Vancouver Island, a Canadian island in the Pacific Ocean forming part of British Columbia. It is separated from the Canadian mainland by Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnstone Strait, and the Strait of Georgia, and from Washington state by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The largest island off the Pacific coast of the Americas, Vancouver Island is about 285 miles (460 km) long and up to 80 miles (130 km) wide, and has an area of 12,079 square miles (31,284 km2).
Geologically, the island is part of the Coast Mountains of the mainland. It consists primarily of rugged, heavily forested mountains rising as much as 7,220 feet (2,200 m) above sea level. A narrow coastal plain borders the east coast. Elsewhere the mountains drop rather abruptly to the sea. The west coast is deeply indented by bays and fjords. Many short, swift-flowing streams drain the island, and lakes dot the mountain valleys. The climate is cool, rainy, and humid. Pacific Rim National Park occupies part of the western coast.
Vancouver Island is one of British Columbia's chief sources of commercial timber. Lumbering and wood processing are important economic activities; others include mining, fishing, and farming. Spectacular scenery, the mild climate, and varied outdoor recreational attractions make the island a popular vacation area. It is linked by ferry with the British Columbian mainland and several ports in Washington. Most of the island's population, is concentrated in the southeast, especially in and around Victoria, the provincial capital. Other sizable cities include Nanaimo and Campbell River.
Captain James Cook of the British navy is credited with discovering Vancouver Island in 1778, though Spanish explorer Juan Perez visited the area about the same time. Between 1791 and 1795 Captain George Vancouver surveyed the coast and claimed the island for Britain.
The first permanent settlement was established at Victoria by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1843. Six years later the island was made a crown colony, with Victoria as the capital. In 1866 it was united with the mainland colony of British Columbia, which, in turn, became a province of the Dominion of Canada in 1871.