Canadian Regions: A Geography of Canada

By Donald F. Putnam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
British Columbia, Physical Background

BRITISH COLUMBIA offers the most interesting study of geographical contrasts in Canada. A rough, mountainous terrain has caused a wide range of climate, vegetation and soil. Furthermore, it has greatly influenced the location and nature of agriculture and other primary industries and the distribution of population. In essence, topography is the basis of regional differentiation in the province.

British Columbia is the third largest province in Canada, with an area of 366,255 square miles and a population of just over one million. The average density is about three persons per square mile but such a figure is meaningless. Seventy-five per cent of the people live in a few level sections within 90 miles of Vancouver, comprising less than 0.5% of the total area. Over 90% of the Province is too high, too steep or too rocky for farming or close settlement and, consequently, actual size is an economic disadvantage. It makes costs of administration high and, considering the rugged surface, has made building and maintenance of land communications difficult and expensive. To compensate somewhat, 30% of the total area is capable of sustaining commercial forests. They form the resource base of the forest industries which, collectively, lead all other primary industries in value of production. Similarly, size and topography do not deter the mining industry. The geological structure of the area favours the occurrence of a wide variety of minerals and thus size is an advantage. Lastly, size and, particularly, topography encourage the development of the tourist industry.

The province faces westward to the Pacific Ocean and eastward to the heart of the continent. The coastal area has a maritime environment; the interior is continental. The former has been of great significance in the development of the leading city, Vancouver, which is located at a natural break-point between land and sea communications. Consequently, it is one of Canada's foremost trans-shipment centres. Lying on the great circle route to Asia, it is largely a Pacific port. However, the volume of Asiatic trade is small and, since the opening of the Panama Canal in 1920, Vancouver has turned eastward and has successfully competed in European trade. Nevertheless, it is, at present, marginal to the major trade routes of the world.

British Columbia is also remote from the principal centres of influence in Canada. It lies over 2,500 miles by rail from the densely populated sections of Eastern Canada. Many manufacturing industries, such as the textile, automobile, machine and furniture, have not located in British Columbia on a large scale. The Eastern Canadian market is too distant to be effectively entered by reason of high transportation costs; the local market is, as yet, too small to warrant the development of such industries. However, there are certain products such as lumber and salmon in which the province excels and which are required in other parts of Canada and

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