Geography of British Columbia

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British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, bordered by the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 944,735 square kilometres (364,764 sq mi) it is Canada's third-largest province. The province is almost four times the size of United Kingdom 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. Formerly part of the British Empire, 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. It is the most mountainous province of Canada.

Geography of British Columbia
ContinentNorth America
RegionWestern Canada
Coordinates49°00′N 114°04.1′W / 49.000°N 114.0683°W / 49.000; -114.0683 --
60°00′N 139°03′W / 60.000°N 139.050°W / 60.000; -139.050
AreaRanked 3rd among provinces
 • Total944,735 km2 (364,764 sq mi)
 • Land97.9%
 • Water2.1%
Coastline27,000 km (17,000 mi)
BordersTotal land borders: U.S. states Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana; Canadian provinces Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories
Highest pointMount Fairweather
4,663 m (15,299 ft)
Lowest pointPacific Ocean
sea level
Longest riverFraser River
1,368 km (850 mi)
Largest lakeWilliston Lake
1,761 km2 (680 sq mi)


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

Physical geographyEdit

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, Coast Mountains and Inside Passage 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 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 rangesEdit

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 SystemEdit

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, and the Hart Ranges & Muskwa Ranges of the Northern Rocky Mountains to the north 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 SystemEdit

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 SystemEdit

The Western System comprises the Coast Mountains, the Canadian portion of the Cascade Mountains (known in the US as the Cascade Range), the southeasternmost 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 temperate-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 SystemEdit

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 orogenyEdit

The younger ranges of the Canadian Rockies were uplifted during the late Cretaceous period (145 million-66 million years ago) and are a relatively new, tall and uneroded mountain range.[2]

During the Ice age all of British Columbia is 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 massif 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 massif, Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley massif, 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 Level Mountain 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 the Mount Meager massif. 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 thinning. 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.
Lake Bernard.
Lake Tutshi.

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 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 (including Yukon portion) 775 668 283 54.0
Sproat 546 29 195 23.0
Kinbasket 529 754 240 -
Babine 495 711 180 37
Kootenay 389 530 154 36.7
Ootsa 404 855 - -
Stuart 358 680 95 09.6
Okanagan 351 342 230 24.6
Shuswap 310 347 161 19.1
Upper Arrow 301 - - -
Eutsuk 267 - 305 28.5
Quesnel 266 729 600 41.8
Takla 265 791 287 28.4
Francois 258 715 244 23.1
Harrison 218 10 279 33
Chilko 180 1172 366 21.2
Adams 137 404 464 23.2
Murtle 76.3 1067 333 08.2
Slocan 69.3 535 298 11.9
Kennedy 69.2 4 - -
Charlotte 66 1175 101 02.7
Mabel 60 396 192 06.8
Stave 59 81 101 02.0
Pitt 58 0 142.6 02.4
Horsefly 57 783 191 03.9
Canim 56 772 209 07.2
Bowser 55.7 368 119 -
Tahtsa 53 852 218 03.3
Kamloops 52 335 152 03.7
Great Central 50.85 82 250 06.3
Carpenter 50 - - -
Nation 47 1081 78 01.2
Tatlayoko 40 827 210 04.3
Meziadan 37.3 305 133 02.2
Inzana 36.6 880 95.4 01.3

Sources Statistics Canada, WLD,


Köppen climate types in British Columbia

Because of the many mountain ranges and rugged coastline, British Columbia's climate varies dramatically across the province.

Coastal southern British Columbia has a mild, rainy oceanic climate, influenced by the North Pacific Current, which has its origins in the Kuroshio Current. Henderson Lake on Vancouver Island receives an average of 6,903 mm (271.8 in) of rain annually, and some parts of the area are even classified as warm-summer Mediterranean, some of the northernmost occurrences in the world. In Victoria, the annual average temperature is 11.2 °C (52.2 °F), the warmest in Canada.[9]

Due to the blocking presence of successive mountain ranges, the climate of some of the interior valleys of the province is semi-arid with certain locations receiving less than 300 millimetres (12 in) in annual precipitation.[10]

South CoastEdit

The climate of the coast of British Columbia is generally oceanic (Cfb). The winters are very cloudy, cool, and extremely rainy, although generally above freezing, and the summers are cool and comparatively drier with temperatures generally between 16 and 24 °C (61 and 75 °F). Precipitation is generally around 3,000 mm (120 in), falling on around 200 days. Coastal fog develops on many days, especially in winter, with sunshine around 1400 hours a year.

The exception to British Columbia's wet and cloudy winters is during the El Niño phase. During El Niño events, the jet stream is much farther south across North America, making the province's winters milder and drier than normal. Winters are much wetter and cooler during the opposite phase, La Niña.

Lower MainlandEdit

Like regions of San Francisco and southern California, the Lower Mainland exhibits a variety of microclimates.[12] Here, the winters are cloudy, cool, and rainy, while the summers are varied across the region. For example, Delta on the southwest tip of the region has summer highs of 21 °C (70 °F), while inland regions like Abbotsford and Chilliwack have summers up to 25 °C (77 °F) and occasionally above 30 °C (86 °F). Precipitation is between 900 and 2,000 mm (35 and 79 in). Sunshine ranges from 1500 to 2000 hours.

Southwest InteriorEdit

Here, the winters are comparatively colder, with temperatures between −5 and 4 °C (23 and 39 °F), but still very mild for inland locations. Conversely, summer temperatures are the highest in Canada, generally between 24 and 38 °C (75 and 100 °F). Regional averages range from 26 °C (79 °F) in higher elevations up to 32 °C (90 °F) in Osoyoos, which has the hottest daytime high temperature in Canada. Although the days are hot, the humidity is low and nights are very cool, reaching 15 °C (59 °F) in summer. These regions are typically very dry, with some regions receiving less than 300 mm (12 in) on around 100 days, strongly contrasting with some of the wettest regions in the world on the coast. In spite of the arid climate, temperature inversions are often created in winter which reduces sunshine to just 1700 to 2000 hours a year, exceptionally little for the dryness.

Southeast InteriorEdit

This region, situated further to the east, typically has similar weather to the southwest interior, although with cooler and wetter conditions due to orographic lift and higher elevation. The winters are between −15 and 2 °C (5 and 36 °F), while the summers are 23 to 31 °C (73 to 88 °F).


This region typically has cooler weather due to increased latitude and altitude, but is still generally warmer than much of Canada at similar latitudes. Here, the winters are between −20 and 0 °C (−4 and 32 °F), while summers are between 18 and 25 °C (64 and 77 °F).

North CoastEdit

The North Coast of British Columbia typically has winters that are remarkably similar to the southern Coast, but with much cooler summers between 13 and 20 °C (55 and 68 °F). It is also very wet, with 1,500 to 4,500 mm (59 to 177 in) of precipitation a year falling on around 230 days. The North Coast is one of the cloudiest places in Canada, with Stewart, British Columbia having only 985 hours of sun a year.[38]


The northeast of the province is the only region east of the Rocky Mountains, causing conditions similar to the rest of Canada and similar to neighbouring Alberta. Winters are −10 to −30 °C (14 to −22 °F) while summers are 18 to 26 °C (64 to 79 °F).

Average daily maximum and minimum temperatures for selected cities in British Columbia[53]
Municipality January April July October
Max Min Max Min Max Min Max Min
Prince Rupert 5.6 °C (42.1 °F) −0.8 °C (30.6 °F) 10.2 °C (50.4 °F) 2.5 °C (36.5 °F) 16.2 °C (61.2 °F) 10.5 °C (50.9 °F) 11.1 °C (52.0 °F) 4.9 °C (40.8 °F)
Tofino 8.3 °C (46.9 °F) 2.3 °C (36.1 °F) 11.9 °C (53.4 °F) 4.0 °C (39.2 °F) 18.9 °C (66.0 °F) 10.5 °C (50.9 °F) 13.6 °C (56.5 °F) 6.3 °C (43.3 °F)
Nanaimo 6.9 °C (44.4 °F) 0.1 °C (32.2 °F) 14.1 °C (57.4 °F) 3.9 °C (39.0 °F) 23.9 °C (75.0 °F) 12.3 °C (54.1 °F) 14.6 °C (58.3 °F) 5.2 °C (41.4 °F)
Victoria 7.6 °C (45.7 °F) 1.5 °C (34.7 °F) 13.6 °C (56.5 °F) 4.3 °C (39.7 °F) 22.4 °C (72.3 °F) 11.3 °C (52.3 °F) 14.2 °C (57.6 °F) 5.7 °C (42.3 °F)
Vancouver 6.9 °C (44.4 °F) 1.4 °C (34.5 °F) 13.2 °C (55.8 °F) 5.6 °C (42.1 °F) 22.2 °C (72.0 °F) 13.7 °C (56.7 °F) 13.5 °C (56.3 °F) 7.0 °C (44.6 °F)
Chilliwack 6.1 °C (43.0 °F) 0.4 °C (32.7 °F) 15.8 °C (60.4 °F) 5.2 °C (41.4 °F) 25.0 °C (77.0 °F) 12.5 °C (54.5 °F) 15.3 °C (59.5 °F) 6.4 °C (43.5 °F)
Penticton 1.8 °C (35.2 °F) −3.0 °C (26.6 °F) 15.7 °C (60.3 °F) 2.5 °C (36.5 °F) 28.7 °C (83.7 °F) 13.3 °C (55.9 °F) 14.3 °C (57.7 °F) 3.2 °C (37.8 °F)
Kamloops 0.4 °C (32.7 °F) −5.9 °C (21.4 °F) 16.6 °C (61.9 °F) 3.2 °C (37.8 °F) 28.9 °C (84.0 °F) 14.2 °C (57.6 °F) 13.7 °C (56.7 °F) 3.3 °C (37.9 °F)
Osoyoos 2.0 °C (35.6 °F) −3.8 °C (25.2 °F) 18.1 °C (64.6 °F) 3.6 °C (38.5 °F) 31.5 °C (88.7 °F) 14.3 °C (57.7 °F) 16.4 °C (61.5 °F) 3.5 °C (38.3 °F)
Princeton −1.4 °C (29.5 °F) −8.6 °C (16.5 °F) 14.4 °C (57.9 °F) −0.3 °C (31.5 °F) 26.3 °C (79.3 °F) 9.5 °C (49.1 °F) 13.2 °C (55.8 °F) 0.3 °C (32.5 °F)
Cranbrook −1.9 °C (28.6 °F) −10.2 °C (13.6 °F) 12.9 °C (55.2 °F) 0.3 °C (32.5 °F) 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) 11.2 °C (52.2 °F) 11.7 °C (53.1 °F) −0.3 °C (31.5 °F)
Prince George −4.0 °C (24.8 °F) −11.7 °C (10.9 °F) 11.2 °C (52.2 °F) −1.1 °C (30.0 °F) 22.4 °C (72.3 °F) 9.1 °C (48.4 °F) 9.4 °C (48.9 °F) −0.5 °C (31.1 °F)
Fort Nelson −16.1 °C (3.0 °F) −24.6 °C (−12.3 °F) 9.6 °C (49.3 °F) −3.6 °C (25.5 °F) 23.2 °C (73.8 °F) 10.9 °C (51.6 °F) 5.2 °C (41.4 °F) −4.2 °C (24.4 °F)

Parks and Protected AreasEdit

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 Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

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


Environment Canada systemEdit

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 systemEdit

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 ColumbiaEdit

The British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range subdivides the province's ecoregions into a system of biogeoclimatic zones:[54]

Floristic provinceEdit

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

Political geographyEdit

Founded as several colonies as part of the British Empire, the political geography is complicated by the fact that during colonization no treaties or conquests of First Nations (the indigenous people) occurred outside of a few small areas of the province. The resulting legal and political system is based upon the British, and later Canadian state that evolved from it. At present much of the province is subject to contested title and political rights with First Nations. The issue used to be called the Indian Land Question, though the term is no longer used. On-going disputes have included protest, political activity and legal challenges, including the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing title to one group (Tsilhqot'in Nation v British Columbia).

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 governmentEdit

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.[55] 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 districtsEdit

Since 1966–67, British Columbia has been segmented 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 segmented into electoral areas. Each electoral area elects one director who sits on the Regional Board and the Electoral Area Directors Committee. The Islands Trust[56] 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 over 150 municipalities in British Columbia. They are divided into cities, districts, towns and villages, according to their population at the time of their incorporation.[57] 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),[58] which is being replaced, in phases, by the Community Charter.[59] The City of Vancouver obtains its legislative authority from the Vancouver Charter.

Indian reserves & band governmentsEdit

British Columbia has a large number of Indian Reserves which are outside the municipal and regional district systems and are self-governing by numerous band governments, most of which belong to tribal councils, which is an association of bands with common interests and not governments as such. Many bands claim sovereignty, having signed no treaties to surrender title.

Provincial electoral districtsEdit

2005 general election, popular vote by electoral districts

For representation in the Legislative Assembly B.C. is segmented into 87 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).

Federal electoral districtsEdit

The province of British Columbia currently has 36 electoral districts represented in the House of Commons of Canada. 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]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


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  56. ^ Islands Trust website
  57. ^ "A Guide to Municipal Incorporation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-11-03. Retrieved 2005-11-03.
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  1. ^ 1981–2010 normals are for Vancouver International Airport, while extreme high and low temperatures are from Vancouver PMO (October 1898 to May 1945),[13] and Vancouver International Airport (January 1937 to present).[14]
  2. ^ Extreme temperatures are for Osoyoos West 1954-present, and precipitation is for Osoyoos West 1981-2010.
  3. ^ Climate data was recorded at Castlegar from July 1916 to June 1963 and at Castlegar Airport from December 1965 to present.
  4. ^ Extreme high and low temperatures are from the Prince George climate station (August 1912 to June 1945), and Prince George STP (November 1975 to present).
  5. ^ Climate data was recorded in Prince Rupert from August 1908 to December 1962 and at Prince Rupert Airport from May 1962 to present.
  6. ^ Climate data was recorded in the city of Fort St. John from January 1910 to February 1945, and at Fort St. John Airport from March 1942 to present.