Geography of British Columbia

Geography of British Columbia
Geography of British Columbia
British Columbia
Continent North America
Region Western Canada
Coordinates 49°00′N 114°04.1′W / 49°N 114.0683°W / 49; -114.0683 --
60°00′N 139°03′W / 60°N 139.05°W / 60; -139.05
Area 944,735 km2 (364,764 sq mi)
97.9% land
2.1 % water
Borders Total land borders: U.S. states Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana; Canadian provinces Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories
Highest point Mount Fairweather
4,663 m (15,299 ft)
Lowest point Pacific Ocean
sea level
Longest river Fraser River
1,368 km (850 mi)
Largest lake Williston Lake
1,761 km2 (680 sq mi)

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, bordered by the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 944,735 square kilometers (364,764 sq mi) it is Canada's third-largest province. The province is nearly four times the size of Great Britain, two and one-half times larger than Japan and larger than every U.S. state except Alaska. It is bounded on the northwest by the U.S. state of Alaska, directly north by Yukon and the Northwest Territories, on the east by Alberta, and on the south by the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The southern border of British Columbia was established by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. The province is dominated by mountain ranges, among them the Canadian Rockies but dominantly the Coast Mountains, Cassiar Mountains and the Columbia Mountains. Most of the population is concentrated on the Pacific coast, notably in the area of Vancouver, located on the southwestern tip of the mainland, which is known as the Lower Mainland.



  • Total area: 944,735 km²
  • Land area: 925,186 km²
  • Water area: 19,549 km² (2.1%)

Physical geography

British Columbia is customarily divided into three main regions, the Interior, the Coast and the Lower Mainland (though the last-named is technically part of the Coast). These are broken up by a loose and often overlapping system of cultural-geographic regions, often based on river basins but sometimes spanning them. Examples of the former would be the Kootenays, the Okanagan, and the Chilcotin, while of the latter would be the Lillooet Country and Cariboo. Important subareas of these include the Fraser Valley, part of the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Canyon (which overlaps with various regions) and the Robson Valley, which is the uppermost basin of the Fraser River southeast of Prince George. Vancouver Island is seen as its own region within the Coast, as are the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Gulf Islands.


Sky Pilot Group (L), Tantalus Range (R), part of the Coast Mountains as seen from the Cheakamus Canyon.

The Canadian Rockies and the fjords along the Inside Passage's, which are part of the Coast Mountains, provide some of British Columbia's renowned and spectacular scenery. These landforms provide the backdrop and context for a growing outdoor adventure and ecotourism industry. In the southwestern corner of B.C., the Lower Fraser Valley forms a flat, fertile triangle of intensively used land. The Okanagan is one of only three wine-growing regions in Canada and also produces ciders. While exports are minimal, BC wines are highly prized and ranked well internationally. The city of Penticton and the small towns Oliver, and Osoyoos have some of the warmest summer climates in Canada, although the hottest spots are the towns of Lillooet and Lytton in the Fraser Canyon. Nearly all of the Coast including much of Vancouver Island is covered by a temperate rain forest. One-third of the province consists of barren alpine tundra, icefields, and glaciers.

Mountains and mountain ranges

The landforms of British Columbia include two major continental landforms, the Interior Plains in the province's northeast, the British Columbia portion of which is part of the Alberta Plateau. The rest of the province is part of the Western Cordillera of North America, often referred to in Canada as the Pacific Cordillera or Canadian Cordillera. The Cordillera is subdivided into four main "systems" (which are distinct from the corresponding region's geologic provinces):[1]

Eastern System

B.C.'s Eastern Mountain System comprises the dominant Canadian Rockies, with the Cariboo, Selkirk, Monashee, and Purcell ranges of the Columbia Mountains system in the south. The Canadian Rockies incorporate the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains range. The southern end in Alberta and British Columbia borders Idaho and Montana of the United States. The northern end is at the Liard Plain in British Columbia.

Interior System

The Interior System comprises the Interior Plateau and Interior Mountains (aka the Northern Interior Mountains) and the southern part of the Yukon Plateau. The major subdivisions of the Interior Mountains are the Cassiar Mountains, Omineca Mountains, Stikine Plateau, Skeena Mountains and Hazelton Mountains. Each has a variety of subranges and some definitions include the Tahltan Highland and Tagish Highland which may also be assigned to the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains (see next). The major subdivisions of the Interior Plateau are the Nechako Plateau, the McGregor Plateau, the Fraser Plateau (which includes the Chilcotin Plateau and Cariboo Plateau and a number of small mountain ranges) and the Thompson Plateau. The Quesnel, Shuswap and Okanagan Highlands which flank the plateau to the east are sometimes seen as part of it, but are officially part of the Columbia Mountains range-system and are seen as subranges of the adjoining ranges, namely the Cariboo Mountains and Monashee Mountains.

Western System

The Western System comprises the Coast Mountains, the Canadian portion of the Cascade Mountains (known in the US as the Cascade Range), the southeastern most Saint Elias Mountains and the Coastal Trough, which includes the Georgia Depression and its subunit the Fraser Lowland and other low-lying coastal areas.

The Western Mountain System's Coast Mountains are the westernmost range of the Pacific Cordillera, running along the western shore of the North American continent, extending south from the Alaska Panhandle and covering most of coastal British Columbia. The range is covered in dense temperate rainforest on its western exposures, the range rises to heavily glaciated peaks, including the largest temperature-latitude icefields in the world, and then tapers to the dry Interior Plateau on its eastern flanks, or to the subarctic boreal forest of the Skeena Mountains and Stikine Plateau.

Mount Waddington (4016 m) is the highest mountain within B.C. and Fairweather Mountain in the Fairweather Range of the Saint Elias Mountains on the B.C. and Alaska border has the highest point. Much of the B.C. coast has a fjord scenery, due to the many islands along the Pacific coast being the highest points of a partly submerged mountain range.

Insular System

The Insular System comprises the Insular Mountains, which include the Vancouver Island Ranges and Queen Charlotte Mountains as well as the Nanaimo Lowland, Nahwitti Lowland and Hecate Depression.

Geology and orogeny

The younger ranges of the Canadian Rockies were uplifted during the late Cretaceous period (140 million-65 million years ago) and are a relatively new, tall and uneroded mountain range.[2]

During the Ice age all of British Columbia was covered by ice (except Haida Gwaii and Brooks Peninsula).

British Columbia's principal mountains by range and height
Mountain Height (m) Mountain Height (m)
Saint Elias Mountains Rocky Mountains (cont.)
Fairweather Mountain (highest point on Alaska–B.C. boundary) 4,663 Mount Assiniboine (on Alberta–B.C. boundary) 3,618
Mount Quincy Adams (on Alaska–B.C. boundary) 4,133 Mount Goodsir: North Tower 3,581
Mount Root (on Alaska–B.C. boundary) 3,901 Mount Goodsir: South Tower 3,520
Coast Mountains Snow Dome (on Alberta–B.C. boundary) 3,520
Mount Waddington 4,016 Mount Bryce 3,507
Mount Tiedemann 3,848 Selkirk Mountains
Combatant Mountain 3,756 Mount Sir Sandford 3,522
Asperity Mountain 3,716 Cariboo Mountains
Serra Peaks 3,642 Mount Sir Wilfrid Laurier 3,520
Monarch Mountain 3,459 Purcell Mountains
Rocky Mountains Mount Farnham 3,481
Mount Robson 3,954 Monashee Mountains[3]
Mount Columbia (on Alberta–B.C. boundary) 3,747 Mount Monashee 3,274
Mount Clemenceau 3,642 Hallam Peak 3,205

Source Statistics Canada


Mount Edziza, a large shield volcano in northwestern British Columbia.
The Mount Meager volcanic complex as seen from the east near Pemberton, BC. Summits left to right are Capricorn Mountain, Mount Meager, and Plinth Peak.

Although little-known to the general public, British Columbia is home to a huge area of volcanoes and volcanic activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire.[4] Several mountains that many British Columbians look at every day are dormant volcanoes. Most of them have erupted during the Pleistocene and Holocene. Although none of Canada's volcanoes are currently erupting, several volcanoes, volcanic fields, and volcanic centers are considered potentially active,[5] 49 of which have erupted in the past 10,000 years[6] and many of which have been active in the past two million years. There are hot springs at some volcanoes while 10 volcanoes in British Columbia appear related to seismic activity since 1975, including: Mount Silverthrone, Mount Meager, Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley, Castle Rock, The Volcano, Mount Edziza, Hoodoo Mountain and Crow Lagoon.[7] Numerous shield volcanoes developed during the Tertiary period in north-central British Columbia and some were active intermittently to recent times. Mount Edziza and the Level Mountain Range are most spectacular examples. Mount Edziza is a stratovolcano consisting of a basal shield of basaltic flows surmounted by a central vent and flanked by numerous satellite cones, ash beds and blocky lavas. The complex has a long history of volcanic eruption that began about 10 million years ago and ended about 1300 years ago. The volcanoes are grouped into four volcanic belts with different tectonic settings.

The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt is a north-south range of volcanoes in southwestern British Columbia. It is the northern extension of the Cascade Volcanic Arc in the United States and contains the most explosive young volcanoes in Canada. It was formed by subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone. Eruption styles within the belt range from effusive to explosive, with compositions from basalt to rhyolite. The most recent major catastrophic eruption was the 2350 BP eruption of Mount Meager. It produced an ash column at least 20 km high into the stratosphere and dammed the Lillooet River with breccia.

The Anahim Volcanic Belt is an east-west line of volcanoes. These volcanoes probably formed when the North American Plate moved over the Anahim hotspot. The hotspot is considered similar to the one feeding the Hawaiian Islands. The last volcanic eruption within the belt was about 7000 years ago at a small cinder cone called Nazko Cone.

The Northern Cordilleran Volcanic Province (sometimes called the Stikine Volcanic Belt) is the most active volcanic region in Canada, containing more than 100 volcanoes. Several eruptions are known to have occurred within this region in the past 400 years and contains Canada's largest volcanoes. It formed as a result of faulting, cracking, rifting and the interaction between the Pacific and the North American plates.

The Chilcotin Group in southern British Columbia is thought to have formed as a result of back-arc extension behind the Cascadia subduction zone.

The Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field in southeastern British Columbia consists of numerous small, basaltic volcanoes and extensive lava flows. Many individual volcanoes in the field have been active for the last 3 million years during which time the region was covered by thick glacial ice at least twice, prior to the well known Fraser Glaciation (also known as the Wisconsin Glaciation). The origin of the volcanism is yet unknown but is probably related to crustal thining. The last eruption in the field was at Kostal Cone in 1500. Volcanism within the field has also created the 465-foot (142 m)-high Helmcken Falls, which is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada. It owes its foundation to the deposits of volcanic rock that were placed down in the wide valley of the Murtle River. Layer upon layer of fresh lava created flat areas, over which enormous floods flowed during the last ice age. These floods shaped the upright cliff in the lava flows over which the river now flows. The protection of Helmcken Falls was one of the major causes for the development of Wells Gray Provincial Park. As a result, if it had not been for the volcanic eruptions, it is not likely that such a large wilderness region would have been made.


A portion of Atlin Lake (on the right half of the image) during the winter, as seen from space. The photo illustrates well the elongated lakes in B.C.
Lakes of British Columbia. See actual size.
View of Okanagan Lake.

The Fraser River forms an important transportation corridor when it drains much of central and southern British Columbia flowing to the Pacific Ocean. Other major rivers include the upper Columbia River and the Kootenay River. In the northern B.C. the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers flow toward the Pacific Ocean, and Peace River flows northeast toward the Arctic Ocean. Hydroelectric resources in B.C. are highly developed, and pulp and paper and lumber mills are common throughout the province. The Fraser, Nass, and Skeena rivers have not been dammed in order to protect the salmon runs on them. Rivers and their valleys have for a long time provided routes through the mountains for people in B.C.[8]

Long, narrow lakes are found throughout the valleys of the Southern and Central Interior. Among these are Atlin, Kootenay, Okanagan, Quesnel, and Shuswap Lakes. Several high dams have impounded large reservoir lakes like Kinbasket Lake, particularly on the Columbia (see Hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River) and Peace Rivers. Williston Lake, on the Peace River, is the province’s largest body of freshwater.

British Columbia's principal rivers and their tributaries
River Drainage area (km²) Length (km) Discharge (m^3/s)
Columbia (mouth to head of Columbia Lake) 668,000 2,000 7,500
(International boundary to head of Columbia Lake) 102,800 801 2,800
Kootenay 37,700 780 782
Kettle (to head of Holmes Lake) 4,700 336 82.2
Okanagan (to head of Okanagan Lake) 21,600 314 18.3
Fraser 232,300 1,370 3,340
Thompson (to head of North Thompson) 55,400 489 772
North Thompson 20,700 338 427
South Thompson (to head of Shuswap) 17,800 332 292
Nechako (to head of Eutsuk Lake) 47,100 462 277
Stuart (to head of Driftwood) 16,200 415 131
Skeena 54,400 579 911
Stikine 49,800 539 1,580
Nass 21,100 380 780
Peace (to head of Finlay) 302,500 1,923 1,540

Source Statistics Canada Source Environment Canada

British Columbia's principal lakes with relevant information
Lake Area (km²) Altitude (m) Depth (m) Volume (km³)
Williston 1,761 671 166 70.3
Atlin 589 - 775 668 283 54
Kootenay 389 530 154 36.7
Okanagan 351 342 230 24.6
Shuswap 310 347 161 19.1
Quesnel 270 729 >600 -

Sources Statistics Canada, WLD,


Fires in British Columbia smother parts of that province as well as Washington state with thick smoke.

British Columbia's climate is best described as varied. The mountainous terrain causes huge changes in climatic conditions over short distances. All winter long the coast is pounded with storm after storm off the Pacific Ocean. The Coast Mountains, Cascades and also the Skeena and Hazelton Mountains block most of the precipitation which forces the majority of the precipitation to fall on the West side of the mountains. In contrast, the leeward side is much drier with some areas classified as semi-arid. The Coast of British Columbia is by far the wettest area in Canada, while areas located 150–200 km inland are some of the driest places in Canada outside of the High Arctic.

Coastal British Columbia experiences the mildest winters in Canada where freezing temperatures are infrequent. Victoria, generally considered the mildest city in Canada, has gone an entire winter without freezing. Along with the moderating effect of the Pacific Ocean, the mountains impede the flow of the cold arctic air during the winter. The only exception is the northeastern portion of the province situated on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. Without the protection of the mountains, the climate is similar to that found in the neighboring parts of Alberta. The winters are very cold and the summers are warmer than areas west of the Rockies.

Summer daytime temperatures in the Southwestern Interior are the hottest in Canada. During July and August, the average daily maximum temperature around Osoyoos and Spences Bridge is over 29 °C (84.2 °F), though Lillooet and Lytton erroneously claim to be hotter and vie for the title of "Canada's Hot Spot". This heat combined with little precipitation means that arid animals and vegetation thrive. Although winter temperatures are much colder than Coastal British Columbia, this area is still milder than almost anywhere else in Canada. Southern Interior valleys, including the Okanagan Valley, are spared the incessant precipitation found on the coast, but they receive some of the lowest amounts of bright sunshine in Canada during the winter months. This is a result of winter temperature inversions that leave the valleys in a layer of thick cloud while the rest of the province basks in sunshine.

Representative Climate Normals
Zone Average annual temperature Average July daily high Record Max Average January daily low Record Min Average snowfall Average rainfall
North East (Fort Nelson) -0.7 °C 23 °C 36.7 °C -25.6 °C -51.7 °C 177.8 cm 319.8 mm
North West (Dease Lake) -0.8 °C 19.4 °C 35.3 °C -22 °C -51.2 °C 218.4 cm 264.8 mm
Peace (Dawson Creek) 1.6 °C 21.7 °C 34.5 °C -20.6 °C -49.2 °C 174.2 cm 325.6 mm
Central Interior (Prince George) 4.0 °C 22.1 °C 36.0 °C -13.6 °C -50.0 °C 216.1 cm 418.9 mm
North Coast (Prince Rupert) 7.1 °C 16.1 °C 28.7 °C -2.1 °C -24.4 °C 126.3 cm 2468.5 mm
Southwestern Interior (Kamloops) 8.9 °C 28.3 °C 40.6 °C -7.6 °C -37.2 °C 75.5 cm 217.9 mm
Southeastern Interior (Cranbrook) 5.7 °C 25.6 °C 36.6 °C -11.8 °C -40.0 °C 139.9 cm 270.7 mm
South Coast (Vancouver) 10.1 °C 21.7 °C 33.3 °C 0.5 °C -17.8 °C 48.2 cm 1154.7 mm

Source: Environment Canada, Canadian Climate Normals or Averages 1971-2000

City Weather Facts - *Based on the 100 largest cities in Canada
Warmest Annual Temperature Coldest Annual Temperature Sunniest Cloudiest Driest Wettest
City Chiliwack - 10.5 °C Fort St. John - 2.0 °C Cranbrook - 2205 hours Prince Rupert - 1229 hours Kamloops - 279 mm Prince Rupert - 2594 mm

Source: Environment Canada, Weather Winners WebSite

Parks and Protected Areas

There are 14 designations of parks and protected areas in the province that reflect the different administration and creation of these areas in a modern context. There are 141 Ecological Reserves, 35 Provincial Marine Parks, 7 Provincial Heritage Sites, 6 National Historic Sites, 4 National Parks and 3 National Park Reserves. 12.5% (114,000 km²) of BC is currently considered 'protected' under one of the 14 different designations that includes over 800 distinct areas.

British Columbia contains seven of Canada's national parks:

BC also contains a large network of provincial parks, run by BC Parks of the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.

In addition to parks, British Columbia also protects approximately 47,000 square kilometers of agricultural land via the Agricultural Land Reserve.


Environment Canada system

Environment Canada subdivides British Columbia into a system of ecozones, each containing smaller ecoregions. The ecozones within British Columbia include the Pacific Marine, Pacific Maritime, Boreal Cordillera, Montane Cordillera, Taiga Plains, and Boreal Plains Ecozones. The system used was established by the trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation and as such is parallel to that used by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, though their system uses different names for the same ecozones and ecoregions, and to a similar ecoregional subdivision of Mexico.

World Wildlife Fund system

In an ecoregion system advanced by the World Wildlife Fund, British Columbia's ecosystems are divided on five different levels, each classifying the area on a progressively more detailed basis. At the top level, ecodomains delineate areas of broad climatic uniformity across the world. The ecodomains are then divided into ecodivisions which delineate areas of broad climatic and physiographic uniformity. Next, the ecodivisions are divided into ecoprovinces which consider climate, oceanography, relief and regional landforms. The ecoprovinces are then divided into ecoregions which consider major physiographic and minor macroclimatic or oceanographic variations. Finally, the ecoregions are divided into ecosections for minor physiographic and macroclimatic or oceanographic variations. Overall, B.C. is divided into 4 large ecodomain areas which are progressively divided down into 114 small ecosections.

Biogeoclimatic Zones of British Columbia

The British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range subdivides the province's ecoregions into a system of biogeoclimatic zones:[9]

  • Coastal Western Hemlock Zone: Wet, mossy, dense temperate rain forests of Western Hemlock, Western Redcedar, Pacific Silver (Amabilis) Fir, Yellow Cedar, Coast Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western White Pine, Bigleaf Maple, Red Alder, sword fern, devil's club, and red huckleberry predominate on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the west coast of the mainland north of the Fraser River delta to north of Prince Rupert, farther inland along the Fraser and Skeena River Valleys, and on Haida Gwaii. This zone was the original locus of British Columbia's forest industry; and most of the trees have been harvested at least once. There has been much effort (some successful) to protect the remaining old growth forest from logging.
  • Coast Douglas-fir Zone: A drier region of temperate rain forest, this is the smallest and most heavily populated biome of the province. It encompasses the southern and most of the eastern coastal fringe of Vancouver Island, the Fraser River delta, the Gulf Islands, and parts of the Sunshine Coast. Trees unique to this area include the Arbutus, Garry oak, and manzanita.
  • Interior Douglas-fir–Montane–Ponderosa Pine–Bunchgrass Zones: The dry valleys and plateaus of BC's southern interior, stretching from the lower reaches of the Chilcotin Plateau, across the southern Cariboo, and south through the Okanagan. A separate, isolated region exists in the East Kootenay. This region encompasses the Fraser Canyon, the lower Thompson River, and the Nicola and Similkameen watersheds. It is characterised by treeless bunchgrass steppes, sagebrush scrub, and open forests of Ponderosa Pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, trembling aspen, Lodgepole Pine, and Western Larch. Much of the area is used for timber harvesting, ranching, and orchard-growing. The winters are cold and dry, and the summers are hot and drier.
  • Interior Redcedar-Western Hemlock Zone: An interior wetbelt, similar to the Coastal Western Hemlock Zone, is found in the low to middle elevations of the Columbia Mountains in southeastern British Columbia, west of the Rockies, as well as north in the Nass and Skeena River drainages. The cool, wet winters and warm, moist summers produce the greatest plant diversity of any zone in the province. Western Hemlock and Western Redcedar predominate, but Grand Fir, Western Larch, White Spruce, Engelmann Spruce, black cottonwood, trembling aspen, Western White Pine, and Subalpine Fir are also common, depending on the elevation. The dense and diverse forests make this zone the second most productive forest zone in British Columbia and Canada.
  • Sub-Boreal (Hemiboreal) Spruce and Pine-Spruce Zones: The central interior of the province, consisting of the rolling lake-studded terrain of the Cariboo — the Fraser and Nechako Plateaus — is characterised by severe, snowy winters and warm, short summers. This is a transitional zone between southern and northern biomes. Seral species include Lodgepole Pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, and trembling aspen; mature species include White and Engelmann Spruce, and Subalpine Fir. The moderately dense forests are interrupted in places by ponds and muskeg. The generally flat plateaus make this an active area for logging.
  • Boreal Zones: The northern third of the province is dominated by long, cold winters, and short, warm summers. This is a vast, largely unpopulated region, with isolated logging and mining activity. White Spruce, Black Spruce, Lodgepole Pine, trembling aspen, Tamarack Larch, and Paper Birch predominate among the meadows and muskeg of the Peace and Liard Plains. At higher elevations, the winters are harsher, the summers briefer, and White Spruce and Subalpine Fir give way to scrub willow and birch.
  • Mountain Zones: At higher elevations (above about 850 m on the southwest coast, less as one goes farther inland and north), the summers are shorter and the winters are colder. Along the coast, the lush, diverse forests give way to more uniform stands of Mountain Hemlock, Pacific Silver (Amabilis) Fir, and Yellow Cedar. These are interrupted by subalpine heaths, meadows, and fens. In the drier, interior regions, the higher elevations are marked by Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, Subalpine Larch, and Lodgepole Pine, the trees clumped among meadows and grassland.

Floristic province

In botany, nearly all of British Columbia is part of the Rocky Mountain Floristic Province.

Political geography

British Columbia is divided into defined regions for various political purposes. One is for the purpose of providing local government services in various ways. Among the most important subdivisions of the province are Forest regions and forest districts, which have jurisdiction over forests and their management, and also range and grazing leases, and also manage Ministry of Forests recreation sites and campgrounds. Other important subdivisions are Ministry of Environment regions (which controls water rights and management, environmental oversight, pesticide and herbicide permits, the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service and Fish and Wildlife Branch; the provincial parks are managed by a sub-department of the Ministry of Environment, BC Parks), health regions (which administer health funding, hospitals and ambulance services), school districts (whose taxation authority is distinct from that of regional districts and organized by tax assessment areas), and mining districts (whose authority under the Mines Act supersedes nearly all other jurisdictions). The Ministry of Tourism also has a system of tourism regions, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Small Business Development divides the province into development regions, with BC Stats using a different regionalization system than that of Statistics Canada, which uses regional district boundaries to organize its data. Also very important is a system of Regional Management Planning Boards, which are "roundtable"-type planning authorities on which local stakeholders ranging from taxpayer and industry groups, municipalities and chambers of commerce, Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Environment/BC Parks and in some cases First Nations hammer out long-range plans for regional land-use management.

The provincial judicial system also subdivides the province into counties, though this is mostly only procedural and does not impact directly on daily life.

All such regions and underlying title and survey descriptions are organized by Land Districts, which are the cadastral survey system underlying all legal descriptions in the province and date from the original Lands Act in the days of the Colony of British Columbia and Colony of Vancouver Island.

Local government

In the case of municipal-type services, there are municipalities, which are incorporated areas, and regional districts, which are groups of member municipalities and rural areas. Another purpose is for the provision of provincial services. The provincial government has dividing certain services into regional services, such as health authorities and agricultural commissions, which administer specified regions according to their own policies. The province is also divided to provide electoral districts by Elections BC for provincial elections and Elections Canada for federal elections. In addition to these, Indian Reserves have been established throughout the province but are administered by the federal government.

In order to fund community-wide services, such as a sewer system, urban areas incorporate to form municipalities. The vast majority of British Columbians live in these municipalities but there are also large areas of unincorporated rural areas around the municipalities. In 1964 the provincial government created regional districts, through amendments to the Municipal Act, to better coordinate regional issues and provide community services to unincorporated areas. Only one area, the sparsely populated Stikine Region in northwest B.C., is not covered by a regional district and municipal-type powers are administered directly by the provincial government. The Stikine Region has a permanent population of only 1,352 people, most of them aboriginal, and covers an area of 135,391 square kilometers with no municipalities within its borders. its only major towns being Atlin and Telegraph Creek. Most planning in that region is governed by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (forestry is only a small player in the region's economy as yet). All the regional districts and municipalities are members of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.[10] The former Sechelt Indian Band is now a municipal-type government, the Sechelt Indian Government District, and former Indian Reserves are now fee-simple lands within that effective municipality.

Regional districts

Regional district borders.

Since 1966-67, British Columbia has been carved into 27 regional districts as a way of extending municipal powers outside of municipalities. These regional districts are governed by boards composed of representatives of member municipalities and electoral areas. The unincorporated area of the regional district is carved into electoral areas. Each electoral area elects one director who sits on the Regional Board and the Electoral Area Directors Committee. The Islands Trust [11] acts similar to a regional district for most of the unincorporated islands in the Gulf of Georgia between the Mainland and Vancouver Island, which are part of various regional districts though the Islands Trust supersedes them in planning and zoning authority.

The regional districts are used to provide local government services (mostly zoning, building inspection, etc.) to unincorporated areas, sub-regional services (e.g. street bridge over a border) between two or more members, regional parks, and regional services (e.g. funding the regional hospital district)[citation needed] required for the entire area. Also, as a collection of municipalities they are able to borrow funds for capital projects at lower interest rates.[citation needed]


There are 153[12] in British Columbia. They are divided into cities, districts, towns and villages, according to their population at the time of their incorporation.[13] There are also three other municipalities that were incorporated for special purposes. These are the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Sechelt Indian Government District, and Bowen Island Municipality. With the exception of the City of Vancouver all municipalities attain their legislative powers from the Local Government Act (formerly the Municipal Act),[14] which is being replaced, in phases, by the Community Charter.[15] The City of Vancouver obtains its legislative authority from the Vancouver Charter.

Provincial electoral districts

2005 general election, popular vote by electoral districts.

For representation in the Legislative Assembly B.C. is carved into 79 electoral districts. Each one of these ridings elects one candidate to become its Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in a first past the post race contained within the electoral district. Patterns of voting established by the right-wing predecessors of the BC Liberal Party, the BC Social Credit Party and the wartime Liberal-Conservative Coalition dominated provincial politics for much of the latter part of the twentieth century and enjoyed power bases on Vancouver's West Side, Victoria's richer suburbs, on the south bank of the Fraser Valley and in the Okanagan and the province's Central Interior and Northeast. The New Democratic Party has traditionally drawn its support from more urbanized areas such as Vancouver and Victoria, as well as the North Coast and northwest Interior, plus the mining towns of the Kootenays and key areas of Vancouver Island. Swing areas include the BC Interior, certain urban areas within the Lower Mainland (like Surrey) and certain rural areas (like in southeastern BC). The fledgling Green Party has had no electoral victories but has come close in certain core areas of Green voting strength, namely the Sunshine Coast and Gulf Islands.

Federal electoral districts

The province of British Columbia currently has 36 electoral districts represented in the Canadian House of Commons. Regional voting patterns are similar to those for provincial ridings, except that many voters vote differently federally than they do provincially, particularly on the right.[citation needed]

External links


  1. ^ [Landforms of British Columbia, S. Holland, BC Government Bulletin No. 48]
  2. ^ [1], [2]
  3. ^ "". 
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ [4]
  6. ^ [5]
  7. ^ [6]
  8. ^ "British Columbia". MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  9. ^ Cameron Young, The Forests of British Columbia (North Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1985); R.C. Hosie, Native Trees of Canada, seventh edition (Ottawa: Canadian Forestry Service, 1969)
  10. ^ Union of British Columbia Municipalities website
  11. ^ Islands Trust website
  12. ^ municipalities
  13. ^ [7]
  14. ^ Local Government Act (formerly the Municipal Act)
  15. ^ [8]

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  • British Columbia — Colombie Britannique (French) …   Wikipedia

  • British Columbia — British Columbian. a province in W Canada on the Pacific coast. 2,406,212; 366,255 sq. mi. (948,600 sq. km). Cap.: Victoria. * * * Province (pop., 2001: 3,907,738), western Canada. It is bounded by Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, Alberta …   Universalium

  • British Columbia Magazine — is a geographic and travel magazine in British Columbia. Its coverage includes independent travel, outdoor exploration and recreation, geography, wildlife, conservation, people, science and natural phenomena, First Nations culture, heritage… …   Wikipedia

  • British Columbia —   [ brɪtɪʃkə lʌmbɪə], deutsch Brịtisch Kolụmbi|en, westliche Provinz Kanadas am Pazifik, 944 735 km2, (1999) 4,02 Mio. Einwohner (1971: 2,2 Mio. Einwohner), darunter rd. 75 000 Indianer; 373 000 Asiaten. Hauptstadt ist Victoria, die Hälfte der… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • British Columbia Coast — Howe Sound, along British Columbia s South Coast. The British Columbia Coast or BC Coast is Canada s western continental coastline on the Pacific Ocean. The usage is synonymous with the term West Coast of Canada. In a sense excluding the urban… …   Wikipedia

  • British Columbia Ambulance Service — Infobox company company name = British Columbia Ambulance Service company company type = Crown Agency foundation = July 1, 1974 location = British Columbia, Canada num employees = 3,200 (2006) revenue = $252 Million industry = Emergency Medical… …   Wikipedia

  • Outline of British Columbia — See also: Index of British Columbia related articles …   Wikipedia

  • Counties of British Columbia — In British Columbia, eight counties are created in the County Boundary Act. The counties are created for the administration of justice, and are not used in the administration of government. Local government is organized by municipalities and by… …   Wikipedia

  • Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia — NotesReferences *cite web url = title = British Columbia Municipal Census Populations, 1986–1996 accessdate = 2006 12 08 author = BC Stats publisher = British Columbia *cite web url =… …   Wikipedia

  • North Cowichan, British Columbia — Municipality of North Cowichan   District Municipality   …   Wikipedia

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