For 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans, more than 30 aboriginal groups flourished on the rich lands and waters now known as British Columbia. In the northern interior, small bands of nomadic peoples hunted and fished. To the south, along the Frasier and Thompson rivers, more abundant fish and game supported permanent settlements. Coastal societies consisted of extended families living in large cedar dwellings, as with Puget Sound and the mouth of the Columbia River.
In 1741, Aleksey Chirikov (1703-48) explored the northwestern coast under the flag of tsarist Russia. Chirikov’s voyages induced Spain to jump into fray in the person of Juan Perez Hernandez. English Captain James Cook’s arrival in Nootka Sound on March 29 1778, marked a further dramatic change. After Cook sold his lucrative cargo of sea otter pelts in China, the fur trade links to London, Macau, Canton, and Boston became mainstays of world trade. Competition for furs led to frenzied competition among various nations (Spain, Russia, America, Britain) and trading companies, especially the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies.
American interests began to increase throughout the North American west. Alarmed by the arrival of gold seekers from California, the English Parliament in 1858 formed the mainland colony of British Columbia, later merging it with Vancouver Island in 1866. Imperial interests, Kootenay mines, vast timberlands, unbelievable salmon runs, and awe-inspiring scenery drove the British to further develop this remote, faraway land.
In 1871, British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada, asserting its rights as the most westerly member of a new nation and fending off American interest in B.C.’s many natural assets. As the mainland population followed the rugged aspects of a resource-based economy, leading to the rise of organized labor and wealthy barons of industry. Curiously, staid English-accented Victoria on Vancouver Island was chosen as the unlikely provincial capital.
Eventually, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company linked British Columbia to the rest of Canada in the 1880s, providing work for Chinese laborers and creating colorful and authentic “Chinatowns” in Victoria and Vancouver. Vancouver, British Columbia’s premier city, was founded in 1867 by a former steamboat captain named Jack Deighton. Local lore claims that he arrived with an Indian wife, a yellow dog, chickens, and a barrel of whiskey. Upon cracking his barrel, the first tavern in the province was open for business. Like Seattle, the early days of Vancouver were a wide-open port city.
Today, British Columbia has become a wonderland for tourists, drawn to the world-famous gardens, forests, rivers, architecture, skiing, the towers of the city of Vancouver, and the province’s hundreds of inlets and islands.