British Columbia - an introduction

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In 2008 British Columbia celebrated 150 years since its founding as a British Colony. It became a Province of Canada in 1871. It is the westernmost province and is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty. It is most often referred to by its initials: BC.


British Columbia is bordered by Alaska, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories to the north, Alberta to the east, Montana, Idaho and Washington to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The geography of the province is dominated by two great mountain ranges. In the east BC shares the Rocky Mountains with Alberta. In the west the Coast Mountains rise above Vancouver and dominate the coast before heading north into Alaska and the Yukon. Mt. Robson (3,954m) in BC is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The highest mountain completely in BC is Mt. Waddington in the Coast Mountains. (4,019m). The highest point is Fairweather Mountain (4,663m) which BC shares with Alaska.

Between these great mountain ranges are a series of lesser mountain ranges and inter-mountain plateaus. Over 75% of the province is above 1,000m (3,300ft) and there are only two significant arable areas, together comprising 5% of the land surface. In the northeast is the Peace district which is BC’s only part of the Canadian prairies. In the southwest the Fraser valley feeds the population of Vancouver.

British Columbia's land area is 944,735 square kilometers, almost four times the size of the UK. The coastline stretches for more than 27,000 kilometres, and includes deep, mountainous fjords and about 6,000 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The largest island, Vancouver Island, is a 90 minute ferry ride from the mainland.


The population of BC is just over 5 million people. The largest metropolitan area is Vancouver in the southwest corner of the province with 2.46 million inhabitants. Other major metropolitan areas are the capital city of Victoria at the southern end of Vancouver Island (368,000), Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley in the interior (195,000) and Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley (180,000).

Otherwise there are only 6 cities with populations greater than 50,000. These are Kamloops and Vernon in the southern interior, Nanaimo and Courtenay on Vancouver Island, Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley and Prince George in the northern interior.

British Columbia's cultural mosaic is also shifting. In recent years, immigration, especially from Asia, has been a major source of population growth, and the Vancouver area, along with other parts of the province, is becoming more diverse. Vancouver has the feel of a progressive, liberal city. Other parts of BC can be more traditional.


The coast is temperate rain forest. This is the mildest climate in Canada but is generally an area of heavy winter precipitation. Winters are fairly mild. Victoria is the only city in Canada to record a whole year in which the temperature did not fall below 0 degrees C. On the south coast Vancouver receives a few snowfalls in winter, but the nearby mountains have snowy peaks from November to May. Temperatures range from an average of 2 degrees C in the winter and 26 degrees C in the summer, and most rainfall occurs between October and March. The northern coast is cooler and wetter.

The interior of the province is protected by the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains. The interior plateaus have a semi-arid continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The Cariboo region can be as cold as anywhere in Canada during the winter. The southern interior has hot summers with daytime temperatures consistently over 30, and sometimes above 40, degrees C. Kelowna has over 2,000 hours of sunshine annually, approximately 13 inches of rain a year and 41 inches of snow. To the south of the Okanagan Valley, near Osoyoos, is Canada’s only genuine desert. The Okanagan Valley is the centre of BC’s wine industry.

Snowfall in the Rockies averages about 2 meters a year. High country can remain inaccessible until early July but in the valleys spring arrives in April. There are warm days and cool nights through May and June and the summer months of July through September have daytime temperatures around 30 degrees C.


BC is Canada's third biggest province. With 13% of the Canadian population it produces about 13% of the country's total GDP. Metro Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada. The city is an important financial and industrial centre, and with its location on the west coast of the country, it's also a transportation hub.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 was $282bn, and unemployment in mid 2018 was 5.2%, slightly below the national average of 6%.

Resource industries currently employ about 9% of British Columbia's workforce. Forestry, mining, fishing and agriculture are still important, especially in communities where they are big employers, but they are no longer the dominant force in BC's economy. Employment in other types of goods production accounts for about 12% of all the jobs in the province. For every person who's employed in the goods sector (both resource and non-resource-based), there are four British Columbians who have jobs in service industries. In fact, BC has one of the most service-oriented economies in Canada with services accounting for a bigger share of total GDP and employment than in virtually every other province. This is partly because BC is Canada's gateway to the Pacific, and a lot of industries and activities have developed around the province's role as a transportation hub for goods and people entering or leaving the country from the west coast.

Major industries in BC include forestry, tourism, mining and transportation. It is also a centre of telecoms, aerospace, biotech, film making and animation. The Peace district in north east BC is the centre of BC’s oil and gas industry. Although small in comparison to Alberta, it is an important contributor to the Province's finances. Construction, especially in and around Vancouver, is also a significant part of the Provincial economy.

Cannabis production is also a major contributor to the BC economy, estimated to be around $6bn a year. Not surprisingly, this does not appear in official statistics.

History teaches that BC's economy is characterized by spectacular booms and busts. It was on a boom up to 2008. The bust of 2008/2009 was not as severe as many predicted. The future depends on the recovery of the US housing market, the price of oil and natural gas, and the world economies in general.


With over 5 million hectares of designated parkland BC offers a multitude of outdoor activities. Recreational opportunities include hiking, camping, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, mountaineering, cycling, and mountain biking. On the water there is sailing, sail-boarding, kayaking, and white water rafting.

BC is a world class destination for winter sports. Vancouver and Whistler were the host cities of the 2010 Winter Olympics. All disciplines of skiing and snowboarding are available in resorts close to the major cities as well as more remote locations. Snow shoeing and snow mobiling are also popular winter pastimes.

Popular participative amateur sports include golf, tennis, soccer, hockey, Canadian football, rugby union, baseball, softball, curling and figure skating. Personal fitness and yoga are becoming increasingly popular.

Vancouver hosts four professional sports teams: Canucks (hockey), BC Lions (Canadian football), Canadians (baseball) and the Whitecaps (soccer). Junior hockey is also widely popular and many cities have competitive teams.

Related information

Cities/towns in British Columbia - A good source of information for towns/cities in British Columbia (weather, demographics, employments, etc.)