Geography of British Columbia

10 Facts about Canada's Westernmost Province

British Columbia, Canada map
Historic Map Works LLC / Getty Images

British Columbia is the province located the farthest west in Canada and is bounded by the Alaska Panhandle, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Alberta and the U.S. states of Montana, Idaho and Washington. It is a part of the Pacific Northwest and is Canada's third most populated province behind Ontario and Quebec.
British Columbia has a long history that still shows throughout much of the province today. It is believed that its native peoples moved into the province nearly 10,000 years ago after crossing the Bering Land Bridge from Asia. It is also likely that British Columbia's coast became one of the most densely populated areas in North America prior to European arrival.
Today, British Columbia features urban areas like Vancouver as well as rural areas with mountain, ocean and valley landscapes. These varied landscapes have led to British Columbia becoming a popular tourist destination in Canada and activities such as hiking, skiing and golf are common. In addition, most recently, British Columbia played host to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

British Columbia's Population and Ethnicities

British Columbia's First Nations people may have numbered around 300,000 prior to European contact. Their population remained largely undisturbed until 1778 when the British explorer James Cook landed on Vancouver Island. The native population then began to decline in the late 1700s as more Europeans arrived.

In the late 1800s, British Columbia's population grew further when gold was discovered in the Fraser River and on the Caribou coast, leading to the establishment of several mining towns.

Today, British Columbia is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Canada. Over 40 aboriginal groups are still represented and different Asian, German, Italian and Russian communities thrive in the area as well.

British Columbia's current population is around 4.1 million, with the largest concentrations being in Vancouver and Victoria.

Facts About Region and Topography

The province of British Columbia is often divided into six different regions beginning with Northern British Columbia, followed by the Caribou Chilcotin Coast, Vancouver Island, the Vancouver Coast and Mountains, the Thompson Okanagan and the Kootenay Rockies.

British Columbia has a varied topography throughout its different regions and mountains, valleys and scenic waterways are common. To protect its natural landscapes from development and over tourism, British Columbia has a diverse system of parks and 12.5% of its land is protected.

British Columbia's highest point is Fairweather Mountain at 15,299 feet (4,663 m) and the province has an area of 364,764 square miles (944,735 sq km).

British Columbia's Climate

Like its topography, British Columbia has a varied climate that is highly influenced by its mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Overall, the coast is temperate and wet. The interior valley regions such as Kamloops are generally hot in the summer and cold in the winter. British Columbia's mountains also have cold winters and mild summers.


Historically, British Columbia's economy has focused on natural resource extraction such as fishing and timber. Recently however, industries such as ecotourism, technology and film have grown in the province.

Main Cities

The largest cities are Vancouver and Victoria. Other big cities in British Columbia include Kelowna, Kamloops, Nanaimo, Prince George, and Vernon. Whistler, though not large is one of British Columbia's most popular cities for outdoor activities- particularly winter sports.

Resources and Further Reading

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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of British Columbia." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Briney, Amanda. (2020, August 28). Geography of British Columbia. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of British Columbia." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).