Park in the United States. The agreement, which took about a decade to formulate, also strictly limits development and resource exploitation on an additional 4.6 million hectares (11.4 million acres) in the region.
Vancouver is home to a number of major professional sports franchises. B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, one of the largest air-supported domes in the world, was built for Expo ’86 and is the home of the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. The Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League (NHL) play in nearby General Motors Place. The Vancouver Canadians play AAA baseball in Nat Bailey Stadium.
A Historical Sites
Most of British Columbia’s historical sites commemorate the pioneers and early settlers of the province. Barkerville Provincial Historical Park, in the Cariboo Mountains, is a restored mining town that was founded during the gold rush of the 1860s. National historical sites in the province are Fort Langley, east of Vancouver, a reconstruction of the Hudson’s Bay Company fort, and Fort Rodd Hill, near Victoria, with 19th-century fortifications.
A National Representation
British Columbia is represented by 36 members in the Canadian House of Commons and by six senators, appointed by the Canadian governor-general, in the upper house, or Senate of the federal government.
B Executive
The formal chief executive of British Columbia is the lieutenant governor, who is appointed by the Canadian governor-general and who represents the British monarch in the province. The position is largely ceremonial. Executive powers actually rest with the premier, who is a member of the legislature and usually the leader of the majority party. The premier appoints about 20 ministers to the cabinet (executive council) from among the members of the party. The ministers direct and formulate policy for the departments of the provincial government.
C Legislative
British Columbia has a unicameral (single-house) legislature, called the Legislative Assembly. It has 79 members elected from single-member geographical legislative districts by popular vote for a maximum of five years. The lieutenant governor, on the recommendation of the premier, may call for an election before the five-year period ends.
D Judicial
There are three levels of courts in British Columbia: the B.C. Court of Appeal, The Supreme Court of B.C. and the Provincial Court. Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are appointed by the governor-general of Canada in Council. Judges of the Provincial Court are appointed by the lieutenant governor of British Columbia in Council on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, which includes the Chief Judges, lawyers, and lay members.
E Politics
The Conservative and Liberal parties dominated provincial politics from the beginning of the 20th century until the early 1950s. The right-wing Social Credit Party governed British Columbia from 1952 until 1972, combining fiscal conservatism with a pro-development stance. The social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) won a legislative majority in 1972. The Social Credit Party returned to power in 1975 and retained control until 1991, when the New Democrats won office for a second time. The NDP was reelected in 1996. It remained in power until 2001, when the Liberal Party became the ruling party.
A Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples settled the British Columbia coast at least 10,000 years ago. In a resource-rich environment, they developed complex societies that were separated by 19 distinct languages. However, the material culture of these societies exhibited basic similarities. Although styles and decorative details differed from group to group, the indigenous peoples up and down the coast built large wooden winter dwellings. Groups of these dwellings formed villages with houses ranged along the beach, facing the water.
Well before the arrival of Europeans in British Columbia, the indigenous peoples had vigorous economies that depended on intricate knowledge of local resources. Fishing, hunting, and gathering sustained large populations, and were pursued in a variety of ways. Fishing was done with baited hooks, spears, and nets. Bows and arrows, snares, nets, and traps were used for hunting land mammals and seabirds. Shellfish, berries, and edible roots were gathered on the coast and along the major rivers of the province. Several species of salmon yielded a catch sufficient to allow trade with other indigenous groups. Dugout canoes were common, and many everyday items, including house posts, ceremonial masks, and eating utensils, were decorated in ornate, regionally distinctive styles.
Social organization revolved around close kin units, with spouses from other kin units married into the group. These family groups occupied a house or cluster of houses in the winter village and followed a formal leader who was responsible for the family’s possessions, both material (house sites, fishing sites, berry patches) and nonmaterial (names, ritual performances, special songs). Some populations (in particular the Coast Salish) were decimated by European diseases at the turn of the 19th century, and others declined later in the face of a growing European presence in their traditional territories. The introduction of European clothing, tools, and ideas by traders and missionaries severely affected the culture of the indigenous peoples. This effect was worsened by government policies that both banned the ceremonial potlatch (a traditional gathering at which gifts were given) and forced compulsory education in European schools, where native languages were forbidden.
Despite these problems, parts of the culture have proven resilient. This resilience has formed the basis for a recent revitalization of indigenous culture. However, the question of land rights remains. The indigenous nations were often deprived of their land after white settlers arrived in British Columbia and in 1876 and again in 1912, they were forced onto reservations. To this day indigenous peoples of the West Coast argue forcefully for recognition of their land rights.
B Early White Settlers
The Danish navigator Vitus Bering first sighted what is now British Columbia in 1741. In 1774 the coast was noted on charts by the Spanish explorer Juan Perez Hernandez. British trading with the indigenous peoples of the northern coast followed the visit of the British explorer Captain James Cook to Nootka in 1778. Into the 1790s, claims to the area were disputed by Britain and Spain, and in 1789 the Spanish seized British ships in Nootka Sound. Britain protested. Hostilities continued until 1794, when under the terms of the Third Nootka Convention, Spain and Britain accepted each other’s right to trade on the north Pacific coast, and in 1795 both countries withdrew from Nootka Sound.
British claims to the region were strengthened by the arrival of Sir Alexander Mackenzie on the coast in 1793. In the service of the fur-trading North West Company, Mackenzie navigated the Peace and Parsnip rivers from Lake Athabasca in search of an overland route to the Pacific. He crossed the low divide to the Fraser River, and found a low pass through the Coast Mountains to the sea near Bella Coola. Other fur traders from the interior followed, and a fur-trading post, Fort George, was built in 1807 on the site of present-day Prince George.
From this interior fur-trading region, the American-born trader and explorer Simon Fraser completed the exploration of the Fraser River, arriving at its mouth in July 1808. At about the same time, the Canadian surveyor and explorer David Thompson mapped the rivers of the Kootenay region, and in 1812 he explored the Columbia River to its mouth. In the early 19th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company (which merged with the North West Company in 1821) claimed trading rights through the Columbia District (present-day northwestern United States) and New Caledonia (current central British Columbia).
Fort Langley, the company’s first coastal trading post, was built in 1827 near the mouth of the Fraser River, and the company’s West Coast headquarters, Fort Victoria, was erected in 1843. When the Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the 49th parallel as the boundary between British and United States territory, Victoria became the center of British interests. In order to protect the territory, Britain proclaimed Vancouver’s Island (the old name of Vancouver Island) a crown colony in 1849, naming Victoria the capital. The first governor, Richard Blanshard, had little authority over the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The British government acknowledged this fact in 1851 by naming the head of the Hudson’s Bay Company on the island, James Douglas, governor of the colony. In the same year the Queen Charlotte Islands were made a dependency of the Vancouver’s Island colony.
C The Gold Rush
In 1858 gold was discovered in the central Fraser River Valley and the Cariboo Mountains. A rush to the area began, with miners flocking north from San Francisco. As a result, the British Colonial Office created a new colony of British Columbia on the mainland. Douglas, who remained governor of Vancouver’s Island, was also named governor of British Columbia. In the early 1860s, the rowdy boomtown of Barkerville was the center of the Cariboo mining population; at its peak it had a population of 25,000. New Westminster, on the north bank of the Fraser River just above its delta, was proclaimed capital of the new colony. Access to the interior was greatly improved when the Royal Engineers built a road through the Fraser River canyon. In order to control the northward movement of the gold miners, the territory of Stikine was added to British Columbia in 1862.
After the easy-to-find alluvial gold was exhausted, the excitement of the search subsided, and the gold-seeking population of the interior drifted out of the colony or migrated to the coast. In 1866 the mainland and island colonies were merged into a single entity, with New Westminster as capital; in 1868, however, the capital was reestablished in the older settlement of Victoria.
D Confederation
When British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada in 1871, it was on the condition that the province be connected to central Canada by railroad. Delays in construction angered provincial leaders, who at times threatened secession, but in 1886, the first trains reached the west coast. The location of the western terminal became the city of Vancouver.
E Economic Development
The province grew slowly until the 1890s, and it was only after the turn of the century that the population began to increase dramatically. The population rose from about 179,000 in 1901 to 525,000 in 1921; by this time Vancouver had become Canada’s third largest metropolitan area. Economic expansion began after World War I (1914-1918) with additional railroad connections, the development of steamship lines, and an influx of foreign capital. The eastern ports of the United States and Canada were opened to the products of British Columbia via the Panama Canal, which connected the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Trade also developed with countries across the Pacific, and the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company brought a fleet of steamships to exploit this, extending a so-called “all red” (British) route to Asia.
British Columbia’s economy was largely based on the exploitation of natural resources through mining, lumbering, and fisheries, which produced a range of goods for export. This economy was quickly dominated by large-scale enterprises employing many workers, a situation that gave rise to serious class tension, militant trade unions, and socialist movements. The provincial legislature, however, remained dominated by individuals and parties committed to rapid growth.
Class tensions were increased by the presence of Asian immigrants, who first came to British Columbia with the gold rush. Their numbers later swelled with the arrival of laborers hired by the railroads. After 1890 the Chinese were joined by Japanese newcomers who soon became important in the fishing industry. Pressured by the white labor force and by anti-Asian riots, the provincial governments first moved to restrict immigration themselves and then successfully lobbied the federal government to enact restrictions. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 and other federal legislation eventually cut off immigration from Asia. The significant Asian population that remained in the province continued to be the target of white hostility. During World War II (1939-1945), the federal government interned Japanese Canadians and appropriated their property (more than 40 years later the Canadian government apologized for this action). Provincial voting rights were not extended to Chinese and Japanese citizens until 1949. See also Ethnic Groups in Canada.
Although about 70 percent of British Columbia’s population has lived in the southwestern corner of the province, attempts to develop the interior accelerated after 1947. New roads and rail connections were completed. With irrigation, agriculture expanded in the Okanagan Valley and elsewhere, but until recently—and still to a substantial degree—the province’s fortunes have remained tied to the export markets for minerals, fish, lumber, and energy. The Columbia River Treaty with the United States in 1961, and a 1963 agreement with the federal government, opened up development of the Columbia River and Peace River hydroelectric dam projects. Hydroelectric power is now exported to the state of Washington. Since 1970 new money has come from Japan and Hong Kong to assist the exploitation of natural resources, especially in the interior. Partly as a result of these developments, the population of British Columbia has grown from about 818,000 in 1941 to more than 3.9 million in 2001.
In 2003 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Vancouver would host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The city narrowly beat out Pyeongchang, South Korea, in bidding for the event. The Olympics is expected to bring millions of dollars in tourism to British Columbia.
F Political Development
Provincial politics has been dominated for long periods by governments favoring business. Provincial politicians aligned themselves with federal political parties early in the 20th century, when Richard McBride assumed office under the Conservative Party. Liberals formed their first government in 1916 under H.C. Brewster and were replaced 12 years later by Simon Tolmie’s Conservatives. Reflecting the interests of workers, the Labour Party managed to elect a few members to the legislature in the 1920s.
During the Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s, the Liberal Party led by T. Dufferin Pattullo came to power. Elected in 1933, they attempted to introduce social welfare programs like those of the New Deal in the United States. However, provincial resources were insufficient to support these initiatives. Pattullo’s government was replaced in 1941 by a Liberal-Conservative coalition formed to meet the threat of the powerful socialist opposition of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which took 31 percent of the vote in 1933 and held its support during the hard times that followed.
When this coalition deteriorated, W. A. C. Bennett led a new party supporting free enterprise, the Social Credit Party, to power in 1952. For the next 20 years the party, under his leadership, retained power with its anti-Socialist position and predictions of continued prosperity. In 1972 the New Democratic Party (NDP), successor to the CCF, won office and launched a series of economic and social reforms. This move was reversed in 1975 when a revitalized Social Credit Party, led by William R. Bennett, son of the former premier, was swept back into power. Bennett worked to make the province a haven for free enterprise. He resigned as premier in 1986 and was succeeded by William Vander Zalm. Vander Zalm’s government was constantly troubled by accusations of mismanagement and scandals, and he resigned under a cloud of conflict-of-interest charges (of which he was later acquitted). Rita Johnston succeeded Vander Zalm in April 1991 to become the first female premier in Canadian history, but lost her position after only seven months in an election that returned the NDP, led by Michael Harcourt, to power.
In its first four years, Harcourt’s NDP government began treaty negotiations to resolve the issue of the land rights of indigenous peoples. In 1993 the British Columbia Treaty Commission was created by agreement of the provincial and federal governments and the First Nations Summit, a negotiating body representing a number of indigenous peoples. The agreement supports the inclusion of self-government as a negotiation topic, along with land and resource rights, with the goal of implementing the indigenous peoples’ recognized inherent right of self-government.
To address environmental concerns, the government established the Commission on Resources and the Environment, formulated new guidelines for forest exploitation, and made a commitment to expand British Columbia’s protected areas (including national parks) to 12 percent of the land base by 2000. In 1995, 106 new fully protected parks, encompassing 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres), were established by an act of the legislature.
Harcourt resigned in February 1996 amid allegations that the NDP had misused charity funds for political purposes. The NDP appointed Glen Clark, the provincial employment and investment minister, as acting premier. One of Clark’s first acts as premier was to reduce the size of the cabinet and eliminate about 1,500 jobs from the provincial government. The NDP returned to power with a reduced majority following elections in May 1996, and Clark continued as premier.
Clark resigned as premier and party leader in 1999 after authorities revealed that he was under criminal investigation for allegedly helping a group of investors obtain a casino license. Deputy premier Dan Miller acted as interim premier until early 2000, when provincial attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh became premier after being elected the NDP’s new leader. In elections in 2001 the Liberal Party overwhelmingly defeated the NDP, and the party’s provincial leader, Gordon Campbell, became premier. Campbell won reelection in 2005, but the Liberals went from a 77-2 advantage over the NDP in the Legislative Assembly to a margin of 46-33.

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