BRITISH COLUMBIA, the Pacific Province

Overview and history

British_Columbia : points of interest
other provinces

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BRITISH COLUMBIA is also called the Pacific Province. It lies between Alberta and the Pacific, and it is Canada's third largest province. Its capital is Victoria, and the largest city is Vancouver. The city of Victoria is located on the quite large Vancouver Island, while the city of Vancouver is located on the mainland. British Columbia has approximately 3.9 million inhabitants, with a density of 4.2 per km2. More than half of the population lives in and around Vancouver and Victoria.

British Columbia has a surface of about 947,800 km2, and the province is forested for 64%. The highest peak is Mount Fairweather with 4,663 m, and the coast presents a fjordic landscape. The animal kingdom is particularly well represented with the grizzly bear and black bear, moose, caribou, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, beaver, lynx, marten, otter and mink.

In 1871, British Columbia became the sixth province to join the Confederation of Canada. The local economy started with the exploitation of the large natural resources, such as furs, gold, fishing, wood and minerals. The government controls more than 90% of the surface, and it makes great efforts to diversify the revenue, and to promote tourism. This province is particularly known for its spectacular mountains and its beautiful coastline.

map of British Columbia

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*** Read more about Prehistoric American-Indian cultures ***

The coast of British Columbia has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years, and the local Indian tribes spoke 19 different languages. These tribes had a strong economy, based on local natural resources. Around 1800, several tribes were completely wiped out by European diseases, and others were gradually displaced by European settlers.

The introduction of European clothing, tools and ideas had an enormous impact on their lives, especially since the government banned their ceremonial customs and their language, and imposed a European education on them by force. Furthermore, their territory was gradually occupied and taken away, and in 1876 and 1912, most Indians were locked up in reservations.

The first European explorer in British Columbia was the Dane Vitus Bering, in 1741. In 1774, the coastline was recorded by the Spanish explorer Juan Perez Hernandez. In 1788, the British explorer Captain James Cook visited Nootka, and the British developed trade with the locals. In 1789, the Spanish attacked British ships at Nootka Sound, but in 1794 a treaty was negotiated, in which both powers recognized each other's right to trade.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie later explored the territory for the fur trade of the North West Company, and he also sought a land route to the Pacific Ocean. Other fur traders followed him, and in 1807 Fort George was built, near the city of present Prince George. It served as a base for further exploration, and in 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company merged. Their territory included the Columbia District (Oregon and Washington), and New Caledonia (British Columbia).

In 1846, the 49th parallel was established as the boundary between British and American regions. Three years later, Vancouver's Island was declared a British crown colony, but the Hudson's Bay Company was in full power. In 1858, gold was discovered in the Fraser River Valley and the Cariboo Mountains. This immediately caused a gold rush, which attracted many American miners from San Francisco. Just as immediately, a new British colony was founded on the mainland, namely British Columbia... In 1866, when the gold discoveries decreased, the two colonies were merged.

In 1871, British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada, on the condition that the province would be connected with central Canada through a railroad. In 1886, the first train reached the west coast.

After 1901, the population increased rapidly, and in 1921 Vancouver became Canada's third largest city. After World War I (1914-1918), additional railroads were built, and steamship lines were installed. The opening of the Panama Canal created a fast connection between the Pacific and Atlantic ocean, and ores, fish and wood were exported from British Columbia to the east coast of the US. The Canadian Pacific Railroad Company also built a fleet of steamships, needed for the British "All Red Route" to Asia.

The economy was soon dominated by large companies, which gave rise to a violent class struggle, militant unions and socialist societies. However, the government remained entirely under the control of a few wealthy families. Besides the class struggle, there was also a strong discrimination against Chinese and Japanese. These had previously been attracted in large quantities during the gold rush and for the construction of railroads. In 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act prohibited further Asian immigration, and they remained the targets of discriminatory measures.

During World War II (1940-1945), Japanese citizens were imprisoned in concentration camps, and their possessions were seized. Only forty years later, the federal government apologized for this, for whatever it was worth...

Politics have always been closely linked with Big Business, as much in the Conservative, the Liberal as in the Labor party. Political scandals were rampant, and so in 1986, the government of Premier William Vander Zalm was so to speak a continuous scene of mismanagement. In 1996, Premier Harcourt resigned for abuse of funds, and in 1999, Premier Clark was removed for tampering with Casino licenses...

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