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British Columbia

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Revision as of 21:36, 3 September 2009

Totem Pole in cC.

British Columbia (BC) [1] is the westernmost province in Canada. Like much of Canada, it is a large place. British Columbia is about four times the size of Great Britain with less than one tenth of the population.

British Columbia is a very mountainous region. There are a number of major mountain ranges ending with the Rocky Mountains that divide BC and Alberta.

Like in most places worth visiting, there is a little something for everyone here. However, you will want to spend at least some time outside of the main cities in this region, and if you enjoy a very active and adventurous vacation, there are many options here to explore. "Ecotourism" is an often mentioned attraction in this part of Canada. Whether backpacking in the majestic forests or coast mountains, or kayaking through the many groups of islands, getting off the beaten path is sure to lead to a memorable trip.


Map of British Columbia Regions
1. Vancouver Island - home of British Columbia's capital, and all sorts of marine adventures.
2. Lower Mainland - over half of British Columbia's population lives here and mostly consists of the Vancouver metropolitan region.
3. Okanagan-Similkameen - sun and fun, wineries and beaches. It is the hottest part of Canada and has a little desert.
4. Kootenays - lakes, hot springs and world famous cat skiing.
5. Thompson-Shuswap - mountains to the north, and outdoor paradise to the east.
6. Cariboo-Chilcotin - canyons and plains, remote hiking and cattle drives.
7. Peace River - limitless vistas and the Alaska Highway.
8. North Coast - untouched wilderness and native culture. Famous for fishing.


Downtown Vancouver

These are nine of the province's most notable destinations. Others are found in the regional articles.

  • Victoria is the provincial capital, on the south tip of Vancouver Island.
  • Kamloops is called the tournament Capital of Canada.
  • Kelowna is the largest city in the British Columbia interior.
  • Nelson is "The Queen City" of the Kootenays, renowned for its tourism, culture and outdoor activities.
  • Penticton is a popular summer destination on Okanagan Lake.
  • Prince George is the largest city in Northern British Columbia and the center of the BC Forest Industry.
  • Prince Rupert, Canada's rainiest city, is the hub of the North Coast.
  • Vancouver is by far the largest city in British Columbia, and the largest metropolitan area west of Toronto.
  • Whistler is a summer and winter outdoor destination.


Ferry arriving in Horseshoe Bay

BC was the sixth province to join the Confederation of Canada, in 1871. Being on the Pacific, it has always had a strong Asian influence.

The indigenous people of BC have been called Indians or Native Canadians, but now the generally accepted term is First Nation.

Prior to arrival of Europeans BC was a very prosperous area. This was largely due the abundance of salmon. This was demonstrated by the advanced culture that existed in BC. More than thirty languages belonging to seven different language families were spoken in BC. Initially the arrival of Europeans was a positive relationship. However, eventually the Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases, which decimated the First Nations population.

Many First Nations people were encouraged or even forcibly required to send their children to residential schools during the early to mid 20th century. These schools were government sponsored and church run. The primary intent of the schools was to assimilate the First Nation population. Children were taught that their culture was backward and evil and not allowed to speak their native languages.

Many of the First Nation communities have being trying to revive their culture and are now often the center of much of the ecotourism industry.

With a few exception, the First Nations of BC (unlike the rest of Canada) have never signed treaties or officially ceded their territory to Canada. Therefore the official ownership of much of the province is contested as the First Nations claim much of the province as their territory. The courts have generally acknowledged that there is a basis for the claims based on historical use of the land and has urged the governments to negotiate a settlement to these claims. Settling these land claims is an enormous issue that the Province and the Country have been trying to do. The first modern treaty signed was by the Nis'ga in Northern BC. In 2007, the Tsawassen and Maa-Nulth First Nations signed treaties with the Province and the federal government.


Although Canada is officially a bilingual French/English country, you would be hard pressed to find many French-speaking people in BC. Services from the federal government are officially available in both English and French. Provincial and municipal governments operate in English only. Some businesses, especially in Vancouver and Victoria offer services in a number of languages (primarily Asian ones). Banks sometimes indicate by a sign in the window which languages are offered.

At one time Chinook Jargon, a bridge language for trading between English, French and First Nations peoples in the late 1800's and early 1900's, was common and almost became the official language of BC. Now there are very few speakers of the language, but many terms from the language are common slang terms in parts of BC.

Newcomer (more common in Northern BC and the Yukon).
The ocean.
High Muckamuck 
The chief, or boss.
Bad or worthless.
Strong, powerful, or impressive.

Get in

By plane

The Vancouver airport is the major international airport, which is served by most major international airlines. Victoria, Abbotsford, Cranbrook, and Kelowna also have international airports that have service to a number of locations within Canada and to some in the United States.

By car

There are land border crossings from the United States into BC from Washington (state). See the Lower Mainland (BC) and Northwest Cascades (WA) articles for details. There are also land border crossings into BC from Idaho, Montana and Alaska. BC is also connected to Alberta and the Yukon by highways.

By Boat

There are ferrys from Washington (state) into Victoria and Sidney, and from Alaska into Prince Rupert.

By Rail

There is rail service by Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver. Within Canada; VIA Rail offers several different passenger trains. "The Canadian", while no longer running on the CPR; travellers can take VIA Rail along the historic and scenic Canadian National Railway. Although between Mission, BC and Ashcroft, BC the eastbound VIA train runs on Canadian Pacific track due to a directional running agreement between Canadian Pacific and Canadian National. VIA Rail also offers passenger rail service between Jasper, AB, Prince George, BC and Prince Rupert, BC on the north coast with "The Skeena" that runs over Canadian National's former Grand Truck Pacific BC North line, "The Skeena" connects with BC Ferries' Inside Passage and Queen Charlotte routes at Prince Rupert.

Get around

BC is a large province. The most convenient way to get to much of the province is by air. However, this can be quite expensive. It is often more expensive to fly to some point in BC than it is to fly to Europe. Vancouver is the regional hub for most air service within BC. Float planes can also be convenient for accessing many coastal locations.

Getting around here is not always easy. Many worthwhile destinations are outside of the cities and not accessible by public transportation options. This makes renting a car quite a popular option for getting around, although there is some bus service to be found. Bear in mind when travelling by car that headlights should be used both day and night, regardless of conditions. If driving during the winter, plan your route carefully as British Columbia experiences some hazardous weather.

If you drive or rent a vehicle, be aware that provincial law requires fuel to be prepaid before filling up. If you use a "pay-at-pump" interface, the station may place a hold on an available amount in your account which may last for a few days. It is wise to ensure you have adequate funds or credit limit room on your payment cards before visiting.

Pacific Coach Lines [2] and Greyhound [3] operate standard bus service on some of the more popular routes between cities. Sometimes you can arrange to be dropped off at points in between, and in the summer, many different guided bus tours are available. Moose Travel Network [4] runs a unique service on less travelled routes that is a combination between "just getting you there" and a tour of some very worthwhile destinations. They have a number of quite flexible packages available, many of them connecting the coast with popular destinations in the Canadian Rockies like Jasper, Banff and Calgary. There is also daily bus services to Vancouver Island and Whistler.

You will also find that the ferry service (provided by BCFerries [5]) is indispensable to access many island and coastal communities. Some of the smaller islands can be visited on foot or by bicycle, but in many cases additional road transportation is necessary. Although ferry service is generally reliable, taking an automobile on board is rarely cheap, and you will likely find it cheaper to take the ferry as a foot passenger and rent an automobile from your destination. If you are taking bus service across a ferry, you should confirm when buying your bus ticket that the ferry fare is included.

Along with "The Canadian" and "The Skeena" VIA Rail Canada operates "The Malahat", a daily regional passenger service between Victoria, the Captial City, and Courtenay, BC(139 railway miles north of Victoria)on the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island, the former Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. "The Malahat" makes one round trip daily out of Victoria while "The Canadian" and "The Skeena" run three times per week.

Rocky Mountain Rail Tours operates tourist trains from Vancouver to Whistler, Vancouver to Kamloops, Kamloops to Banff or Calgary, Kamloops to Jasper, and Whistler to Jasper during the tourist season(May-October). There are many tourist railroad operations that run in BC. The Alberni Pacific Railway in Port Alberni, BC that runs on former Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway trackage. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway that runs out of Summerland BC on the last remaining portion of the famous Kettle Valley Railway. The Kamloops Historical Railway that runs ex-CNR steam over the Kelowna Pacific, CN, and CPR. The White Pass and Yukon Route operates out of Skagway, AK and northern BC.


  • International Buddhist Temple[6] in Richmond is the most authentic example of traditional palatial Chinese architecture in North America. It is an edifice straight out of the Chinese past, as it resembles any authentic temple that can be found along the banks of the Yangtze River, where one of the world’s oldest civilizations originated. Come explore traditional Chinese art, culture, and the Buddhist philosophy inside this magnificent place. Free admission.
  • Yoho National Park
  • Stanley Park (Vancouver) — not just your average park! You can stroll through the park on the seawall, check out the aquarium, take a look at the totem poles, and stop at various historical points of interest.
  • Royal British Columbia Museum (Victoria)
  • Science World (Vancouver) — nice for kids of all ages. Also has an IMAX Theatre.




The legal drinking age in BC is 19.

Alcohol is available from the government liquor stores (BCL). It is also available from private beer and wine stores which are usually associated with a pub or bar. Most BCL stores close at 8PM while most private liquor stores are open until 11PM. You cannot buy alcohol in grocery stores.

BC is home to a number of breweries, one of the Largest is the Columbia Brewery in Creston which brews Kokanee. In Vancouver the Granville Island Brewery makes popular beer, both the Granville Island Brewery and the Columbia Brewery offer tours.

BC is also well-renowned for its wine and the Okanagan [9] is a perfect area to visit during the Autumn harvest. There are numerous small wineries open for tastings.


Exterior of a Vancouver marijuana cafe.

The use and possession of marijuana is illegal in all of Canada, and British Columbia is no exception. However, discrete use of small amounts is generally tolerated in the larger cities and particularly Vancouver. Avoid flaunting your use -- do not walk down the street smoking, use in a busy park, or talk loudly about your use in public. Keep in mind that Vancouver has strict anti-smoking regulations against any kind of indoor smoking so lighting up in a bar or nightclub may get you in trouble. Pot cafes in Vancouver often provide a smoking room where you can safely and discretely indulge; however, unlike their Amsterdam counterparts, they will not sell you marijuana.

Stay Safe

Outside of the metropolitan areas, much of BC is remote wilderness.

If you are thinking of traveling off designated ski or snowmobile trails always take an avalanche safety course. Travel with experienced guides, talk to locals, look at the Canadian Avalanche Centre's [10] forecast. Or best of all, just play it safe and ski at one of BC's great ski resorts.

In the non-winter months always inform yourself about local concerns with carnivorous wildlife, i.e. bears and cougars (sometimes they attack people if they feel threatened).

Petty property crime is a problem in the major cities, so don't leave items visible in a vehicle. Violent crime is relatively infrequent. Simple precautions will normally preclude a brush with crime. A problem area for tourists to avoid is the infamous East Hastings area of Vancouver. Recent experiments with late bar/nightclub closing times (4AM) have also led to increased problems and violence on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver (especially on weekends). Close to 20 women have been killed or are missing along the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) in the recent past. So ladies, avoid hitch-hiking along this highway.

Get out

To the south is Washington state in the U.S. which is home to a lot of outdoor stuff along with Seattle-Tacoma which are world renowned cities with over 2 million people right on the coast and home to great tourism and a enourmous high technology.

To the east is the province of Alberta which is home to very odd geographical features and a surging economy. It is also home to the beautiful, big cities of Edmonton and Calgary which are home to many unique things to do, along with the winter resort town, Banff which is tourist-savy.

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!