While it has in the past been customary to think and speak of British Columbia as a mountainous country, it is as well to bear in mind that since railway communication has been established the various resources of this western-most Province of Canada have been developed to a remarkable extent, and that when the projected railway extensions are completed, the country will occupy an even more prominent place in the public eye than it does at present. Its coast line on the Northern Pacific gives it a position of great commercial strategic importance.
This Province, lying between the western prairie country and the Pacific Ocean, is the largest of the great divisions which make up the Dominion of Canada, its area being variously estimated at from 372,630 to 395,610 square miles. From north to south it extends some seven hundred miles, and it has an average width of about four hundred miles. Vancouver Island, the largest of the archipelago of islands lying off the coast, is 285 miles long and from 40 to 80 miles wide, covering an area of about 20,000 square miles.
In a Province of such vast extent it will be readily understood that the climatic conditions are of a varied character, but taken as a whole the climate of the Province presents all the conditions met with in European countries lying within the temperate zone. Dr. Macoun, of the Dominion Geological Survey, has stated that British Columbia possesses a climate superior to that of England in every respect, both as regards heat and moisture. Along the Pacific littoral the rainfall is heavy as the result of the moisture-laden winds from the Pacific. Throughout the great inland plateau a much drier climate prevails, while in the northern interior the winter climate is more severe. In Vancouver Island and along the southern coast the climate corresponds very closely with that of England, and severe frost scarcely ever occurs in winter.
The mining industry, by which the :province is perhaps best known outside its borders, may be fairly said to be only in its infancy, although the mines have already produced over three hundred million dollars. Gold has been found since 1862, and silver, lead, iron, copper and other minerals are also found in abundance, and the well-known coal areas of Vancouver Island are, of course, of outstanding value.
In timber the province of British Columbia is especially rich and the output of lumber is increasing rapidly. Apart from the Douglas fir, which attains immense proportions, especially in the coast regions, there are many other growths of great commercial value such as the hemlock, cypress, white spruce, red cedar, white pine, tamarac, balsam, yew, maple, cotton wood, etc. Great developments are certain to take place in the manufacture of wood pulp and paper, for the conditions will be favourable not only as regards the availability of raw material and power for the factories, but transportation facilities are rapidly improving.
The fisheries of British Columbia, while important, are still in a comparatively undeveloped state, although more attention is being drawn to their potentialities, and great developments will undoubtedly take place in the near future in connection with the deep sea fisheries. The remarkable salmon fisheries are well known, and are dealt with at length in another chapter.
It is only in comparatively recent times that British Columbia has been looked upon as being in any sense a country suitable for settlement from an agricultural point of view, and although, compared with other Provinces of the Dominion, the area available might seem limited, yet it is now better understood than formerly that it has rich assets in its arable and pastoral lands. Those who know the province will resent the statement that it is a ” sea of mountains,” notwithstanding that a stranger who keeps to the present main railway line may be quite prepared to endorse it. Its beautiful valleys are becoming better known, and their fertility ascertained beyond question. Large numbers of settlers are profitably engaged in mixed farming and fruit-growing, and the extent of the lands available for further cultivation, is considerable. Dairying and poultry-raising are found to pay well, and apart from the excellent markets in the cities and towns, the opening up of new mines and establishment of new industries provide splendid markets for such products. As regards opportunities for the extension of fruit-growing, it has been estimated that there are at least a million acres south of the 52nd degree where all the fruits of the temperate zone can be produced. Ten years ago there was not enough fruit grown to supply the local markets, but the industry is growing steadily, and is likely to become one of the most important in the Province. The subject has attracted much attention in Great Britain in recent years owing to the steps which have been taken to display the produce of the British Columbia orchards, and many prizes have been awarded to the official exhibits at the Royal Horticultural Society’s shows and in the provinces since the annual displays were commenced in 1905. Besides apples, peaches and grapes are successfully grown, and more attention is being given to their cultivation as new areas suitable for the purpose are opened up.