Physical Geography

British ColumbiaBritish Columbia is the only province of Canada that lies on the Pacific Ocean.

British Columbia consists almost entirely of high mountains and plateaus that are part of the North American Cordillera, a complex highland region covering the western part of the continent. There are two principal mountain systems within the province—the Rocky Mountains in the east and the Coast Mountains in the west.

The Rocky Mountains extend northwestward across the province from the British Columbia-Alberta border to beyond the Liard River valley. Elevations generally decrease from more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the south to less than 8,000 feet (2,400 m) in the north. Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, reaches 12,972 feet (3,954 m) in British Columbia near the Alberta border.

The Coast Mountains run the length of the British Columbia coast and extend inland up to 100 miles (160 km). Rising abruptly from the sea to elevations of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m), they form a rugged barrier along the Pacific. Mount Waddington, the highest peak in the range, rises 13,104 feet (3,994 m) above sea level. Even higher summits mark the St. Elias Mountains on the Alaska border. Here stands 15,300-foot (4,663-m) Mount Fairweather, highest point in British Columbia.

The province's rugged, deeply indented coastline is marked by numerous glacier-carved fjords that reach far inland. Just offshore lies a maze of mountainous islands, chief of which are Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Between the Rockies and the Coast Mountains lies an area of high plateaus, mountain ranges, and deep, narrow valleys. Major features of the region include the Fraser Plateau, the Purcell, Selkirk, and Cariboo Mountains, and the northern end of the Cascade Range. Extensive lowlands occur only in the northeast, which is part of the vast Interior Plains region of North America.

British Columbia'sBritish Columbia's provincial flower is the Pacific dogwood.

Most rivers in British Columbia flow from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean, following tortuous courses marked by deep gorges, rapids, and falls. The Fraser River—the longest entirely within the province—and its chief tributary, the Thompson, drain a large part of the interior. Also important are the Columbia River and its tributary, the Kootenay, in the southeast. The Skeena and Stikine are among the rivers that cut through the Coast Mountains. A major exception to the Pacific drainage pattern is the northeast, which lies in the Arctic basin and is drained largely by the Liard, Peace, and Finlay rivers of the Mackenzie system. Many rivers have been dammed to provide hydroelectric power.

Hundreds of lakes dot British Columbia. Williston Lake, a reservoir impounded by W. A. C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River, is the largest. Major natural lakes include Atlin, Babine, Kootenay, Stuart, and Okanagan.


The coastal area is shielded from North America's Arctic cold by high mountains and has a climate tempered by the warm Alaska Current. Summers are cool to warm, with average July temperatures around 60° F. (16° C.). Winters are mild; all months have above-freezing average temperatures. Rainfall is abundant, exceeding 100 inches (2,540 mm) a year in some coastal areas.

Inland the climate varies considerably with latitude and elevation, but summers are generally warmer, winters markedly colder, and precipitation less than along the coast. Snowfall is heavy in the mountains, especially on the western slopes of the Coast Mountains. The northeastern plains have extremely cold winters and cool summers; January temperatures average near or below 0° F. (-18° C.), July temperatures, 55° to 60° F. (13° to 16° C.).

Vegetation and Wildlife

Vast coniferous forests, composed mainly of firs, hemlocks, spruces, and pines, cover most of British Columbia. In some areas the conifers are mixed with deciduous trees, chiefly poplars and birches. Grasslands predominate in the northeast and on the interior plateaus.

British Columbia has highly varied and abundant wildlife. Large animals include bears, moose, caribou, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, cougars, and timber wolves. Among the numerous small mammals are mink, marten, otter, beaver, muskrat, and red fox, all valued for their fur. Hundreds of species of birds are found in the province. Some stay the year round, but many are migratory. Lakes and streams abound with fish, including char, grayling, salmon, trout, and whitefish.

British Columbia'sBritish Columbia's provincial tree is the western red cedar.
Interesting facts about British Columbia
The tallest totem pole preserved in a museum, and one of the tallest ever carved, was made in British Columbia in 1870. It stands 80 feet 6 inches (24.5 meters) high and displays the symbols of two clans, the Eagle and Wolf. The totem pole was carved by a master carver named Oyai, and erected by Chief Mountain of the Eagle clan and Chief Hladerh of the Wolf clan. It is exhibited in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Vancouver's Nine o'Clock Gun booms every evening to let citizens set their watches.
A town with the unusual name of 100 Mile House is a reminder of British Columbia's gold rush of the mid-1800's. Gold was discovered along the Fraser River in the 1850's. An English adventurer named Billy Barker then made a large strike in 1862 in the place that now bears his name, Barkerville. Thousands of prospectors headed for the area. A stagecoach traveled to the gold fields from Lillooet, which represented mile zero, and 100 Mile House was the midway mark to the gold fields. Other stops along the way became the towns of 70 Mile House and 150 Mile House.
Stanley Park, in Vancouver, is one of the largest urban parks in North America. It covers 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and includes beaches, totem poles, tennis courts, cricket and rugby fields, a lighthouse, and an aquarium.