Vancouver Island

From New World Encyclopedia
Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island contour map.png
LocationPacific Ocean, on Canada's southern west coast.
Coordinates49°30′N 125°30′W / 49.5, -125.5
Area31,285 km² (12,079 sq mi) (43rd)
Highest pointGolden Hinde (2,200 m (7,200 ft))
Flag of Canada Canada
ProvinceFlag of British Columbia British Columbia
Largest cityVictoria (Provincial Capital) (344,630)
Population870,297[1] (as of 2019)

Vancouver Island is located off Canada's Pacific coast and is part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. The island is named in honor of George Vancouver, the British Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest coast between 1791 and 1794.[2] At 32,134 square kilometers (12,407 square miles), it is the largest island on the western side of the Americas and is Canada's second highest populated island.

The City of Victoria was incorporated on April 6, 1886 with a population of about one thousand. Two months later, a fire destroyed most of the city. In May of 1887 the arrival of the first transcontinental train helped get the city on the road to recovery. By 1890 the city had a population of 15,000 and by 1923 it reached 100,000.

Vancouver Island is separated from mainland British Columbia by the Strait of Georgia and the Queen Charlotte Strait, and from Washington State by the Juan De Fuca Strait.

Modern Victoria sits on the southeast tip of the 286-mile island that is only 50 miles across at its widest point. Most of the island is a vast wilderness. The western side of the island is sparsely populated and consists of many rugged fjords, temperate rainforests, and mountainous terrain. It is best known around the world for Pacific Rim National Park and the famous "West Coast Trail," a challenge even to seasoned hikers. There are very few roads and many of the coastal villages are only accessible by sea or air. The stage is set for the issue of development and conservation to be central for years to come.


Native Culture

The island has been inhabited by humans for some eight thousand years. By the late 1700s, the primary tribes on the island were the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) on the west coast, the Salish on the south and east coasts, and the Kwakiutl in the center of the island and the north. The Salish are the largest of these three native tribes.

Before the arrival and exploration of Europeans, the native peoples of Vancouver Island enjoyed plentiful supplies of food: deer, bear, elk, mountain goat, seal, and bountiful quantities of fish and shellfish. One of the most central components of the native diet was pacific salmon, which were eaten fresh or preserved smoked and dried. Wild edible plants, berries and bulbs supplemented their diets.

With food sources readily available and in abundance, the native peoples of this region had time to develop a culture rich in arts. The Northwest Coast First Nations tribes are known for their beautiful arts, crafts, storytelling, music, and religious and social traditions. Carvings of tower-like totem poles and ceremonial masks depict symbols from the legends of a particular tribe or family group. The symbols used in these carvings are usually the depictions of native wildlife such as the salmon, beaver, bear, wolf, raven, orca whale or frog.

The early native peoples who lived on this island had an intimate relationship with the land and sea around them. The abundance of western red cedar and yellow cedar trees were an especially important resource for the aboriginal tribes of Vancouver Island and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The trunks of the cedar were used for building homes, canoes and totems. The bark of the cedar could be softened for use in clothing and blankets and woven and twisted to make durable baskets, rope, mats, and other materials for use in their homes. Rain repellent clothing, such as hats and capes, were made from the soft and fine fibers of the yellow cedar. With the diversity of plant life on Vancouver Island many medicinal uses were discovered. Native traditional medicine was connected to spiritual beliefs and plant medicines were revered as gifts from the Creator. The gathering and use of medicinal plants involved special prayers and rituals.

Shells of abalone and dentalium gathered from the ocean were also a valuable resource. Dentalium, a straight tooth-like snail shell, was gathered by Aboriginal peoples of Vancouver Island and used as a valued trading item with other tribes, First Nations tribes of the Pacific Northwest prized the dentalium shells for use in the decoration of ceremonial clothing, embellishments on carved artwork, and for personal adornment. On the mainland, as far east as the First Nations of the Great Plains, dentalium was a precious commodity seen as an emblem of wealth and nobility.

Wherever one travels throughout Vancouver Island, the First Nations’ unique heritage and legacies are evident. Native museums, arts and crafts and cultural events are all available to the public throughout the island. Powwow events bring aboriginal people together for celebrations of song, dance and drumming and dance competition. Powwows are sometimes public events to which non-tribal people may attend. Another important social event that takes place in Aboriginal communities is the Potlatch. Potlatch is a ceremony which unites families in marriage, where children may be named, reconciliations take place, tribal values are taught, and wealth and gifts are to be shared.

European Exploration

Europeans began to encroach on the island in 1774, when rumors of Russian fur traders harvesting sea otters for valuable pelts caused the Spanish to send a ship, the Santiago, north under the command of Juan José Pérez Hernández. In 1775 a second Spanish expedition, under Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, was sent. Neither actually landed.

Vancouver Island came to the attention of the wider world after the third voyage of Captain James Cook, who landed at Nootka Sound of the Island's western shore in 1778 and claimed it for the United Kingdom. The island's rich fur trading potential led the British East India Company to set up a single-building trading post in the native village of Yuquot on Nootka Island, a small island in the sound.

The island was further explored by Spain in 1789 by Esteban José Martínez, who built Fort San Miguel on one of Vancouver Island's small offshore islets in the sound near Yuquot. This was to be the only Spanish settlement in what would later be Canada. The Spanish began seizing British ships and the two nations came close to war, but the issues were resolved peacefully in favor of the British with the Nootka Convention in 1792. Coordinating the handover was Captain George Vancouver, who had sailed as a midshipman with Cook and from whom the island gained its name.

British Settlement

The first British settlement on the island was a Hudson's Bay Company post, Fort Camosun, founded in 1843, and later renamed Fort Victoria.

Shortly thereafter, in 1846, the Oregon Treaty was signed by the British and Americans to settle the question of the Oregon Territory borders. It awarded all of Vancouver Island to the British, despite a portion of the island lying south of the 49th parallel.

In 1849 the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island was created with the burgeoning town of Victoria as its capital and later retained that status as the provincial capital of British Columbia when the enlarged province was established.

The British government then sent Richard Blanshard over as the first governor of Vancouver Island in 1851. After 18 months, Blanshard returned to England and James Douglas became governor of Vancouver Island. Douglas had served as the island's chief trader in 1835 and became its chief factor in 1839. Douglas' term as governor of Vancouver Island expired in 1863. When the colonies of Vancouver Island and the mainland colony of British Columbia combined in 1864, Douglas was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Fort Victoria became an important base during the Fraser Gold Rush that began in 1858. A British naval base was established at Esquimalt, British Columbia in 1865, and eventually it was taken over by the Canadian military.

Reconciliation of cultures

The introduction of Christianity by western European cultures began in the late 1700s and resulted in First Nations’ populations being encouraged and even forced to abandon their religious traditions and to assimilate into the white culture. One of the most destructive practices imposed was the separation of families through the Indian Residential Schools. Native children were required by the Canadian government to leave their homes and families to be educated in the ways of the white culture at these schools.

Since the 1990s, the government of Canada and the province of British Columbia have been negotiating treaties with First Nations Peoples in order begin a process of reconciliation for the past losses of language and culture. On November 20, 2005 a "settlement package" was agreed upon by the First Nations and the Canadian national government to begin a process toward healing the families affected by the Indian Residential School system. The settlement is reported to be around $4 billion.[3] On Vancouver Island the Cowichan tribe is now in negotiations with the government of British Columbia to address issues such as traditional lands claims (archaeological and burial sites), uses of water and timber resources, and traditional livelihood programs (shellfish aquaculture projects).

Today the combination of the First Nations people's history and tradition and the influences of European culture combine to create a unique heritage for Vancouver Island. The names of places like Quadra, Galiano, and Saturna reflect the days Spanish exploration of the island while British names like Cook, Douglas, and Cavendish are from the days of British discovery and governance. Aboriginal names like Sooke, Ucluet, and Nanaimo flow off the tongue like all the rest. The city of Victoria represents in its examples of fine architecture and cultural demeanor, the essence of a bygone Victorian era and is a namesake for Queen Victoria.


Cities of Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island's economy outside Victoria is largely dominated by the forestry industry, with tourism and fishing also playing a large role. Many of the logging operations are for paper pulp, in "second growth" tree farms that are harvested approximately every 30 years.

Logging operations involving old-growth forests such as those found on Clayoquot Sound are controversial and have gained international attention through the efforts of activists and environmental organizations.

Vancouver Island is underlain by a mineral-rich batholith, from which iron, copper, and gold are mined. Coal is extracted from a depression at the edge of the batholith; the mines at Nanaimo provide most of the coal for British Columbia.

In recent years the government of British Columbia has engaged in an advertising program to draw more tourists to beach resorts such as Tofino. Vancouver Island's fair and temperate climate makes it a year-round destination for recreational activities. Many resorts advertise that one can sail or scuba dive in the morning and snow ski in the afternoon.

Climate and geography

The center of Vancouver Island contains high mountains, the highest of which is Golden Hinde

The island's climate is milder than that of mainland Canada. Moisture-laden ocean air carries steady rains in the autumn and winter months. Average annual precipitation ranges from 6,650 millimeters at Henderson Lake on the west coast (making it the wettest spot in North America) to only 635 millimeters at Victoria on the southeast coast's Saanich Peninsula. Temperatures are fairly consistent along both coasts with mild winters and cool to moderately warm summers, depending on location. The yearly average temperature hovers around 10 °C (50 °F). Snow is rare at low altitudes but is common on the island's mountaintops in winter.

The Vancouver Island Ranges, which run down most of the length of the island, are a significant factor in the island's climate differences. The highest point in these mountains is the Golden Hinde, at 2,195 meters (7,219 feet). Located near the center of Vancouver Island in the Strathcona Provincial Park, it is part of a group of peaks that include the only glaciers on the island, the largest of which is the Comox Glacier.

The west coast shoreline is rugged, and in many places mountainous, characterized by its many fjords, bays, and inlets. The interior of the island has many lakes (Kennedy Lake, northeast of Ucluelet, is the largest) and streams, but there are no navigable rivers. The west coast of the island has stretches of beautiful beaches including the famous Long Beach between Ucluelet and Tofino.

The rain shadow effect of the island's mountains, as well as the mountains of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, creates the wide variation in precipitation. The wetter west coast is home to the island's lush rain forests like the one in Carmanah Valley, where some of the world's largest trees grow. Vancouver Island lies in the temperate rainforest biome. On the southern and eastern portions of the island, this is characterized by Douglas fir, western red cedar, arbutus, Garry oak, salal, Oregon-grape, and manzanita. The northern, western, and most of the central portions of the island are home to the coniferous "big trees" associated with British Columbia's coast—hemlock, western red cedar, amabilis fir, yellow cedar, Douglas fir, grand fir, Sitka spruce, and western white pine. It is also characterized by broad leaf maple, red alder, sword fern, and red huckleberry.

The fauna of Vancouver Island is similar to that found on the mainland coast, with some notable exceptions and additions. For example, grizzly bears, porcupines, moose, and coyotes, while plentiful on the mainland, are absent from Vancouver Island. The island does contain Canada's only population of Roosevelt elk, however, and one species—the Vancouver Island marmot—is endemic to the region. Also, British Columbia has the largest black bear population in the world, and Vancouver Island black bears felled by hunters have set international records. It also has the most concentrated population of cougars in North America. The island's streams, lakes, and coastal regions are renowned for their fisheries of trout, salmon, and steelhead.


Marine Transportation

Marine transportation is very important to Vancouver Island because it is separated by water from the mainland of British Columbia and Washington State. There are no bridges connecting the island to the mainland. The only vehicle access to Vancouver Island is via ferries; there are six vehicle ferry routes. In addition, there are four passenger-only ferry services from the mainland to Vancouver Island.

Rail Transportation

The last remaining rail service on Vancouver Island is VIA Rail's Malahat, a tourist passenger train service operating on the E&N Railway between Victoria and Courtenay. The E&N operated rail freight services on Vancouver Island, carrying forest products, coal, chemical and general freight from 1886 until 2001, when freight services ended.


  1. 4 things you need to know about Vancouver Island Royal Roads University, February 18, 2020.
  2. William L. Lang, George Vancouver (1757-1798) The Oregon Encyclopedia, February 17, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  3. Residential school abuse deal being offered, November 23, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hempstead, Andrew. Moon Victoria & Vancouver Island. Moon Travel, 2018. ISBN 978-1640491670
  • Kyi, Tanya. Vancouver Island (Canada Series). Whitecap Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1552850176
  • Stewart, Shepherd. Vancouver Island Travel Guide: The Essentials. West Coast Explorer, 2015. ISBN 978-0991740437

External links

All links retrieved May 3, 2023.


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