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British Columbia: Location and Land


British Columbia (BC) is Canada's westernmost province and Canada's gateway to the Pacific and Asia. British Columbia extends about 1,300 kilometres north to south. The average width, from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the province of Alberta on the east, is about 640 kilometres. Bounded by the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the north, the panhandle of Alaska forms about half of British Columbia's western boundary. On the east B.C. is bordered by the province of Alberta, and to the south the US states of Washington, Idaho and Montana.


British Columbia has over 27,000km of coastline and is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean. B.C.'s total land and freshwater area is 95 million hectares (947 800 km2). British Columbia occupies about 10 per cent of Canada's land surface and ranks third among the Canadian provinces in size, after Quebec and Ontario.

The Land

British Columbia is a distinct geographical region in Canada. Where the Pacific Ocean reaches the continent, it meets a chain of islands running from north to south. The largest is Vancouver Island 400km long. It is the largest island on the coast of the Americas. The Coastal Trough, the Inside Passage, is lowland that has been filled by the sea. This trough extends from the Juan de Fuca Strait at the southern end of Vancouver Island north to Prince Rupert and on to Juneau and Skagway in Alaska.

Most of British Columbia is in the Cordilleran Region, which has several subdivisions. East of the Coastal Mountains rolling upland forests, as well as natural grasslands and lakes predominate. The BC Interior changes dramatically from north to south. . In the extreme northeastern part of the province a small corner is the northern most extension of the Great Plains. The Cariboo plateau is a series of high plateaus and rolling ranchland, while the southern interior is made up of lush and fertile valleys that produce fruits and vegetables. The far south of the province has its own pocket desert.

Mountain Ranges - BC is one of North America's most mountainous regions:

  • The Coastal Mountains rise 3000-4000m above sea level. In many places the mountains rise in sheer cliffs along the seacoast, forming deep, narrow inlets similar to the fjords of Norway.
  • The Insular Mountains form the backbones of the offshore islands. The most important are the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island.
  • The Rocky Mountains form almost half of the province's eastern boundary. There are more than 20 peaks above 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). Mount Robson (12,972 feet; 3,954 metres) is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountain Trench lies between the Rockies and the Interior System. This long valley ranges from 3 to more than 16 kilometres wide.
  • The Interior System is a complex area of mountains and plateaus. West of the Rocky Mountain Trench, in the south, are the Purcell, Selkirk, and Monashee mountains and, north of these, the Cariboo Mountains. The highest point in the province, Mount Fairweather, 4,663 m. is in the St. Elias Mountains.


Lakes and rivers dominate the interior valleys of British Columbia. The southern interior lakes such as the Okanagan, Skaha and the Shuswap are popular tourist destinations. The northern lakes such as Babine and Atlin Lake, in the extreme Northwest corner of the province, are more closely related to hydro-electric projects and subsistence activities by First Nations peoples.


Most of the province's chief rivers, the Columbia, Fraser, and Kootenay, and the Finlay and Parsnip rivers, which unite to form the Peace River rise in the Rocky Mountain trench. In the past the Frasier, Kicking Horse and Thompson Rivers, were the historic gateways to the west. Major transportation routes of the past followed these rivers through the mountains. The impressive and remote Tatshenshini-Alsek River in the Northwest corner of the province is a ten day canoe trip.

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