North America's most mountainous regions.
B.C. is bordered by the province of Alberta, the Yukon Territory
and several U.S. states, including Alaska.
Given its location, British Columbia is a gateway to the Pacific
Sometimes simply categorized as part of Canada's "West,"
the province is actually a distinct region both geographically
The variety of its landscape is the main reason for B.C.'s
distinctiveness: its 947 800 km2 offer remarkable
Where the Pacific Ocean reaches the continent,
it meets a chain of islands, large and small,
running from north to south.
Some of these islands are nestled in fiords carved
in the majestic Coastal Mountains, which rise more
than 2000 m above sea level.
To the east of the Coastal Mountains lies a rolling
upland of forests, natural grasslands and lakes.
Farther east, the Rocky Mountains
(with peaks more than 4000 m high)
separate B.C. from neighbouring Alberta.
In the north, a small corner of the province is
occupied by the Great Plains.
The province's climate equals its topography for variety.
For example, the mild coastal region receives
abundant precipitation - from 130 to 380 cm of rain a year -
while the interior has a continental climate.
Other parts of the province are almost desert-like,
with very hot summers followed by very cold winters.
The Aboriginal peoples of British Columbia developed a rich
and complex culture.
Because of the diversity of the Pacific coast -
mild to cold climate, seashore to mountains -
the tribes that settled in this area developed completely
different cultures and languages.
The coastal inhabitants were experts at wood sculpture,
as their totem polls attest even today.
They were also famous for their skill and courage in whaling.
As for their social system, it was marked by occasions such
as the potlatch - a ceremony in which important gifts were
given to guests - and by theatrical displays.
In 1774, the first Europeans, under the flag of Spain,
visited what is now British Columbia.
In contrast with eastern Canada, where the English and
French were the two nationalities fighting over territory,
Spain and Russia were the first countries to claim ownership
of certain parts of British Columbia.
In the 18th century, the Spanish claimed the west coast
from Mexico to Vancouver Island.
At the same time, the Russians were making an overlapping
claim for control of the Pacific coast from Alaska
to San Francisco.
In 1778, Captain James Cook of Great Britain became the
first person to chart the region.
The first permanent colony, in present-day Victoria,
was established by the British in 1843.
When gold was discovered in the lower Fraser Valley
in 1857, thousands of people came in search of instant wealth.
To help maintain law and order, the British government
established the colony of British Columbia the following year.
In 1866, when the frenzy of the gold rush was over, the colony of
Vancouver Island joined British Columbia.
The colony was cut off from the rest of British North America
by thousands of kilometres and a mountain range.
The promise of a rail link between the Pacific coast and
the rest of Canada convinced British Columbia to join
Confederation in 1871.
but the population is enriched by immigrants and
descendants of immigrants of all nationalities.
More than 100 000 British Columbians are descendants
of the thousands of Chinese who took part in the construction
of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century.
Today, Vancouver has North America's second-largest
In addition, more than 60 000 of B.C. inhabitants are from
India and over 16 000 from Japan.
British Columbians of Asian heritage have contributed
tremendously to the province's economic and cultural
The Aboriginal population of British Columbia,
which began to decline with the arrival of the first
European settlers, is enjoying new strength.
It is growing in numbers (more than 165 000 people in 1991)
and has developed strong Aboriginal organizations.
This new energy coincides with a renaissance
in Aboriginal cultural and artistic expression.
British Columbia continues to attract Canadians and foreigners
alike: 40 000 persons settle in the province each year,
and its population now exceeds 3.8 million - 12 percent of
Nearly 60 percent live in the Victoria (capital of the province)
and Vancouver areas.
Vancouver, the largest dry cargo port on the Pacific coast of
North America, is home to more than 1.8 million people,
which makes it the third-largest Canadian city.
primarily its vast forests,
which cover 56 percent of its total area.
Conifers from these forests are converted into lumber,
newsprint, pulp and paper products, shingles and shakes -
about half the total softwood inventory of Canada.
Tourism is the next most important economic sector.
Each year, about 15 million people visit British Columbia.
With over five million hectares of parkland,
the Rocky Mountains remain the biggest attraction.
Coastal B.C., with its beaches, hiking trails, artists'
colonies, wildlife reserves, whale-sighting locales
and other attractions, is not far behind.
Of increasing attraction to visitors are the Queen
Charlotte Islands, large parts of which have recently
been set aside as parkland.
The area contains untouched wilderness and unique species of flora.
The abandoned Haida village of Ninstints is of such
historical and cultural importance that it has been
designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Mining is the province's third most important economic sector.
Copper, gold and zinc are the leading metals extracted from B.C.;
sulphur and asbestos are the leading industrial minerals.
The most valuable resources, however, are coal,
petroleum and natural gas.
Agriculture and fishing, especially salmon fishing,
are two other key sectors of the economy of British Columbia,
whose dairy cattle are among Canada's most productive.
The valleys of the southern interior,
principally the Okanagan Valley,
are famous for cultivation of tree fruits and grapes and
for their wine industry.
The cooler, wetter climate of the lower Fraser Valley
produces rich crops of berries and vegetables.
Manufacturing in B.C. is still largely resource-based,
but is being gradually diversified by high-tech and
computer-based industries related to telecommunications
and the aerospace and sub-sea industries.
British Columbia has the most balanced export market
of all Canada's provinces,
with the United States, Japan, the European Union
and the Pacific Rim countries as its clientele.