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Accident and emergency
Canada is generally a safe country that presents few worries for people travelling with kids. There are no poisonous animals, crime levels are low, the people tend to be relaxed and tolerant, and there’s plenty of space and countryside to enjoy. The only potential problem is the huge distances that often have to be covered.An excellent resource to explore, full of tips on kid-friendly accommodation, restaurants and attractions throughout BC is http://www.kidfriendly.org. A good site for resources aimed at Canadians but also useful for travellers is http://www.childrencanada.com.
Customs and duty free
All the usual drugs are illegal in Canada, and with the Conservatives in power, this is not likely to change. British Columbia is a large producer of high quality marijuana (BC bud), whose use is widespread.Consequently, attitudes toward the drug are pretty relaxed, but it is still advisable to be very discrete if indulging, and obviously be careful if buying.
Embassies and consulates
Australia High Commission: Commonwealth Av, Canberra, ACT 2600, T02-6270 4000.
England High Commission: Macdonald House, 1 Grosvenor Sq, London, W1K 4AB, T020-7258 6600.
Ireland 7-8 Wilton Terrace, Dublin 2, T01- 234 4000.
New Zealand High Commission: 11th floor, 125 The Terrace, Wellington, T04-473 9577
Northern Ireland Consulate: Unit 3, Ormeau Business Park, 8 Cromac Av, Belfast, BT7 2JA, T2891-272 0060.
Scotland Consulate: 50 Lothian Rd, Festival Sq, Edinburgh, EH3 9WJ, T131-473 6320
South Africa High Commission: 19th floor, Reserve Bank Building, 60 St George’s Mall, Cape Town 8001, T21-423 5240.
USA 501 Pennsylvania Av NW, Washington DC 20001, T202-682 1740.Wales Beignon Close, Ocean Way, Cardiff, CF24 5PB, T2920-449645.
Gay and lesbian
Canadians are generally tolerant of homosexuality although, as everywhere, exceptions exist. Be more wary in redneck communities, especially in Northern BC, Alberta, and logging and mining towns. The Gulf Islands and West Kootenays are especially tolerant, and Vancouver’s West End has a flourishing gay scene.For general information and links, check out http://www.gaycanada.com. An excellent site for listings of gay-friendly businesses across the country is http://www.purpleroofs.com. The Centre, 1170 Bute St, Vancouver, T604-684 5307 (programmes/services), has a library and clinic, and organizes discussion groups. Vancouver Prideline: T604-684 6869. BC Prideline: T1800-566 1170.
Western Canada must be one of the safest places on earth: it has good medical facilities, and there are no prevalent diseases, so no vaccinations are required before entry. Tap water is safe to drink but drinking water from dubious sources, especially slow-moving streams, can lead to giardia, commonly known here as ‘beaver fever’. The result is vomiting, diarrhoea and weakness.
Those hiking in the mountains should be aware of altitude sickness, which can begin at 3000 m. If you experience headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath, the best treatment is to descend. The best prevention is to ascend slowly.
To combat hypothermia and frost- bite, which may occur when your core temperature falls below 35°C, keep warm by wearing several layers of suitable clothing . If you feel cold, move about rather than just standing still.
Sunburn also occurs easily in the mountains, so avoid extensive exposure, wear a hat and sunglasses, and use a high- protection sun cream.
The health service in Canada is maintained by provincial governments. Travellers should make sure their insurance covers all medical costs and visitors suffering from a condition that may need immediate care, such as those with serious allergies or diabetes, are advised to carry what they need in case of an emergency. Medical services are listed in each town’s directory.Pharmacies (chemists) are plentiful and stock all the usual provisions. They are often large retail outlets that stay open late, even 24 hrs in big cities. As elsewhere, many drugs are only available with a doctor’s prescription.
Travel insurance is highly recommended and should cover theft or loss of possessions including passport and money, the cost of medical and dental treatment, cancellation of flights, delays in travel arrangements, accidents, missed departures, personal liability and legal expenses. Keep any rele- vant medical bills and police reports to substantiate your claim. Note that many policies exclude ‘dangerous activities’ or charge a higher premium for them. This may include scuba-diving, skiing and even trekking. Some companies will not cover people over 65 years old, or may charge high premiums. Age Concern, T01883- 346964, http://www.ageconcern.org.uk, usually have the best deals for seniors. Columbus Direct, T0207-375 0011, www.columbus direct.com, is one of the most competitive British companies.STA Travel and other reputable student travel organizations also offer good-value policies. Travellers from the US should check to see if their existing policies cover travel in Canada. Otherwise, try the International Student Insurance Service (ISIS), available through STA Travel, T1800- 777 0112, http://www.statravel.com, or Travel Guard, T1800-826 1300, http://www.travelguard.com; Access America, T1800-284 8300, www. accessamerica.com; Travel Insurance Services, T1800-937138, www.travelinsure. com; and Travel Assistance International, T1800-821 2828, http://www.travelassistance.com.
Newspapers and magazines
There are 2 national newspapers. The Globe and Mail is a broadsheet that appeals to a more intellectual and liberal-minded readership. The National Post has a more right-of-centre and populist approach, as do BC’s The Province and Vancouver Sun. The bookshop Chapters is a good place to browse.Foreign newspapers and magazines, available in larger newsagents in Vancouver and Calgary, include USA Today, the Inter- national Herald Tribune as well as weekend editions such as The Observer.
Radio and television
The best way to get an idea of the Canadian psyche is to tune in to CBC Radio One, where current issues and all manner of topics are discussed. The news is broadcast every 30 mins, with an extended national news at 1700, and world news at 1800. Shows in the morning are provincial, those in the afternoon are national. Cross-country Check-up (Sun 1600-1800) and the provincial BC Almanac (weekdays at noon) are phone-in shows where people talk about key current issues. Other shows to listen out for are: Definitely not the Opera (Sat 1400-1600), usually good for new Canadian music; Tapestry (Thu 1500-1600 and Sun 1400-1500), which deals with spiritual and metaphysical matters; and Quirks and Quarks (Wed 1500-1600 and Sat 1200-1300), an intelligent show about science. CBC Radio Two used to be dedicated to classical music, but has recently widened its scope.Canadian television tells you very little about the country beyond its obvious proximity to the US. There are only 2 Canadian channels, one national CBC), the other provincial (BCTV in BC, for example). Even these have ads and are dominated by US content.
Cost of travelling
The cost of living is considerably lower in Canada than in the UK. Things that will cost £1 in England will often cost $1 in Canada. Notable exceptions are luxuries like beer and cigarettes which are roughly on a par with the UK and therefore more expensive than they are in the US. Petrol (gas) is cheaper than in the UK but more expensive than the US.Canada is not a budget destination, though it is still reasonably affordable for those coming from Britain. Apart from accommodation, the single biggest expense is travel, due to the vast distances that need to be covered. Petrol gets considerably more expensive the further north you go. Accom- modation and restaurant prices tend to be higher in popular destinations such as Whistler and Banff, and during the summer months (or winter at ski resorts).
What to take
Most towns have Canada Post offices, http://www.canadapost.ca, which are usually open Mon-Fri 0900-1700. It is often more convenient to send post from one of the major pharmacies. Costs for a standard letter are 52¢ within Canada, 96¢ to the US, and $1.60 anywhere else. Prices for packages depend on exact destination and weight. Within BC this is roughly $5 for 1 kg then 30¢ for every additional 500 g. It is consider- ably cheaper to send parcels abroad as ‘small packages’. To the US this includes anything up to 1 kg. To Europe, a small package can be up to 2 kg.Note that international mail can take up to 2 weeks to arrive. In smaller towns, regular post offices will hold general delivery (post restante). In big towns this should be addressed to the main post office.
For international calls to Canada, dial your country’s IDD access code (00 from the UK) +1, then the local code, then the number. Local codes are: 250 for all of BC, except Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and Sea to Sky Highway, which are 604; most of Alberta is 403, except the Edmonton region (including Jasper), which is 780; the Yukon is 867. These codes have been included throughout the guide.
Long-distance calls within North America must be preceded by 1, then the 3-digit local code. Any long-distance numbers beginning with 1800, 1888, 1877, or 1777 are free in North America. For long-distance and international calls it works out much cheaper to buy one of the cards available from newsagents and petrol stations. Those from 7-11 shops are reliable. For international calls, ask for one with no connection fee. To reach an operator, dial 0. For directory enquiries, dial 411. To dial out of Canada the IDD access code is 011. For all emergency services, dial 911.In Canada as elsewhere, the advent of the mobile phone has led to a decrease in the number of public phones. Many take coins and credit cards, some take Telus phone- cards, available at 7-11 shops, petrol stations, or larger pharmacies. Local calls are free from personal phones, with a charge of 25¢ at pay phones for an unlimited amount of time.
Visitor Information Centres can be found in almost every Canadian town and are listed in the relevant sections of this book. Many are only open mid-May to mid-Sep and tend to be well stocked with leaflets. In British Columbia, T1800-534 5622, www.hello bc.com, literature includes a Vacation Planner; the indispensable Approved Accommodation Guide, which also includes addresses and toll-free phone numbers for Visitor Centres; vacation guides for each region; the extremely informative Outdoor Adventure Guide; and other guides covering topics such as fishing and golf. Alberta, T1800-252 3782, www.travel alberta.com, produces an Accommodation Guide and a separate Campground Guide, a very useful Vacation Guide full of attractions, and some regional brochures. The Yukon, T1800-661 0494, http://www.touryukon.com, produces a helpful Vacation Planner. Look out also for Welcome, a visitor guide put out by the Yukon First Nations Tourism Association, T867-667 7698, http://www.yfnta.org.Most Visitor Centres will provide infor- mation on local transport and attractions, and sell relevant books and souvenirs. Many also produce self-guiding walking- tour maps of their towns, and have illustrated directories of local B&Bs. Parks Canada, http://www.pc.gc.ca, operates its own offices, usually in conjunction with the local tourist board. These tend to be excellent facilities, especially in the Rockies. Their website has lots of information, but ferreting it out it can be frustrating.
In Australia and New Zealand
Scenic Tours, PO Box 807, 11 Brown St, Newcastle, Australia, T1300-136001, http://www.scenictours.com. Tours of the Rockies.
Ski Tours Canada, T02-9499 9639, www.ski tourscanada.com. Ski tours around resorts from Big White to Fernie.Talpacific Holidays, level 5, 11 Finchley St, Milton, Queensland, 4064, T07-3218 9900, http://www.talpacific.com. Rail tours.
In North America
Adventure Link Tours, Suite 202, 298 Main St, McBride, BC, VOJ 2EO, T1888-229 4266. http://www.adventurelinktours.com. Train tours, lodge holidays and ski vacations. Specialists in Rocky Mountain holidays.
Adventures Abroad, PMB 101, 1124 Fir Av, Blaine, Washington, 98230, USA, www.adv entures-abroad.com. All kinds of tours, including 2-week bus tours from Calgary to Vancouver Island.Midnight Sun Adventure Travel, 1027 Pandora Av, Victoria, BC, V8V 3P6, T1800- 255 5057, http://www.midnightsuntravel.com. Tours of Vancouver Island, the Rockies, the Yukon, and Haida Gwaii. Also kayaking, hiking and camping tours for small groups.
In the UK
Canada Travel Specialists, Barrhead Travel, 190-194 Main St, Glasgow, G78 1SL 4PA. T0871-226 0474, www.canadatravel specialists.com. Ski packages, rail tours, motorhome holidays.
Connections Worldwide, HiTours House, Crossoak Lane, Redhill, Surrey, RH1 5EX, T0800-988 5847, www.connectionsworld wide.co.uk/canada-holidays.asp . All kinds of packages offered.HF Holidays, Catalyst House, 720 Centennial Court, Centennial Park, Elstree, Herts, WD6 3SY, T208-732 1220, http://www.hfholidays.co.uk. Walking and cycling tours of Western Canada.
Visas and immigration
Weights and measures
There are few, if any, regions in the world where women are as emancipated, and that are as safe for women travellers, as Western Canada. Naturally the usual precautions need to be taken in cities and larger towns, such as avoiding quiet unlit streets and parks at night. In more redneck logging and mining communities, or in sports-oriented places like Whistler, a surfeit of pumped-up males may result in more attention than most women would want, but even here the problem is more one of irritation than danger.
Gaia Adventures for Women, T604-875 0066, http://www.gaiaadventures.com. Organize a number of differing adventures for women throughout the year.Wild Women Adventures, T1888-993 1222. An outdoor adventure company for women, organizing all sorts of activities and trips throughout Canada.
Working in Canada
Guide books and reference
Hart, J, Eat.Shop Vancouver (Cabazon Books, 2009). A handy companion to an eating and shopping tour of the city's neighbourhoods.MacDonald, C & Gillies, V. Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver, (Douglas & Macintyre, 2010). Includes 160 colour photos and 40 architects' drawings.
Barman, J, The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, 3rd ed. (University of Toronto Press, 2007). A definitive work, revealing BC's past from the beginning, and from diverse perspectives.
Blum, H, The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the American West and the Yukon Gold Rush (Crown, 2011). Promises to be the most exciting, accurate, wide-reaching and informative book about the gold rush yet.
Cavanaugh, C, Making western Canada: Essays on European colonization and settlement (University of Tornonto Press, 1996). An intelligent, gripping account of Western Canada’s tumultuous history.
Stouck, D & Wilkinson, M, Genius of Place: Writing about British Columbia (Polestar, 2000). Spanning 2 centuries, this collection of essays, journals, memoirs and sketches from writers of diverse fields and temperaments, develops a wonderfully rich and complex picture of the province.Vogel, A and Wyse, D, Vancouver: A History in Photos (Altitude, 1993). A visual approach to the city’s past, captured in vintage black and white.
Natural history and environment
Baron, N and Acorn, J. Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Lone Pine, 1997). Thorough and well illustrated.
Eyles, N and Miall, A. Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey (Fitzhenry and Whiteside 2007). A fascinating journey through Canada’s surprising geological history.
Harbour. Kramer, P. Gardens of British Columbia (Altitude, 1998). Lots of sump- tuous photos.Sheldon, I. Seashore of British Columbia (Lone Pine, 1998). An exploration of coastal flora and fauna with decent drawings.
Clapham, C, Great Walks of Vancouver: Metro Vancouver Plus Squamish to Whistler (Granville Island, 2010).
Copeland, K and C, Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, 5th Ed. (2006).
Cousins, J and N, Easy Cycling Around Vancouver: 45 Fun Day Trips for all Ages (Greystone Books, 2011).
Dunn, S, Mountain Biking BC (Rip It Up Publications, 2001).
Hanna, D, Easy Hikes and Walks of Southwestern BC (Lone Pine, 2003). A useful resource for those who want to home in on less demanding hiking.
Kimantas, J, The Wild Coast 3: A kayaking, hiking, and recreation guide for BC’s South Coast and East Vancouver Island (Whitecap Books, 2007).McGee, P, Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Greystone Books, 2004).
Nomad, L and S, Gotta Hike BC: Premier Trails in southern British Columbia (2001). A bit old now, but still our favourite choice, and the trails don't change!Seagrave, J, Camping British Columbia: A Complete Guide to Provincial and national Park Campgrounds, 6th Ed. (Heritage House, 2009). A useful resource, with some nice photos.
Douglas Coupland. Souvenir of Canada (Douglas & MacIntyre, 2002). This time the author presents a collection of quirky photos and observant witicisms about the country as a whole.
Spalding, DAE & Oke, K. Enchanted Isles: The Southern Gulf Islands (Harbour, 2007). Visually enchanting, and somehow manages to capture the rich flavour of the islands’ inhabitants.
Berton, P. Pierre Berton’s Canada: The land and the People (Stoddart, 1999). A gorgeous coffee-table book with text by an acclaimed local authority.
Coupland, D. City of Glass (Douglas & MacIntyre, 2001). An interesting book of anecdotes and photos about Vancouver by this celebrated local.
Hines, Sherman. British Columbia (Nimbus, 1988). Coffee-table book with a collection of nice photographs.
Horwood, D & Parkin, T. Haida Gwaii: The Queen Charlotte Islands (Heritage House Pub, 2006).
Leighton, D. The Canadian Rockies (Altitude, 1993). One of a few similar coffee-table offerings of the range.
Lynch, W. Wild Alberta: A Visual Celebration (Fifth House, 2005). Fantastic colour photos of Alberta’s surprisingly varied landscapes.
McAllister, I & K. The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada’s Forgotten Coast (Sierra Club Books , 1998). Stunning shots of the wild and rugged coast from north of Vancouver Island to Alaska.Pistolesi, Andrea. Vancouver: Sunrise to Sunset (Bonechi, 1998). Collection of glossy photos depicting this photogenic city.
Travelogues & biographies
Coffey, M and Goering, D. Visions of the Wild: A Voyage by Kayak around Vancouver Island (Harbour, 2001). An account of a personal odyssey, with beautiful photos.
Danlock, T. In the Wilds of Western Canada (Trafford, 2005). A collection of real life short stories, documenting the psychological and spiritual impact.of one man’s many electrifying encounters with Nature.Gordon, Charles. The Canada Trip (Douglas Gibson, 1997). About the only example of humourous travel writing on the country, but only a few chapters on Western Canada.
British Columbia and the Rockies
The second most crucial factor for climate is distance from the ocean, with the most marked differences existing between the coast and interior. Relatively warm air masses from the Pacific Ocean keep coastal temperatures mild in the winter, while cold water keeps it cool in the summer. The barrier of the Coast Mountains prevents such moderating conditions from reaching the interior, which tends to have cold winters and hot summers. Average January temperatures are above 0°C at most coastal stations – the mildest in Canada – and July averages are about 15°C in the north and 18°C in the sheltered Georgia Strait region. In contrast, the interior may be covered in winter by cold air masses pushing south from the Yukon or Alaska, particularly in the northern part of the province. Average daily January temperatures are -10°C to -15°C across the central interior and are a cold -20°C or more on the northeastern plains. The southern interior valleys tend to heat up during the summer, with average July temperatures of more than 20°C, sometimes considerably more. The frost-free season on the coast is the longest in Canada, averaging more than 200 days, whereas the central Interior Plateau receives only about 75-100 frost-free days.The air masses which cross the Pacific also bring ample rainfall to the coast, particularly in the autumn and winter. Much of this is dumped on the western slopes of mountain ranges, with the eastern (lee) sides often sitting in what is called a rain shadow, deprived of moisture. The western slopes of the Coast Mountains, for instance, accumulate 1000 to 3000 mm of precipitation annually, of which a high percentage is snowfall, whereas the Okanagan Valley receives a mere 250 mm per year. Weather in the Rockies and BC’s various mountain ranges is notoriously unpredictable, with snow and hail always possible at high elevations even on the hottest days of July.
Arts and crafts
Born and raised in a disciplined, middle-class Victoria household, Emily Carr (1871-1945) was orphaned in her teens, and went in 1891 to study art at the California School of Design in San Francisco. Her most important of many early travels was to France in 1910, from where she returned with a post-impressionist style of painting. She then continued a tour of Native Canadian sites, rendering a service to humanity by capturing on canvass, ancient villages, longhouses and totem poles that would soon fall into complete neglect. Particularly important are her evocative paintings of what is now Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve .It wasn’t until 1928 that she slowly began to receive the kind of national exposure and critical recognition that she deserved, though financial success remained elusive. Most people agree that her late work is her best, when she returned to painting nature scenes inspired by the rugged West Coast, in a style that was more free-flowing and expressive. Large collections of her work are held at both the Vancouver and Victoria Art Galleries, and her Victoria house, where she lived with all kinds of animals, can also be visited.
The Group of Seven
While the turn-of-the-20th-century art scene was marked by such major figures as James Wilson Morrice, considered the father of Canadian modernism, a truly Canadian form of painting only arrived with the ascension of the Toronto-based Group of Seven, who sought to draw inspiration directly from the Canadian landscape. Like the European fin de siècle symbolists and post-impressionists, they steered clear of the naturalism that had defined the previous generation, attempting to capture nature’s grandeur through the use of bold colours and decorative patterning.
The original members – Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, AY Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, JEH Macdonald and FH Varley – befriended each other in Toronto between 1911 and 1913, and often painted together, their work, romantic and with mystical tendencies, developing along somewhat similar lines. Tom Thomson, who died in 1917 before he could become a member of the group, also left behind a remarkable collection of paintings and oil sketches.If the group had a leader it was Harris, who began to radically simplify the colour and layouts of his canvasses. By the mid-1920s he had reduced his paintings to a few simplified and nearly monochromatic forms. Ten years later he became the only member of the group, and one of the first Canadian artists, to turn to abstraction. By the time the group disbanded in 1933, however, it had in many ways become as entrenched and conservative as the art establishment it had overthrown.
Many films are shot in Vancouver, but most of them are American and second- rate tosh. Some of the best are: The Accused, Little Women, The X-Files, McCabe and Mrs Miller, and Schwarzenegger’s The Sixth Day. Films made by Canadians are less famous but often a lot better. The best-known are by Toronto director David Cronenberg, whose films tend to combine conventional elements of horror and science fiction with a wry commentary on contemporary life that hints at profound questions involving the relationship between mind and body, and the role of technology and science in modern life. These include: Scanners (1980); Videodrome (1980); The Dead Zone (1983); The Fly (1986), a hugely successful remake of the classic B-movie, starring Jeff Goldblum; Dead Ringers (1988), starring Jeremy Irons, considered by many to be his masterpiece; Naked Lunch (1991), based on the William Burroughs novel of the same name; M Butterfly (1993), based on the play by David Henry Hwang; his most controversial film, Crash (1996), modelled on the novel by JG Ballard, which won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for ‘originality, daring and audacity’; eXistenZ (1999), a virtual reality mind-trip with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law; Spider (2002) with Ralph Fiennes; A History of Violence (2005) with Viggo Mortensen; and the incredible Eastern Promises (2007) with Viggo again, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl.A generation of writer-directors to emerge in the 1980s included Guy Maddin, Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montréal), Bruce McDonald (Road Kill, Last Night), and Patricia Rozema who came to international recognition with her first feature film I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987), one of Canada’s most successful films both critically and commercially. Probably the most acclaimed and influential is Atom Egoyan, who grew up in Victoria. Speaking Parts (1989) and The Adjuster (1991) were both invited to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Exotica (1994) became the most successful English-Canadian movie export since Porky’s in 1981. For most people his finest work to date is The Sweet Hereafter (1997), though Where the Truth Lies (2002), with Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth, is an understated masterpiece. Made by the Inuit collective Igloolik Isuma Productions, under the self-effacing leadership of director Zacharias Kanuk, prize-winning Atanarjuat–The Fast Runner (2002), is an epic in the old sense of the word: the enactment of primal, archetypal human issues on a mythic stage; set in real time but utterly timeless. The camerawork is exceptional, the story compelling and sometimes surreal. Their follow-up in 2005, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, depicts a series of events that took place in 1922, when Shamanism was replaced by Christianity. As such, it was the first film to portray the Christianization of indigenous people from their own point of view.
First Nations Culture
Art and crafts
Contemporary Native Art
Native art around Western Canada
The principal art of the Dene or Athapaskan people involved decoration of personal gear and clothing, such as caribou and moose hides embellished with porcupine quills, moosehair embroidery, and beads arranged in geometric and floral patterns. The Blackfoot and other Plains dwellers specialized in paintings on leather. This included tepees lavishly decorated with naturalistic and geometric motifs, rawhide shields symbolically painted with guardian spirits that would protect the warrior, and buffalo robes whose motifs ranged from the abstract to concentric sunburst patterns to representational images. The interior Salish of central BC’s plateau region left behind a major body of prehistoric pictographs. The Lillooet, Thompson, Okanagan and Shuswap are noted for their finely crafted, watertight baskets made by the coiling technique and decorated with geometric motifs.Pictographs, paintings executed with the finger in red ochre, and petroglyphs, carvings incised, abraded or ground by means of stone tools upon cliff walls, boulders and flat bedrock surfaces, have been discovered throughout Canada, and may constitute the continent’s oldest and most widespread artistic tradition. The BC coast has many petroglyph sites, primarily on Vancouver Island, including Nanaimo and Gabriola Island. Other sites have been discovered as far north as Prince Rupert and along the Nass and Skeena River system, and there is an extensive series of small-scale petroglyphs incised on sandstone bluffs at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta.
Northwest Coast Art
West Coast mythology is rich and complex, and far too involved to treat with any justice here. A wealth of tales passed on verbally from one generation to the next served to provide the spiritual and social foundation of the group, imbuing existence with meaning and mystery, and helping each individual through the natural trials and rites to which every lifetime is subject. Spiritually, the First Nations perceive the whole of nature as interconnected and alive with sacred significance, thus fostering a loving relationship with the earth and a desire to live off the land without destoying it.Most of these instructive, frequently humorous and often profound stories involve symbolic animals such as the bear or wolf, but the most important character is the raven or crow. Raven is the creator, as well as a trickster and transformer, making people laugh at themselves and cry simultaneously, by revealing how human greatness is tempered with pride and vanity, and subject to the whims of fate and chance. After the great flood, having gorged himself on shellfish, Raven discovered the remnant of the human race hiding in a clam shell on Rose Spit, Haida Gwaii and coaxed them out with his voice. At first he amused himself with these new playthings but then he helped them to build their culture. A sculpture of the scene by Bill Reid can be seen in the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
The most formidable of the First Nations was the Haida of Haida Gwaii, whose artwork is so distinctive as to be instantly recognizable.
Extended families of 50 or more lived together in large, elaborately decorated longhouses, whose interiors were divided by hanging mats, with communal fires and cooking areas shared by all. Containers, clothing and utensils were fashioned from cedar bark, roots, reeds and animal skins and furs, while specialized equipment was designed for catching salmon, hunting deer and elk, snaring birds, and harpooning sea mammals such as seals and porpoises. These, along with gathered shellfish, fruits and roots, provided the people with a fairly broad diet. Ritual dancing, singing and drumming were a major part of life, as were feasts, story-telling and games. Spiritually, as has been well documented, the great animist tradition of the First Nations perceived the whole of Nature as alive with sacred significance.Their complex social system divided people into two clans: Eagle and Raven among the Haida, Crow and Wolf in many other nations. These are further divided into hereditary kin groups. Marriage within a clan was considered incestuous, so Eagles would seek a Raven and vice versa. In this way there are always ties between clans and between people from distant places. Descent was through the female line, meaning that if a chief wanted to keep his property within the clan, he had to pass it on to his sister’s sons.
Other key players
The late Mordecai Richler established himself as one of Canada’s foremost novelists with the publication of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959) about a young Montréal-Jewish entrepreneur. Its dramatic scenes are complemented by a lively narrative pace, and profound characterisation. Other works include St Urbain’s Horseman (1971), Joshua Then and Now (1980), and Solomon Gursky Was Here (1990), which won the Commonwealth Writers’ prize. Thomas King is the best-known of Canada’s First Nations writers. His most celebrated works are Green Grass, Running Water (1993), and a collection of short stories, One Good Story, That One (1993). He has also edited The Native in Literature (1987), a collection of critical essays, and All My Relations (1990), an anthology of native Canadian fiction. In Canada he is equally famous for penning the hilarious CBC radio show Dead Dog Café – a perfect introduction to native humour and issues.Margaret Laurence’s many novels, of which The Stone Angel (1964) is the most highly regarded, are wonderful treatments of life in rural Canada. The fiction of Jack Hodgins, while sometimes experimental, displays a playful love of narrative. His novels, such as The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne (1979), deal with characters reconstructed from the his Vancouver Island childhood. In his hands, they are eccentric but realistic characters, deployed with stylistic suppleness in life- affirming situations. Leonard Cohen is best known as a singer, but he started life as an exceptionally gifted poet. Stranger Music (1993) gives a good overview of his verse and lyrics. He also wrote two very fine novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). In 2005, he brought out a new collection of poems, Dance me to the End of Love, with illustrations by Henri Matisse.
The New Breed
At the start of the new millennium, a fresh breed of Canadian writers is winning international awards and conquering the international market. The trend began with Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991), which came to crystallize the entire post-boomer generation born in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Most popular of the follow-ups are Girlfriend In A Coma (1998), and All Families are Psychotic (2001). In 2001 he put together an interesting book of anecdotes and photos about his native Vancouver, City of Glass. Since then the floodgates have opened. Jane Urquhart has been tremendously successful with The Underpainter (1997), which won the Governor General’s Award and The Stone Carvers (2001), also a world-wide bestseller. But her best work is probably still Away (1993), in which she juxtaposed the Irish potato famine of the 1840s with pioneer homesteaders in 19th-century Ontario to explore the transplanting of Old World myths to the new land. She has also published a book of short stories, Storm Glass (1987) and three books of poetry.
Carol Shields won several prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize with her classic The Stone Diaries (1993). Other favourites are Larry’s Party (1997), and Unless (2002), which has received rave reviews. Rohinton Mistry has been greeted with tremendous international acclaim. Set in India, his novels Such A Long Journey (1991), A Fine Balance (1995) and Family Matters (2002) have won many literary awards, including a nomination for the Booker Prize. David Adams Richards has built a reputation as one of the country’s most gifted writers with novels like Nights Below Station Street (1988), and Mercy Among the Children (2000). John Ralston Saul caused quite a stir in the intellectual world with Voltaire’s Bastards (1992), a brilliant treatise on the problems caused by modern man’s excessive devotion to reason. Other highly recommended international bestsellers are The Cure For Death By Lightning (1996) and A Recipe for Bees (1998) by Alberta novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz, At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999) by the highly gifted Dionne Brand, and Anne-Marie MacDonald’s fashionably miserable I Fall On My Knees. Popular on the home front are Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces (1996), Nino Ricci’s superb Lives of the Saints (1990), and novels by Galiano Island resident Jane Rule, including Memory Board (1987) and After the Fire (1989). And most recent of all is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which won the 2002 Booker Prize.For a collection of short modern fiction by BC writers, there’s West by Northwest: BC Short Stories (1998), edited by D Stouck and M Wilkinson (Polestar). And finally, George Bowering, Selected Poems 1961-92 is an overview of the work of a Vancouver poet who was named Canada’s first poet laureate in 2002.
Up to the mid-20th century
In the first century of Canadian writing, techniques tended to reflect literary fashions in England. The best-known book by an early settler is Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush (1852), which opens with a warning to prospective immigrants that Canada is not the Eden it is widely promoted as in England, and that the settlers’ lot is a harsh one. Lurking behind the young lady’s steadfast moral vision is a fascination with characters, an acute attention to detail, considerable psychological insight, and a good dose of genuine wit. Those writers best known for their portraits of the Northwest around the time of the Gold Rush were both foreigners: the British poet Robert Service, who romanticized the frozen north, and the American writer of short novels and stories, Jack London.
With Confederation came a quickened interest in the growth of a national culture, most often expressed through romantic rewritings of Canadian history. The most successful turn-of-the-20th-century works were both written for children: Margaret Marshall Saunders’ Beautiful Joe (1894) and LM Montgomery’s international best-seller Anne of Green Gables (1908). Around the same time, Stephen Leacock established an international reputation as a comic writer and lecturer in the Dickensian tradition with works such as Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914). And native poet E Pauline Johnson produced a timeless work, Legends of Vancouver, a collection of stories based on legends recounted to her by Chief Joe Capilano of Vancouver.
Hugh McLennan, who won the prestigious Governor General’s award an unequalled five times, is credited as the first major English-speaking writer to attempt a portrayal of Canada’s national character. His 1941 novel Barometer Rising introduced a period of optimism towards the country’s own culture, progress and role on the world stage. His classic The Watch that Ends the Night (1959) summarizes a new faith in the land, if not the politicians it spawns. Such themes, given impetus by the humanist and anticlerical stances of francophone writers such as Gabrielle Roy, were picked up by the likes of Pierre Berton, Roderick Haig-Brown and Farley Mowat.Following a heart attack in 1937, renowned Victoria artist Emily Carr began devoting more of her time to writing. Klee Wyck (1941) won her a Governor General’s Award, followed by The Book of Small (1942), and The House of All Sorts (1944). Her very readable journals Growing Pains, The Heart of a Peacock, Pause, and Hundreds and Thousands were published posthumously. Morley Callaghan’s novels deal with two apparently irreconcilable worlds, the self-seeking empirical jungle, and the spiritual realm of trust and faith. Such heady themes are most timelessly treated in Such is My Beloved (1934), and The Loved and the Lost (1951), which is often considered his masterpiece. In 1960, American critic Edmund Wilson identified him as “unjustly neglected” and compared him to Chekhov and Turgenev. Ethel Wilson was born in South Africa, but lived in Vancouver, and is one of the first Canadian writers to truly capture the rugged and unsurpassed beauty of the BC landscape. A strong sense of place is evoked in the unpretentious and lucid style of books such as Swamp Angel (1954), while her characters consistently struggle with the paradox of the human condition. Around the same time, William Mitchell achieved instant recognition with his classic Who has seen the Wind (1947), which magically captures the characters and eccentrics, but especially the beauty and power of the Prairies.
It comes as no surprise that those Canadian musicians and bands who have achieved a degree of international recognition are usually mistaken as Americans. Many of these are singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Tom Cochrane, Bruce Cockburn, Paul Anka, Ann Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Certain others, utterly unknown abroad, are veritable institutions here in Canada, especially Valdi and the irrepressible Stompin’ Tom Connors. There have also been a few big rock groups such as Bachman Turner Overdrive, Steppenwolf, The Guess Who, Rush, and most of The Band, including Robbie Robertson.The trend of solo artists has continued more recently with big names like Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, Feist, Sarah McLachlan, KD Laing, Alanis Morissette, Jann Arden, Jane Siberry, Céline Dion, and Loreena McKennitt. The latter is the most internationally successful of a large number of musicians who delve into their Celtic roots. To these should be added Vancouver-boy Brian Adams, and Daniel Lanois, who is more famous for producing bands like U2, and national favourites like Bif Naked, Veda Hille, Kinnie Starr, and Hawksley Workman. Some of the more successful modern Canadian bands include The Tragically Hip, Crash Test Dummies, Cowboy Junkies, The Rankin Family, Spirit of the West, Blue Rodeo and Barenaked Ladies. The best-known singer in the Country genre that dominates Alberta and the Prairies is Shania Twain. Canadian jazz musicians include the hugely popular singer Diana Krall, maestro pianist Oscar Peterson, the ebullient big band-style trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, superb ECM trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and alto-sax master David Sanborn. Metalwood, a modern, funky quartet from Vancouver, have five very good albums to their name. Roots is the real music of Canada, enjoying a resurgence today thanks to artists like BC’s excellent Zubot and Dawson.
Like the other Prairie provinces, Alberta was struggling with an economy reliant on the vicissitudes of the world’s grain and cattle markets, until the discovery of oil in the Leduc field in 1947 transformed it overnight into Canada’s most energy-rich province. A rapid rise in the world price of oil in the early 1970s drove the Alberta economy to unprecedented and frantic growth. While Edmonton became the centre for petroleum servicing, production and transmission, Calgary remained the exploration, administrative and financial centre. After a decade of financial boom, the nationwide recession of the 1980s was particularly severe in Alberta. The mid-1990s saw its fortunes rise again with higher world prices for oil and natural gas. The value of fuels in 1993 reached $18.5 billion, or 79.9% of total national value.
While proven remaining recoverable oil reserves are still considerable, Alberta holds some other aces. About 70% of Canada’s proven remaining coal reserves lie within the province, estimated in 1995 at $34 billion. The natural gas industry is older than oil, dating from 1883 discoveries near Medicine Hat, and in 1994 Alberta’s production was still 83% of the Canadian total. Two-thirds of the world’s bitumen is located in the Fort McMurray region of Northern Alberta in the form of oil sands that cover more than 78,000 sq km, an area almost as big as Scotland. The 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen represents one of the largest known hydrocarbon accumulations in the world. As conventional production declines, the oil sands could become the future for Canada’s energy security in the next century. Alberta also has vast heavy oil reserves which exhibit the same general chemical characteristics as bitumen from the oil sands.
The success story of the petroleum industry had a knock-on effect that further benefitted Alberta’s economy. As Canada’s balance of financial power shifted westward, Calgary emerged as the third-largest head-office location after Toronto and Montreal for major Canadian companies and foreign banks. Between 1978 and 1986 the Calgary-based Alberta Stock Exchange increased its number of company listings by nearly 400, reaching 491. The construction industry in the two major cities also rides high on the province’s booms.
Forests cover nearly three-quarters of Alberta, 67% of which is considered productive for forestry. Owing to the boom and bust cycle of the oil industry, the Alberta government has been aggressively promoting this sector of the economy since the late 1980s, and it now ranks as the province’s second-largest industry. Agriculture and livestock husbandry also remain of vital importance. The black and brown soils of the mixed-grass prairie and parkland regions possess great potential for mixed farming. Away from this fertile crescent, especially in the southeast, lie the more specialized ranching and wheat operations, which compensate for their marginal soils with their large size. Over $40 billion worth of product is exported each year.Tourism has become an increasingly important sector of Alberta’s economy, thanks to the spectacular scenery and year-round recreational facilities of the Rocky Mountain National Parks, particularly Banff and Jasper, which attract hundreds of thousands of tourists annually from all over the world. The next most significant sector of the economy is manufacturing, principally food and beverages, chemical products, forest products, and petroleum products. Other sectors include the processing of minerals such as sulphur, and commercial fishing in the northern lakes.
Forestry has been the main component of BC’s economy throughout this century. About 64% of the province is forested, and thanks to excellent growth conditions BC produces nearly 60% of Canada’s sawn lumber, most of its plywood and 30% of its chemical pulp. This over-dependence on its softwood has caused the province major problems following tariffs introduced by the US, where most of the wood goes.
A wide range of metals has been discovered throughout the Cordilleran part of the province, including lead, zinc, gold, silver, copper and iron. The Peace River Lowland has a different geological base consisting of younger, sedimentary rocks which have been the sources of petroleum, natural gas and coal. Mining and mineral processing employ about 3% of the labour force but yield nearly 20% of the product value of BC’s major industries. Most consumer-goods manufacturing, as well as management and financial activities concerned with resource developments, has remained concentrated in or near the ports of the southwest, whose activities contrast ever more clearly with the primary activities of the north coast and interior.
In 2001, $601 million worth of fish were harvested in BC and 20,100 were employed in the industry. The most valuable fishery is for the five species of Pacific salmon, which are caught by large, modern fishing vessels mostly near the mouths of the Fraser and Skeena rivers, a method of harvesting that has resulted in disastrously depleted fish stocks. Other important seafood include herring, halibut, cod and sole, and a large variety of shellfish, particularly oysters. In cultivated land as a percentage of total provincial area, BC ranks second lowest in Canada, behind Newfoundland. Its most productive official crops are vegetables, tobacco and ginseng, but these are probably dwarfed by the incalculable market value of BC’s marijuana industry. The most important regions for agriculture are the Peace River area, which accounts for about 90% of BC’s grain, the Okanagan Valley, one of Canada’s three main fruit-growing regions, and the small but fertile farms of the Lower Fraser River. Cattle ranching on the grasslands of the southern Interior Plateau is relatively small-scale.BC is well endowed with steep and rugged landforms and ample precipitation, which together produce enormous seasonal runoffs in numerous rivers and vast amounts of potential hydroelectric power. Dams along the Kootenay, Columbia, and Peace rivers in particular are among the country’s most productive, producing energy for the Lower Mainland and the United States. The physical environment of BC is itself a valuable resource, attracting visitors from throughout the world. Above all, the province is renowned internationally for the extent and diversity of its opportunities for outdoor recreation. In 2005 tourism generated 4% of BC’s GDP, providing 6% of jobs.
Having been originally put on the map by the greatest Gold Rush the world has known, it comes as no surprise that mining has continued to play a vital part in the Yukon’s survival, comprising more than 30% of the territory’s economic base. This has made it extremely vulnerable to reversals. The closure of all the Yukon’s major mines in the 1980s because of depressed world markets and depleting resources resulted in a serious economic crisis, but this trend reversed in 1986 with the re-opening of the Yukon’s major lead-zinc mine and the setting of a 30-year record in placer gold production. Many large mineral deposits still remain and new mines have recently been developed which will bring significant increases in the production of copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver.Tourism is the second most important industry in the Yukon, and continues to grow steadily. Other secondary but expanding sectors include agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and fishing.
Dominion from sea to sea
During the 1860s, several key elements came together to make the union of the northern colonies a reality. The emphasis in Britain had shifted to trade and profits rather than military glory and monopolies. The colonies were coming to be seen as financial burdens that had to grow up and take responsibility for themselves. At the same time, Britain’s clear sympathy and tacit support of the southern states during the brutal Civil War of 1861-65 had angered the northern states, at times bringing Britain and the US to the brink of war, with Canada as the battlefield. Newspapers in Chicago and New York were warning Canada: “Just wait till this war is over. You’re next!”
The Treaty of Reciprocity with the US that had helped Canada to survive when Britain ended its protective colonial tariff and began moving towards freer trade seemed unlikely to be renewed, so Canada had to look elsewhere, namely towards the land to the west. In this respect, the railways offered great promise, a possible response to the US threat, and also great profits. It is no coincidence that the leading proponents of Confederacy were also railway promoters. And one of the arguments they used was that of glory, the glory of expansion.
A federal system was eventually agreed on that borrowed from the British and American systems. Like the latter, it would have two levels of government, federal and provincial. But rather than electing a President by a separate vote, they chose to be led by a Prime Minister, who would be the leader of the party with the most seats in the House.The Province of Canada said yes to union, though there was only a small majority among the French. New Brunswick eventually said yes. The Nova Scotia premier said yes, though without the consent of his people who were basically tricked into the deal. Newfoundland said no. Ironically, the first Canadian land to be inhabited by Europeans, or so we believe, was the last to join the union, holding out until 1949. Canada was called a Dominion after the Psalm 72 phrase “His dominion shall be from sea to sea”, which also provided the national motto A Mari Usque Ad Mari. The very day after Queen Victoria signed the British North America Act in 1867, the Americans ominously purchased Alaska from the Russians.
The Canadian Pacific Railway
Two nations warring …
The generally accepted explanation of how North America’s very first people arrived is that they crossed a temporary land bridge between Asia and Alaska. Though some sites in Alaska and the Yukon hint at occupation as long as 25,000 years ago, the most common theory is that this migration occurred about 15,000 years ago, when ice-age glaciation had lowered the world’s sea levels dramatically, creating a whole continent called Beringia. Animals now long extinct, such as the woolly mammoth and giant beaver, fled to this vast oasis of green within a desert of ice looking for food, and human hunters with the same motives followed them.At least 14,500 years passed before the first Europeans ‘discovered’ this New World, by which time aboriginal societies had spread throughout North and South America. In Canada alone, over 50 languages were spoken, a fact that prompted historian Olive Dickason to comment: “Canada has 55 founding nations rather than just the two that have been officially recognized”. It is certainly useful to band Canada’s First Nations together according to language groups or broad geographical areas, but to generalize about them is about as useful as speaking of Europeans as a single cultural unit.
People of the Plains
The stereotypical Hollywood-style image of the painted ‘Red Indian’ warrior with eagle-feather headdress, buffalo outfit, horse and rifle is based entirely on the tribes that lived on the Great Plains of Central Canada. Of these, the most militant and powerful were the Blackfoot Confederacy, who waged almost continual war with the Plains Cree and Assiniboine to the north and east, the Sioux and Crow to the south, and tribes such as the Kootenay and Shuswap who occupied the interior valleys of southern BC, but crossed the Rockies to hunt at certain times of year.
The whole way of life of the Plains Indians depended on the herds of buffalo that roamed the prairies in staggering numbers. Their meat provided the people with food; their hides were used to make clothes, blankets, rafts, and tepees that could be quickly dismantled and carried away when whole villages left to follow the buffalo’s migrations. Painting on buffalo leather was the chief mode of artistic expression: tepees were lavishly decorated with naturalistic and geometric motifs, rawhide shields were symbolically painted with guardian spirits that would protect the warrior and buffalo robes were covered in designs ranging from abstract concentric patterns to representational images.Ironically, the heyday of the Plains dwellers only came with the arrival of the Europeans and introduction of horses and rifles. But the white settlers also introduced the systematic and wholesale slaughter of the buffalo herds which they used as a means to rid themselves of the aboriginals.
The Inuit and Inuvialuit
The Pacific Northwest
By far the most densely populated area in Canada when the Europeans arrived, with about half of the country’s inhabitants, was the Pacific Northwest. About 16 languages were spoken here, including two that were utterly unrelated to any others, making this one of the most linguistically rich regions in the history of the world. Radically different as they may have been, the West Coast nations had many cultural similarities, although the Haida, from the isolated Queen Charlotte Islands, in Northern BC, were the fiercest, wealthiest, most extravagant and artistically gifted nation of all.Thanks to a relatively mild climate and an abundant supply of food and materials, the coastal people had enough time and wealth to evolve into incredibly rich and complex societies. Extended families lived in vast, elaborately carved and decorated cedar plank houses, before which stood tall cedar poles covered in rich, anthropomorphic symbolism. People wore weavings, furs, leather footwear and exquisite jewellery, kept their possessions in sumptuously carved cedar boxes, and travelled in long dugout canoes that made them masters of the turbulent ocean and formidable fishermen. They dined on a rich diet of salmon, game, fruit, berries and roots, and enjoyed gambling, dancing, games, ceremonies, music and celebrations . The coastal First Nations has a firmly entrenched sense of social class, with ranks including chiefs, commoners and slaves who were usually prisoners from conquered neighbours. Private ownership covered everything, even such essentials as fishing and hunting rights.
Go West, Young Men!
A mere matter of marching
While the English were fighting the 1812 war against Napolean, the Americans saw their chance of capturing Canada. With Britain preoccupied and the US population at 7.5 million compared to Canada’s 80,000, Thomas Jefferson advised President Madison that it was “a mere matter of marching”. On 18 June 1812 they promptly declared war on Britain and made plans for the Conquest of Canada. It was General Isaac Brock and the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh who were to save Canada. In a series of battles in which they were greatly outnumbered, this dynamic duo scared the Americans into submission by exploiting their irrational fear of those wild Indian braves.In the treaty that followed, Canada and the First Nations were excluded from negotiations, while Britain agreed to return the frontiers to their original positions, allowing the Americans to extend their borders into the Indian Territory that had previously been reserved as native lands. The First Nations had been shafted again, this time for good. No longer needed by the British as allies or a buffer zone, they were destined to be ‘civilized’ and assimilated, or slowly wiped out.
Mackenzie, Fraser and Thompson
Pierre de la Vérendrye
The NorthWest Company
How the West was won
British Columbia joined the Confederation in 1871, but the union was for some time an unhappy one. Governing a large mountainous area with few people was an expensive business, revenue from resources was low, and the hoped-for expansion of trade with East Asia following completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway was slow to arrive. The railway did, however, bring people to the port of Vancouver, which in 15 years already surpassed the population it had taken Victoria almost 60 to accrue.
The kind of settlers attracted to BC were very different from those drawn to the East and Prairies. Entrepreneurs with capital to invest came West around the turn of the 20th century to exploit the province’s vast resources. A salmon-cannery industry was established along the coast. Sawmills sprang up around the shores of Georgia Strait and along eastern Vancouver Island. The first pulp and paper mill at Powell River wasn’t completed until 1912 and significant expansion of the forest industry only occurred after the First World War, when the Panama Canal gave access to markets in the North Atlantic.
Missionary Father Pandosy’s successful cultivation of apples in Kelowna had led to a string of orchards down the Okanagan Valley by the 1890s, and around the same time the discovery of gold, silver, copper and lead around Kootenay Lake led to a new wave of gold fever and subsequent settlement. Responding to railways that extended northward into the region from the US, the CPR built a line through the Crowsnest Pass in 1899 to extract coal from Fernie, constructed the Kettle Valley Railway from Hope, and blazed the Dewdney Trail, much of which was later converted into Highway 3. Throughout the mayhem of gold fever, which created or affected almost every community in BC, the province never turned into the kind of lawless free-for-all that California had earlier become. Much credit for this goes to the NWMP, and to the famous figure of Matthew Begbie, also known as ‘the hangin’ judge’.The Gold Rush to end them all led tens of thousands of mostly Americans to the Klondike River near the overnight boomtown of Dawson City. The Yukon Territory was created in 1898 to assert Canadian sovereignty over the region. The building of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway west from Edmonton through the Upper Fraser, Bulkley and Skeena valleys in 1907-14 was intended to give Canada a second gateway through the mountains to the Pacific Coast. Prince George then became a minor sawmill centre, servicing the growing housing market in the Prairies to the east.
From sea to frozen sea
Once upon a time in the West
A Perfect Eden
Despite the burgeoning sea otter trade, and Captain George Vancouver’s extensive charting of the coast, no attempt was made to settle the West until the HBC established Fort Langley (near today’s Vancouver) in 1827, and Fort Victoria in the 1840s. The latter was a purely strategic manoeuvre. The border with the US had been drawn along the 49th parallel from the Great Lakes to the Rockies, but the HBC shrewdly recognized that if this line were ever extended, it would clip the south end off Vancouver Island. In an attempt to get there first, James Douglas was sent to survey prospective sites for a new fort and trading post, and chose a site which he called ‘a perfect Eden’. Douglas was named governor of Vancouver Island on top of his title as Chief Factor of the HBC.The Company’s fears were soon vindicated. In 1844, US President James Polk was elected on the cry of “54.40 or fight”, a brazen threat that the Union would claim the whole of the mountainous Oregon territory, including most of today’s BC, right up to Alaska, taking it by force if necessary. The matter was ultimately decided by the 1846 Treaty of Oregon, signed by the US and Britain, which extended the 49th parallel straight across, ignoring the natural geography of north-south river valleys. The HBC was obliged to relocate its western HQ to the new Fort Victoria, greatly bolstering its importance.
If Canada as a whole owes its existence to the beaver, British Columbia came about thanks to the more obvious incentive of gold, the 1858 discovery of which in the Fraser Valley changed Fort Victoria almost overnight. For 25,000 stampeders en route to the gold fields, this was the only possible stop-over, and the town quickly swelled with shops and hotels, bars and brothels, politicians and newspapermen. Afraid of an American takeover, Governor Douglas issued a public proclamation that the gold fields were Crown property, forcing all miners to register and pay a fee. In doing so he had assumed control of the mainland, a blatant bluff. Britain pointed out that he was overstepping his authority, then backed him up anyway, creating a second Crown Colony called British Columbia in 1866, with Douglas as governor of both.Soon the new colony was littered with desperate hopefuls panning every creek for traces of the yellow metal. When large deposits of gold were found in the Cariboo, Douglas commissioned the Cariboo Road, a 650-km marvel of engineering and daring, eventually used to haul out millions of tons of ore, much of it from the boomtown of Barkerville, which for many years took its turn as the biggest settlement north of San Francisco. More importantly, the road opened up the grassland valleys and rolling basins of the interior plateau to ranching.
The 20th century
First World War
Canada catapulted itself onto the world stage with the accomplishments of its soldiers in the Great War, most famously at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens and the Hindenburg Line. Canada’s contribution of over 620,000 men, 60,000 of whom died, with over 172,000 injured, was extremely high in relation to its population, a fact that further strengthened its international voice. In 1917, Prime Minister Robert Borden, along with South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, demanded that the dominions be given full recognition as “autonomous nations of an Imperial commonwealth”. He also insisted that Canada put its own signature on the Treaty of Versailles, and when the League of Nations was formed, Canada and the other dominions were given seats, much to the annoyance of the US, who saw it as a British ploy to secure more votes.The inglorious side of the war, often glossed over, was the mass arrest of over 8500 ‘enemy aliens’, including over 5000 Ukrainians who were interred and used as labour in the steel mills of Nova Scotia. In other respects the war years and following decade were a time of positive reform. The Labour and Women’s movements in particular made great leaps forward: in 1916, women won the right to vote in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, with BC and Ontario following the next year and Nova Scotia a year later. Other provinces followed suit, although Québec women were denied their rights until 1940.
Return of the natives
The third strand that has persisted throughout Canada’s history is the plight and struggles of its First Nations. The Indian Act that followed the First World War aimed at nothing short of complete assimilation, forcing natives to relinquish all rights and status in order to vote or even own property. This once proud people had been racked by alien diseases, restricted to reserves, deprived of their traditional hunting grounds, taught in schools where they were discouraged from speaking their own languages, forbidden to continue ceremonies like the potlatch , and denied basic rights such as a vote. In the 1920s it seemed that they were a dying breed.
Yet somehow they survived, with many of their traditions and languages intact. After the Second World War the government decided to revise the Indian Act, and for the first time natives were involved in the discussions. Little came of it, but at least they got the vote in 1960.
The struggle for native land claims began in the 1890s in British Columbia, where no treaties had ever been drawn up as they were further east. Nations like the Nisga’a of the Nass Valley near Terrace never signed their land away and were never conquered, so technically their land still belongs to them. Only in the last 25 years have such claims begun to be taken seriously. When the government of Québec wanted to build a hydro project in the north, they had to negotiate terms with the James Bay Cree and Inuit, who surrendered their rights to a million square kilometres of land in exchange for self government within their own communities, hunting, trapping and fishing rights, and a trust fund of $225 million. In 1987, the Sechelt Inlet Band became the first native group in Canada to be granted self-government within their own reserve lands.In 1990, Mohawk protesters in the Oka region outside Montréal barricaded roads to a forest that was slated to be cut down, and in the resistance killed a police officer. This led to the formation in 1991 of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The report took five years to complete, and included 400 proposed changes, including the creation of an individual tribunal for land claims. It was finally recognized that the government could hardly be impartial in cases filed against itself. In 1999 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada was in violation of international law in its treatment of aboriginal rights. In 1999 the new territory of Nunavut was created. More than twice the size of BC it covers two million square kilometres, about a fifth of Canada’s land mass. One of the most thinly populated areas on earth, it has just 25,000 people, 83% of whom are Inuit, who were allowed to retain ownership of 18% of the land. The territory was given self-government and a $1 billion cash settlement. It is the first time any single First Nations group will have a majority presence in a provincial or territorial government.
Second World War
The most striking aspect of Canada’s involvement in the Second World War was the way in which Canadian troops were so often used as cannon fodder. Churchill sent 1900 of them into Hong Kong as a hopeless ‘symbolic’ defence against the Japanese. In 1942, in what could be seen as a farcical dress rehearsal for the D-day landings, 6000 troops, including 5000 Canadians, were sent on an ill-conceived mission into Dieppe that turned into a bloody fiasco. Over a million Canadians served in all, of which 45,000 died and 55,000 were wounded.The war had made Canada, along with the US, one of the two richest nations on earth, with the third largest navy and fourth largest air force. At the same time as the Citizenship Act of 1946 defined the people of Canada as Canadian citizens rather than British subjects, discriminatory immigration laws were set up to preserve “the fundamental character” of the country, making it very hard for blacks, Arabs, Asians and Jews to get in.
Perhaps Trudeau’s key contribution to Canadian politics, though, was his firm stance against separatism in Québec, a position that has been upheld by his colleague and fellow Québecois, Jean Chrétien.
In 1976 the Parti Québecois (PQ) was elected as Québec’s government. The following year they passed Bill 101, which banned English on commercial signs and severely restricted access to English-language education. Ironically, a federal bill had already been passed making it compulsory for the rest of the country to have labels in both languages on items as trivial as a jar of jam. In 1980, the PQ held a referendum on separation in which 60% of Québecois voted against sovereignty, but this was far from the end of the affair. During the term of Albertan PM Brian Mulroney, the separatists’ position strengthened due to the premier’s constant pandering to Québec, which was cited as a major reason why dissatisfied conservatives from the West broke away to form the Reform Party in 1987.
The stakes were raised in 1990 when the Bloc Québecois was formed to campaign on a federal level. Another referendum was arranged by the PQ for 1995, and this time the nation held its breath. Just 50.6% of Québec voted against separation, the narrowest of escapes. The issue of two warring nations has been a perennial thread in Canada’s political tapestry, and doesn’t look like going away any time soon.
During and after the Second World War, a trend began by which Canada became more and more linked to the US both militarily and economically. The Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940 established a Permanent Joint Board to integrate North American defences, while the government started courting American money to a degree that was considered shameless. By signing the North American Air Defense Agreement (NORAD), John Diefenbaker pretty much put Canada’s air defences under US control.
Trudeau became more and more concerned by US penetration into the Canadian economy, and made real efforts to increase ties to Britain and Europe, introducing some of the most unabashed examples of economic nationalism since Macdonald. But matters took a dramatic turn with the election of Brian Mulroney, an Albertan Conservative who started Investment Canada to encourage American investment. In 1987 he proposed the Free Trade Agreement with the States, removing almost every trade barrier between the countries, even though 80% of Canada’s exports were already going south. He then won the 1988 election on a platform of closer economic ties with the US, the first time that had ever happened. The White House saw the FTA as “a major victory for the United States”, one US trade rep even saying, “The Canadians don’t understand what they have signed. In 20 years they will be sucked into the US economy”.By 1993, Mulroney’s popularity had fallen to a record low of 9%, and he was replaced in 1993 by Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female prime minister, who only lasted a few months. Trudeau’s old henchman Jean Chrétien was voted in, and has remained in power ever since. In January 1994, months after taking office, he signed the NAFTA agreement that greatly expanded the Mulroney agenda he claimed to oppose. The effects were immediate: while the US retail giant Walmart moved into every mall in the country, the ancient Canadian stalwart Eatons filed for bankruptcy.
The Cold War
The Great Depression
Pierre Elliott Trudeau was perhaps the all-time most famous icon of Canadian politics, and dominated the scene from 1968-84. Young, suave and free-spirited, he captured the optimistic spirit of the Sixties.
Though prone to be coldly intellectual, Pierre Trudeau mostly lived up to his purported liberalism. As Minister of Justice he had already brought in key changes that relaxed divorce laws and ended restrictions on homosexuality and access to abortion. In 1971 he introduced the Canadian Multicultural Act, emphasizing the equality of all ‘cultural and ethnic groups’. A few years later, in a landmark piece of legislation, a proposed gas pipeline from Alaska to Alberta was shelved due to native land rights and environmental issues. And in a reversal of former policy, nearly 60,000 Indo-Chinese were allowed into Canada during the Vietnamese boat crisis.With a great deal of squabbling and difficulty, Trudeau drew up a Canadian Constitution in 1982. Until then the Constitution was still under British jurisdiction. Included within it was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which delineates freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of expression (including that of the press); freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.
The fur trade
Coureurs de bois and voyageurs
The Hudson’s Bay Company
The white man cometh
The debate is still open concerning which Europeans first reached the so-called New World. It may well have been a group of Irish monks led by St Brendan in AD 565, or the Vikings, who briefly explored the East Coast around AD 1000. In 1497 John Cabot, searching for the ‘backdoor’ route to China, arrived in Newfoundland, or maybe Cape Breton, where he found so many cod that “they sometimes stayed his shippes”. From then on hundreds of ships from all over Europe prowled the Newfoundland waters, notably Jacques Cartier, who led three expeditions looking for gold and diamonds. But nobody was interested in settling the land until Samuel de Champlain set up his habitation at the site of today’s Québec City in 1608. There is not space here to recount the many struggles the French and English settlers encountered in their quest to establish empires in what came to be called Canada. Nor is the history of the East necessarily very relevant to the much younger and geographically distinct West. What is important is the question of when, how and why the West was eventually settled.
A complex network of trade had long since been practised by most First Nations and, far from being easily duped innocents, they were from the start notoriously shrewd and tough in their dealings with the white man, and greatly appreciative of the iron, weapons and various tools that revolutionized their lives. Initially, the biggest problem was those other imports, the infectious diseases that hitched a ride with the newcomers. Most European germs were utterly alien in the New World, so the natives had never developed a resistance to them. Smallpox, measles, influenza, even the common cold, decimated aboriginal populations. It has been estimated that the population of North America before the Europeans arrived was between 10 and 18 million, a number that fell by 95% in a mere 130 years.We tend to harbour a guilt-driven, idealized image of Native Americans, but the truth is that many bands were continually at war with their neighbours over territorial disputes and hunting and fishing rights; they raided and looted each other, taking slaves from among the defeated, and in rare cases even practised ritual cannabilism and torture. The scale and consequences of human enmity retained a natural balance, however, until the Europeans arrived with their ruthlessly efficient weapons; a problem greatly exacerbated by Christian missionaries, who divided bands, villages, even families, between those who had converted and those who had not.
The debate is still open concerning which Europeans first reached the so-called New World. It may well have been a group of Irish monks led by St Brendan in AD 565. They almost certainly reached Iceland before the Vikings, and may well have visited the Northeast American Coast, but proof is yet to arrive. The Norsemen had island-hopped their way to Greenland by AD 1000, when sailors on a lost supply ship caught a glimpse of an unknown shore. Eric the Red’s son Leif went in search of this mysterious land, stopping first at Baffin Island, then Labrador, then a heavily forested and pastured land, probably on Newfoundland, which he named Vinland, Land of Wine. His brother later returned and spent the winter getting into a battle with the people they called skraelings, meaning ‘barbarians’. Little more came of it.
In 1497 John Cabot, searching for the ‘backdoor’ route to China, arrived in Newfoundland, or maybe Cape Breton, where he found so many cod that “they sometimes stayed his shippes”. From then on hundreds of ships from all over Europe prowled the Newfoundland waters, but nobody was interested in settling the land.
In 1534 Jacques Cartier led the first of three expeditions to the new land looking for gold and diamonds. Stumbling across a group of Iroquoian natives on a fishing expedition, he set up a wooden cross in their presence and claimed the land for France, a symbolic act understood despite the language barrier by their chief Donnacona, who was enraged. On his third voyage Cartier returned to set up a colony but the understandable antagonism of the natives, together with the harshness of the weather, made him leave again for home, this time with a handful of ‘gold’ that turned out to be the fool’s variety and ‘diamonds’ that were merely quartz.
It wasn’t until 1608 that the first European settlement was established on Canadian soil. Samuel de Champlain set up his habitation at the site of today’s Québec City and refused to give up, even when 20 of his 28 men died of scurvy in the first winter. Determined and energetic, this true founding father of Canada explored the waterways of the St Lawrence and Great Lakes, criss-crossing the ocean to promote his struggling colony. In 1609 the Montagnais Indians asked Champlain to accompany them on an expedition against the Iroquois to the south. It was the first time European weapons had been used against the natives and began a feud with the Iroquois, particularly the Mohawk, that would continue for generations, keeping the future land of ‘New France’ in a state of almost constant siege until a peace treaty was finally signed in 1701. From as early as 1615, Champlain invited the Récollet missionaries to come over and start converting the natives. He said it would “cement their commercial ties with the French as well as save them from eternal hell-fire in the next world”. Their tactic was to relocate the natives on farms, dress them in European clothes and teach them French. It failed utterly. The Jesuits, however, lived among the natives, learned their language, and sought to convert them one at a time. The tactic was far more successful and ultimately perilous for the natives. Chief Dan George later lamented: “When the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bibles. Now they have the land and we have the Bibles”.Despite many vicissitudes, and thanks largely to the fur trade, New France survived, but it remained little more than a trading post until 1617, when Champlain asked one Louis Hébert to settle the land properly, by farming it. The first century was a tenuous time, during which the colony’s very existence was constantly threatened by the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. In 1667, Louis XIV sent over 1100 of his best soldiers, whose very presence led to a truce and 20 years of peace during which the young colony flourished. At the same time, the king sent about 800 young female settlers, known as Filles du Roi, to redress the balance between males and females. This helped spark a population explosion, and today the majority of Canada’s six million Québecois can trace their roots back to these adventurous women, who were mainly orphans, prostitutes and widows.
War and revolution
The American Revolution
The Seven Years’ War
Land and environment
The Canadian Cordillera
The Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Shield
The western section of the Cordillera is dominated by the lofty Coast Mountains and the offshore Insular Mountains. The Cascade Mountains of Washington State end at the Fraser River, then the high, snow- and ice-covered peaks of the Coast Mountains extend northward along the Alaskan Panhandle into the Yukon. These gloriously scenic mountains have peaks, rising to 3000 m in the southern part, while northern peaks such as Mount Waddington rise to over 4000 m. Numerous long, twisting, deep fjords penetrate into the mountain mass along the coast. Only three major rivers, the Fraser, Skeena and Stikine, have managed to cut through the Coast Mountain barrier, the first two of which have provided vital funnels for the only roads and railway lines to reach the Ocean. Northwest of the Coast Range the St Elias Mountains straddle BC, the Yukon and Alaska, containing North America’s mightiest peaks, including the highest in BC, Fairweather Mountain (4663 m), and the highest in Canada, Mount Logan (6050 m). The offshore Insular Mountains, whose highest peak is Strathcona Park’s Golden Hinde at 2200 m, are the partially submerged northern continuation of the Olympic Mountains and Coast Ranges of Washington State. They provide the land mass for both Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands.Almost all of BC’s population resides in its southwestern corner. The so-called Lower Mainland, dominated by metropolitan Vancouver, contains almost half of the province’s population, and represents its commercial, cultural and industrial core. Together with Victoria and the southeast coast of Vancouver Island, this zone is also sometimes called the Georgia Strait region, which holds a whole 70% of BC’s population.
British Columbia’s vast interior is equally dominated by mountains. In the south are three parallel, north-south oriented ranges known collectively as the Columbia Mountains. The backbone is the Selkirk Range, flanked by the Purcells to the east and the Monashees to the west. Between them, carved out by lakes and rivers, are great valleys such as the Okanagan and the Kootenay, along which most of the population is strung. These tend to have radically differing characteristics of landscape and climate dependant on such factors as the rain-shadows which keep the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys so very dry.Further northwest is a fourth range of the Columbias, the Cariboo Mountains. Between these and the Coast Range lie the broad, gently rolling uplands of the Interior Plateau that covers much of central BC. This region can be considered a basin because it is surrounded by higher mountains, though its average elevation is still about 1000 m above sea level. Some of BC’s bigger but less interesting towns, such as Kamloops and Prince George, have grown as transportation and service hubs for the isolated subregions that surround them. The northern half of the province is barely inhabited away from the Yellowhead Highway, and beyond Prince Rupert is cut off from the Pacific by the Alaska Panhandle. The Cassiar-Omineca Mountains run between the Coast and Rocky Ranges, broken up by a second relatively flat expanse, the Spasizi Plateau.
The Interior Plains
East of the Rockies, the foothills quickly slope down to the broad, comparitively flat eco-region of the Interior Plains, which stretches right across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alberta can be divided into into four biophysical regions according to physiography, climate, soil and vegetation. The prairie region includes most of southern Alberta, more precisely the land south and east of an arc stretching from Waterton in the southwest to a point along the Saskatchewan border east of Red Deer. This gently rolling grassland is relatively dry and mostly treeless. The terrain varies locally, in places broken by deep river valleys, and rising from less than 300 m in the northeast to over 1460 m in the southeastern Cypress Hills. The parkland region predominates in central Alberta, forming a crescent to the west and north of the prairie region and including most of the North Saskatchewan River drainage basin. This area varies from the flatland of old lake bottoms to rolling landscapes with numerous lakes and depressions. It contains both forested and grassy terrain, with soil and climatic factors favourable to agriculture. West of the plains an area of foothill ridges rises fairly rapidly towards the Rockies. The northern half of the province is covered by boreal forest. Here great rivers and lakes dominate the landscape, draining northward to the Arctic Ocean. Soil and climatic factors make agriculture unprofitable except in the northwestern Peace River region that extends into BC, where parkland conditions create the world’s most northerly grain-growing area.In sociocultural terms, the province’s more populated lower half can be further divided into two distinct regions, with Calgary and Edmonton as their respective focal points. This is a long-standing division dating to the times when the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy dominated the south, with the Cree and Assiniboine inhabiting the north. In the early days of white settlement, grain farmers opened up the central fertile zone, while the south was more suitable for cattle-rearing on large-scale ranches, a fact that has led to the cowboy culture of Calgary, its nickname of Cow-town, and the famous Stampede. Calgary and southern Alberta were first linked to the east by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Edmonton and the north by the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern railways. Later, Calgary became the administrative and financial headquarters for the province’s petroleum industry, Edmonton its exploration and production centre.
The continent now known as North America was covered by vast granite mountains up to roughly 600 million years ago. The greatly eroded lake-dotted remains of this rock now constitute the Canadian Shield, which stretches from Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories to the Great Lakes of Ontario. As the Shield had a slight tilt, all the eroded debris was carried westward by streams and rivers, and dumped into the Ocean, slowly building up a ‘continental slope’ that reached a depth of 20 km over 400 million years. The weight of this sediment turned mud to stone, sand to sandstone, and the lime-heavy sea-debris into limestone.
Roughly 200 million years ago, two distinct, equally vast chains of volcanic islands were carried eastwards by the shifting Pacific Plate towards the continent’s west coast. When this 50-km thick platform eventually collided with the North American Plate, it slid underneath it, plunging into the earth’s molten interior. At the same time, the first island chain was broken apart from the heavier plate and smashed violently into, over and through the continental rock, causing it to lift, crumple, buckle and twist itself into the myriad fascinating shapes of BC’s interior mountain ranges. Over a period of 75 million years, the aftershock of this awesome collision caused further ripples of upheaval, as the incoming islands continued to smash into the ancient rock, creating the Western Ranges of the Rockies that are mostly contained in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks. Eventually, they bulldozed their way still further east, building the Eastern Ranges, such as those around Lake Louise.
When the second Pacific island chain smashed into the continent, further chaos was unleashed: a new round of lifting, distorting, rupturing and co-mingling resulted in the Rockies’ easternmost Front Ranges, the rockwall that rears up from the Albertan Prairies, together with the lower foothills. A series of ice-ages (at least three) in the last 240,000 years, have added their own contributions to this on-going work of art, sculpting, shattering, eroding and re-shaping of the mountain contours.The Columbia Mountains consist mainly of sedimentary and intrusive rocks of Cretaceous, Triassic and Jurassic ages, and they have been well mineralized. The exception is the Cariboo Range, which is composed of sedimentary rocks of Proterozoic age that appear to be less mineralized. Many of the rocks of the interior plateau are lavas of Cretaceous and Tertiary geological ages with apparently little mineralization except around the plateau edges. The Coast Mountain rocks are mostly granitic intrusions of Cretaceous and Tertiary ages and there are some recent volcanoes. The Yukon is geologically very complex but includes three parallel sectors oriented northwest-southeast. In the east, folded sedimentary Paleozoic and Mesozoic formations are set off sharply from the Mackenzie Valley by great faults. The middle sector includes sedimentaries, metamorphics and volcanics ranging from Precambrian to Mesozoic age. Massive plutonic Mesozoic and Tertiary granites make up the core of the western sector.
Focus on the West
British Columbia’s last premier, Gordon Campbell, has to rate as one of the most hated in the province’s history. It says a lot about the nature of Canadian politics that he managed to stay in power for nine years, winning three elections. One irate blogger summed up Campbell’s achievements in that time neatly: yes, he lowered income tax; but to pay for it he made massive cuts to healthcare, education, parks, and community centres, increased medical and education fees, closed hospitals, laid off hundreds of civil servants, raised his own salary by 30%, sold off BC Ferries, BC Rail and much of BC Hydro, and sold 600 wilderness rivers to private power companies. He was also arrested in Hawaii for drunk driving, and recently introduced the hated Harmonized Sales Tax. This last move led one opinion poll to place his personal approval rating at 9%, and ultimately led to his resignation in November 2010. At the time of writing, the BC Liberals are yet to elect his replacement.For a while, Campbell’s neo-Thatcherite strategies did appear to bear some fruit. When he took over, British Columbia was considered a ‘have-not’ province: unemployment was rising, the economy was stagnating, and a deficit was growing, despite ample natural resources. That situation seemed to turn around. The economy was booming a few years ago, unemployment had plummeted, Vancouver-Whistler won the race to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the BC government sank millions of dollars into province-wide improvements to public transport. As noted, the economy even weathered the US market crash surprisingly well. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Campbell has gone.
Return of the natives
The Indian Act that followed the First World War aimed at nothing short of complete assimilation, forcing natives to relinquish all rights and status in order to vote or even own property. This once proud people had been racked by alien diseases, restricted to reserves, deprived of their traditional hunting grounds, taught in schools where they were discouraged from speaking their own languages, and frequently sexually abused, forbidden to continue ceremonies like the potlatch, and denied basic rights such as a vote. By the 1920s, they appeared to be a dying breed. Yet somehow they survived, with many of their traditions and languages intact. After the Second World War the government decided to revise the Indian Act, and for the first time natives were involved in the discussions. Little came of it, but at least they got the vote in 1960.
The struggle for native land claims began in the 1890s in British Columbia, where no treaties had ever been drawn up as they were further east. Nations like the Nisga’a of the Nass Valley near Terrace never signed their land away and were never conquered, so technically their land still belongs to them. Only in the last 30 years have such claims begun to be taken seriously. When the government of Québec wanted to build a hydro project in the north, they had to negotiate terms with the James Bay Cree and Inuit, who surrendered their rights to a million square kilometres of land in exchange for self-government within their own communities, hunting, trapping and fishing rights, and a trust fund of $225 million. In 1987, the Sechelt Inlet Band became the first native group in Canada to be granted self-government within their own reserve lands.In 1990, Mohawk protesters in the Oka region outside Montréal barricaded roads to a forest that was slated to be cut down, and in the resistance killed a police officer. This led to the formation in 1991 of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The report took five years to complete, and included 400 proposed changes, including the creation of an individual tribunal for land claims. It was finally recognized that the government could hardly be impartial in cases filed against itself. In 1999 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada was in violation of international law in its treatment of aboriginal rights. In 1999 the new territory of Nunavut was created. More than twice the size of BC it covers two million square kilometres, about a fifth of Canada’s land mass. One of the most thinly populated areas on earth, it has just 25,000 people, 83% of whom are Inuit, who were allowed to retain ownership of 18% of the land. The territory was given self-government and a $1 billion cash settlement. This was the first time any single First Nations group had gained a majority presence in a provincial or territorial government.
Separatism is one of three strands that continue to dominate Canadian politics. The English speaking majority is still struggling to define its relationship with its French co-founders, the First Nations whose land it stole, and those powerful neighbours to the south.
In 1976 the Parti Québecois (PQ) was elected as Québec’s government. The following year they passed Bill 101, which banned English on commercial signs and severely restricted access to English-language education. Ironically, a federal bill had already been passed making it compulsory for the rest of the country to have labels in both languages on items as trivial as a jar of jam. In 1980, the PQ held a referendum on separation in which 60% of Québecois voted against sovereignty, but this was far from the end of the affair. During the term of Albertan PM Brian Mulroney, the separatists’ position strengthened due to the premier’s constant pandering to Québec, which was cited as a major reason why dissatisfied conservatives from the West broke away to form the Reform Party in 1987.The stakes were raised in 1990 when the Bloc Québecois was formed to campaign on a federal level. Another referendum was arranged by the PQ for 1995, and this time the nation held its breath. Just 50.6% of Québec voted against separation, the narrowest of escapes.
Sleeping with the elephant
Despite centuries of striving to defend itself against integration into the United States, a trend began during and after the SecondWorld War by which Canada became more and more linked to the US both militarily and economically. The Ogdensburg Agreement of 1940 established a Permanent Joint Board to integrate North American defences, while the government started courting American money to a degree that was considered shameless. By signing the North American Air Defense Agreement (NORAD) in 1957, John Diefenbaker pretty much put Canada’s air defences under US control. During his reign, Pierre Elliott Trudeau became more and more concerned by US penetration into the Canadian economy, and made real efforts to increase ties to Britain and Europe, introducing some of the most unabashed examples of economic nationalism since Canadian’s first prime Minister, John A Macdonald. In an address to the National Press Club of Washington, DC in March 1969, he said, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt”.
Matters took a dramatic turn with the election of Brian Mulroney, an Albertan Conservative who started Investment Canada to encourage American investment. In 1987 he proposed the Free Trade Agreement, removing almost every trade barrier between the countries, even though 80% of Canada’s exports were already going south. He then won the 1988 election on a platform of closer economic ties with the US, the first time that had ever happened. The White House saw the FTA as “a major victory for the United States.” One US trade rep went so far as to say, “The Canadians don’t understand what they have signed. In 20 years they will be sucked into the US economy”. By 1993, Mulroney’s popularity had fallen to a record low of 9%. He was replaced in 1993 by Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female Prime Minister, who only lasted a few months. Trudeau’s old henchman Jean Chrétien was voted in, and remained in power until 2003. In January 1994, months after taking office, he signed the NAFTA agreement that greatly expanded the Mulroney agenda he claimed to oppose. The effects were immediate: while the US retail giant Walmart moved into every mall in the country, the ancient Canadian stalwart Eatons filed for bankruptcy.Canada continues to be defined by the fact that it is not the United States. It is amazing, in fact, that the country can retain any sense of national identity while so completely overwhelmed by the centrifugal force of US money and ideology. Living next door to the world’s number one superpower has never been easy, and though a land-grab seems less likely now than in the past, the threat of a more insidious cultural and economic takeover is as real as ever. Some 200 million people cross the border every year, and over $1 billion of trade crosses it every day. Two recent chapters in the ongoing story involved the complete ban by the US on Alberta beef, as the result of one case of mad cow disease, costing the ranching industry millions of dollars; and a bogus (and allegedly illegal) embargo on softwood lumber, which cost BC’s forestry industry millions of dollars. Stephen Harper, keen to remain on good terms with George W Bush, was keen to commit Canada’s troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, Canada’s banking system is set up in such a way that the country emerged in relatively good financial shape from the financial collapse that shook its neighbour. In fact, Europe, so far away in geographical terms, was hit much harder.
Vegetation of the Canadian Cordillera is very diverse, depending on differences in elevation and latitude. Many additional variations in vegetation are the result of parallel mountain ranges that run at right-angles to the easterly flow of weather systems, causing ‘rainshadows’ that keep the mountains’ eastern slopes dry. The lower slopes of BC’s interior mountains and the Rockies, known as Columbia (or Interior) forest are mostly dominated, like the coast, by Douglas fir, western red cedar and western hemlock, though you will also see many pines, larch and spruce, as well as deciduous trees such as alder, birch, aspen, and giant cottonwood. The undergrowth here includes devil’s club, azaleas, black and red twinberry, salmonberry and redberry alder. Common flowers include mountain lily, columbine, bunchberry and heartleaf arnica. The more southerly and sheltered reaches of the Rockies, and the plateaux of interior BC, are covered by less attractive montane forest comprised mostly of ponderosa and lodgepole pine, along with more spindly Douglas fir and western larch. Most of the hillsides in the Thompson and Okanagan Valleys have a sparse scattering of occasional trees, between which grows vegetation typical of such arid landscapes: sage, antelope grass and even cacti.The next major zone is the sub-alpine, from 1300 to 2200 m, where forests are typically made up of lodgepole and whitebark pines, subalpine larch, Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. The common understorey plants are white-flowered rhododendron, false azalea, black huckleberry, Sitka alder, oak fern, mountain arnica and leafy liverwort. The zone above the treeline, known as the alpine, is mainly covered with grasses, sedges, dwarf willows, mosses, lichens and other low woody and herbaceous plants. Meadows at this elevation compensate for the lack of forest with dazzling displays of wild flowers throughout the summer, including lilies, anemones, Indian paintbrush, lupins, arnica, cinquefoil, and glacier lily.
West Coast forest
A-Z of species
Black bears are bulky, thickset animals about 150 cm long and 100- 120 cm high at the shoulder. Adult males weigh about 135 kg, although exceptionally large animals weighing over 290 kg have been recorded. Females are much smaller, averaging 70 kg. Although black is the most common colour, other colour phases such as brown, dark brown, cinnamon, blue black, and even white also occur. A black bear walks like a human being with the entire bottom portion of the foot touching the ground, and will often stand on two legs with its nose in the air. Since the eyesight of bears is poor, they rely heavily on well-developed senses of hearing and smell, and will usually attempt to get downwind from an intruder to make an identification by smell. Contrary to common misconceptions, bears are shy, timid animals who want nothing more than to be left alone. They are mostly vegetarians, particularly fond of berries, though they will also happily devour a whole nest of ants.Black bears appear awkward as they shuffle along, but can move with amazing speed when necessary. For short distances they have been clocked at speeds of up to 55 kmph. They are good swimmers and frequently cross rivers and small lakes. Climbing is second nature to a black bear. Young animals readily take to trees when frightened. They climb with a series of quick bounds, grasping the tree with their forepaws and pushing with their hind legs. The black bear has several distinct calls, including a growl of anger, a whining call, and sniffs of many sorts. A female with cubs may warn them of danger with a loud woof-woof and call them in with a whining or whimpering sound. The cry of a young cub in trouble is similar to the crying of a human baby.
The brown, or grizzly, bear has always been something of a feared, misunderstood and mythologized enigma, its habits only becoming known following extensive studies in Canada and the United States during the 1960s. As human populations have grown, the grizzly’s range has gradually shrunk back to north- western North America, and even here you are far more likely to see a black bear. Although grizzly bears have been known to weigh as much as 500 kg, the average male weighs 250-350 kg and the female about half that. Like black bears, grizzlies are mostly vegetarian, though they have a great love of salmon. Watching them fishing during salmon season, at places like Hyder near Stewart, is a particularly rewarding experience. Despite their reclusive tendencies, grizzlies are much feared by many people, the more ignorant of whom will shoot them for pleasure or ‘sport’. As a result, the grizzly is becoming a greatly endangered species, and a moratorium (suspension of hunting) was declared to protect them. This, however has been lifted by BC premier Gordon Campbell.The usual obvious way to distinguish between black and grizzly bears is by size and colour. Such methods are unreliable, not accounting for big black bears, younger, smaller grizzlies, and the tendency of both bears to come in a variety of shades. To be certain, look at the faces: black bears have a ‘Roman’ (straight) facial profile, whereas Grizzlies have dish-shaped (concave) profiles. Grizzlies have a large shoulder hump lacking in black bears, and much longer front claws which prevent them from climbing trees. You are most likely to see a grizzly where there are few humans, such as in the Yukon’s Kluane National Park, or very remote spots such as Bella Coola. Sadly, the most reliable place of all to see either bear is around municipal garbage dumps.
For an illustrated overview of Canadian species, http://www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/hww-fap. The beaver was the obvious choice as Canada’s national animal, as it had a greater impact on the country’s history than any other animal or plant. The reason: beaver underfur is warm, soft and waterproof, the perfect material for making the kind of felt used in top hats. To make the fur softer still, hatters used nitrate of mercury, continued exposure to which made them go mad, hence the expression. With beaver pelts fetching the highest prices, pursuit of the rodents was the leading motive of early colonizers, and led to explorations which opened up most of the northwestern hinterland to settlement. In the process, the beaver population was reduced from ten million to near extinction.
Ten thousand years ago, Beringia was inhabited by giant beavers the size of bears with lower incisors 25 cm long. Today they are still the largest member of the rodent family. Beavers are monogamous and mate for life. Their tails are horizontal, flattened, paddle-shaped and scaly. As well as eye membranes and ear valves, they have structural adaptations at the back of their mouths to stop water from entering the lungs, meaning they can gnaw and carry branches when submerged. They typically inhabit slow-moving streams, where they construct dams, making them one of the only animals beside humans that can build their own environment. Beaver lodges are made of intricately interlaced branches, with mud and grass plastered on the outside, and are almost impenetrable. Rather than hibernating, they stay in their lodges, whose clever design keeps temperatures at an even 8-12°C even when it is -40°C outside. A cache of food is kept nearby, submerged to preserve it. Mainly nocturnal, this most hard-working of animals can usually be seen swimming busily around at dusk.Without beaver dams, much of Canada’s water would flow unchecked. The beavers thin out dense woods, creating opportunities for a variety of animals and plants. They are therefore a keystone species in temperate and boreal forest aquatic ecosystems.
The list of birds native to Western Canada is extensive. This is a summary of the most notable species.Waterbirds: Common and red-throated loon, horned and red-necked grebe, cormorant, various species of swan including the trumpeter, geese, American widgeon, mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal, common eider, various ducks including the harlequin, Barrow’s goldeneye, merganser.
Raptors: Osprey, northern harrier, bald and golden eagles, various hawks and kestrels, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon.
Shorebirds: American golden plover, lesser yellowlegs, wandering tattler, spotted and upland sandpiper, whimbrel, red-necked pharalope, long-tailed jaegar, various gulls, Arctic tern, black guillemot, belted kingfisher.
Owls: Great grey, snowy, northern hawk, short-eared.
Perching birds: Various jays including blue and grey, raven, numerous swallows including tree, violet-green, bank, barn and cliff, chickadees, American dipper, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern wheater, Townsend’s solitaire, various thrushes including grey-cheeked and Swainson’s, American pipit, Tennessee, Wilson’s and yellow warblers, common yellowthroat, numerous sparrows, junco, snow bunting, Lapland and Smith’s longspur, redpolls.Other: Spruce and sharp-tailed grouse, ptarmigan, sora, American coot, sandhill crane, northern flicker, assorted woodpeckers and many hummingbirds.
The bison is the largest land animal in North America. A bull can stand 2 m high and weigh more than a tonne. It has curved black horns on the sides of its head, a high hump at the shoulders, a short tail with a tassel, and dense shaggy dark brown and black hair around the head and neck. Another distinctive feature of the buffalo is its beard. Two hundred years ago, the Great Plains aboriginal people relied heavily on the great herds of 30 to 70 million bison that roamed free in North America. By the end of the 1800s, the species was on the verge of extinction. Since then numbers have increased, but the great free-ranging herds have gone forever. Today’s wild herds move freely only within parks and fenced wildlife sanctuaries.
There are two living subspecies of wild bison in North America: the plains bison and the wood bison. Today, there are few plains bison, though some of their traditional routes are still visible from the air in the form of deep paths worn over the years by millions of passing hooves. A herd of about 600 lives at Elk Island National Park, 64 km east of Edmonton, and there are small numbers at Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Some commercial ranchers have bred the plains buffalo with cows, resulting in ‘beefalo’.In historic times, the range of the wood bison was further north, centred in northern Alberta and adjacent parts of BC, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan. In general, the wood bison is darker in colour, less stocky and long-legged, but heavier. Never as abundant as its southern cousin, the total number in North America was probably never more than 170,000. Today the largest free-roaming herds of both breeds is in Wood Buffalo National Park, on the Alberta/NWT border, where there are about 2000 animals. Bison have keen senses of smell and hearing, able to distinguish smells from 3 km away, and are quick to detect changes in their environment.
One of Canada’s most widely distributed large mammals, the caribou is the only member of the deer family whose males and females both carry antlers. They are similar to, and belong to the same species as, the reindeer of Eurasia. Their ability to use lichens as a primary food distinguishes them from all other large mammals, and has enabled them to survive on harsh northern rangeland. An excellent sense of smell enables them to locate lichens under the snow. Large, concave hooves splay widely to support the caribou in snow or muskeg, and also function well as paddles, making them excellent swimmers. In fact, a herd of caribou will often swim across even the widest of lakes rather than walk around them, and often do so to gain some respite from the swarms of insects that make their lives a misery in summer.Woodland caribou are large, dark animals usually found in small herds in northern boreal forests. Average weights are 180 kg for bulls and 135 kg for cows. In the mountainous areas of Western Canada, they make seasonal movements from winter range in forested valleys to summer range on high, alpine tundra. Clearing of land for agriculture has sadly destroyed much of their habitat, with new growth forest a much more suitable environment for moose and deer. Barren-ground caribou are smaller and lighter coloured, and spend much or all of the year on the tundra. Most of those in Western Canada belong to the porcupine and bluenose herds which migrate seasonally across the Yukon from the tundra to the sparsely wooded northern coniferous forests, known as taiga. They are excellent navigators, unerringly walking hundreds of kilometres in spring to their relatively small calving areas, led by the pregnant cows. In fact, their migration routes have always been so well established that, in past years, native hunters would lay in wait at certain places, knowing the caribou would come. The annual crossing of the Dempster Highway by the porcupine herd in autumn is one of the most spectacular sights imaginable.
Lynx and bobcat
Moose are the largest members of the deer family. An estimated half to one million of them live throughout Canada’s forests, though you are most likely to see them in boreal forest, or marshy areas of Northern BC. A bull moose with a full rack of antlers is arguably the continent’s most formidable animal, standing taller than the largest horse, and weighing up to 600 kg, or 800 kg in the Yukon. For all that, the moose is an ungainly, rather whimsical looking beast. Its body is deep at the shoulders, where massive muscles result in a humped appearance. The slim hindquarters and spindly legs look inadequate for the task of supporting so massive a bulk. The head is heavy and huge, its ears similar to a mule’s, its long nose lending the beast a perpetual mournful expression. The upper lip is drooping and flexible, and from its throat hangs a pendant of fur-covered skin, some 30 cm long, called a bell. In colour the moose varies from dark brown, almost black, to reddish or greyish brown, with grey or white leg ‘stockings’.In late summer and autumn, a mature bull carries a great rack of antlers which may reach a span of 180 cm. The heavy main beams broaden into large palms which are fringed with a series of spikes usually less than 30 cm long. At this time, like the elk, bull moose enter their rutting season, at which time they are extremely dangerous. The eyesight of the moose is extremely poor, but its senses of smell and hearing compensate for this. On obscure forest roads, moose have a habit of getting in front of a car and walking or running along the road for long distances. Few motorists seem to mind.
The wild, or mountain, sheep is a stocky, hoofed mammal, about one and a half times as large as a domestic sheep. The most distinctive characteristic of the males is their massive horns, which spiral back, out, and then forward, in an arc. Adult females have slightly curved horns about 30 cm long. North American wild sheep are related both to domestic sheep, which were imported from Europe by early settlers, and to the native sheep of Asia, which is thought to have migrated across the Bering land bridge about half a million years ago. As the great ice-age glaciers moved south from the pole, those animals became isolated in two ice-free areas, one in central Alaska, the other in the United States. The former evolved into the slender-horned Dall sheep, those farther south into the heavy-horned Rocky Mountain and desert bighorns. Today the white Dall sheep is found in mid and north Yukon, while its almost black cousin, the Stone, or black Dall sheep, makes its home in northern BC and southern Yukon. In the Pelly Mountain area of the Yukon, the two breeds merged gradually with each other, resulting in the Fannin sheep of the Faro region.The southern sheep evolved into seven races, two of which returned to Canada after the retreat of the glaciers. Rocky Mountain bighorns moved north into the Rockies of BC and Alberta. California bighorns expanded into southwestern BC, colonizing the arid mountains and river valleys of the Okanagan and Chilcotin areas. Once a year, around about June or July, the bighorns shed their hair, resulting in a scruffy, bedraggled appearance until the new coat grows in.
The polar bear is North America’s largest land carnivore. Adult males measure 240-260 cm in total length and usually weigh 400-600 kg, although they can weigh up to 800 kg, about as much as a small car. Adult females weigh 150-250 kg. Polar bears have longer necks, skulls and bodies than their southern cousins, and a ‘Roman’ nose like black bears. Though it looks white, or lemon yellow under a rising sun, polar bear hair is translucent, and reflects the heat from the sun down to the base of the hair, where it is absorbed by the black skin. It sheds water easily, so that after a swim the bear can shake itself dry like a dog. Polar bears are considered to be marine mammals because they depend upon seals and the marine environment for their existence. They feed mostly on ringed seals, but they also catch bearded seals, harp seals, hooded seals, and harbour seals, occasionally also killing walruses, belugas or white whales, and narwhals.Along with eyesight and hearing believed to be similar to those of a human, polar bears have an exceptional sense of smell, and sniff constantly, testing the air for scent from ringed seal breathing holes, which they can detect through layers of ice and snow 90 cm or more thick up to a kilometre away. When the seal comes up to the breathing hole for air, the polar bear kills it and flips it out of the water with a single blow of its large front paws, which also double up as powerful oars. During spring and early summer, when seals are most accessible, a bear may catch one every 4-5 days. Whatever the time of year, they can slow down their metabolism at will if food is short. Polar bears can be seen around the Beaufort Sea in winter, but the best place to see them is Churchill, Manitoba.
The first European explorers and settlers in Canada found wildlife in abundance. Believing natural resources to be unlimited, they saw no need to practise conservation. Wildlife, fish and timber were free for the taking. The result of this attitude became apparent in the latter half of the 19th century with the near extinction of animals like buffalo and elk that once numbered many millions. Even then, western and northern Canada were still held to be boundless frontiers. The British North America act of 1867 assigned resource-management responsibilities to governments, with wildlife conspicuous by its omission, lumped under ‘matters of private and local nature’. Wildlife enthusiasts of the 1880s solemnly predicted the extinction of most large North American mammals, but the next two decades marked a significant turning point in Canadian wildlife history. Following Confederation and the assumption of resource- management control by the original provinces, a move was made to develop wildlife conservation laws. Banff National Park, the first in Canada (established 1885), was created to make money rather than protect wildlife, but this would become one of its significant functions. Others, such as Wood Buffalo National Park, were created solely for that purpose.
From 1920 to 1970, the concerns of society led to the formation of non-profit organizations such as the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Nature Federation, Ducks Unlimited (Canada), World Wildlife Fund (Canada) and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, as well as government conservation agencies like the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada. Many parks and conservation areas were created to protect particular animals and ecosystems, and thanks to the wide distribution of most species, relatively few have actually been lost compared with what has occurred in tropical regions. The most significant exceptions were the great auk, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck, Dawson caribou and sea mink.
Many forms of wildlife are more abundant now than they were a century ago, but a number of species have continued to decline to threatened levels or are in danger of extinction, and this includes some very significant animals such as the grizzly bear. Over-hunting or harvesting is often to blame, but the real problem is usually the extensive alteration of ecological regions because of competing land uses such as forestry, agriculture and urbanization. Despite its obvious importance and irreplacable status, the unlogged temperate West Coast rainforest keeps shrinking; hardly any of Canada’s only living desert around Osoyoos has survived the wholesale conversion of land into orchards and vineyards; and only a few hectares of the resilient tallgrass prairie remain intact, the rest having been degraded to the point of increasing worthlessness by short-sighted agricultural methods. Wetland drainage permanently removes the habitat required by many species.Western Canada is lucky because it has only been subjected to a century and a half of abuse by modern man. Given time and increasing over-population of the globe, however, there is no reason to believe that its vast tracts of wilderness will not eventually go the same way as most of Europe, which has lost almost all of its forests and indigenous wildlife, unless a fundamental shift in human priorities occurs. Pollution of rivers and estuaries will render them unfit for wildlife survival; acid rain will sterilize vast tracts of land and waterways; marine birds and mammals will increasingly face the threat of offshore oil spills, general pollution of the oceans, and the gradual depletion of marine life due to over-fishing. The direct threat of uncontrolled harvests, so devastating in the 19th century, has been replaced by the indirect, insidious but permanent threat of environmental degradation that is characteristic of the 20th century. Certainly, provincial governments seem just as happy to sell off chunks of priceless and irreplacable temperate rainforest to the big money of logging companies unless their people kick up enough of a fuss to deter them. So often, such environmental trouble-makers have been led by native people whose relatives have witnessed the undoing in little more than a century of a happy natural balance their ancestors had managed to sustain more or less intact for some 15,000 years.
Following the discovery of the Cave and Basin Hot Springs by railway workers in today’s Banff National Park, the government was flooded with offers but chose not to grant private title to the lands. Instead, it was decided that the region should be preserved for the benefit of all Canadians. A report by the commissioner of Dominion Lands that “a large tract of country lying outside of the original reservation presented features of the greatest beauty, and was admirably adapted for a national park” led to the creation of Canada’s first national park in 1887. Within eight years, three new mountain reserves were set aside, unavailable for “sale, settlement or squatting”. These later became Yoho, Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks.
The world’s first distinct bureau of national parks, the Dominion Parks Branch, was formed in 1911, and led by JB Harkin from 1911-36. During this time nine national parks were established, including Elk Island (1913), Mount Revelstoke (1914), Kootenay (1920), and Wood Buffalo (1922), and “hereby dedicated to the people of Canada, for their benefit, education and enjoyment”. Further park establishment was sporadic until, in 1961, John I. Nicol became director of the National and Historic Parks Branch. Under his administration, 10 new national parks were created, and the emphasis shifted to the preservation of natural ecological processes above all else. Current policy has continued this shift in emphasis and now stresses the importance of minimal interference from people. These days, if a grizzly mother wants to set up home with her cubs in a Banff campsite that normally caters to 200 people, the campsite closes. National parks are also protected by federal legislation from all forms of extractive resource use such as mining, forestry, agriculture and sport hunting, though fishing is still allowed with a special licence.
By 1970, 20 national parks had either been established or negotiated, but opportunistically, without a vision or long-term goal. This vision was provided in the early 1970s by the National Park System Plan, which sought to develop a system of national parks using the principle of ‘representativeness’. Canada is thus divided into 39 natural regions, each containing a unique set of geological, biological and ecological characteristics, each to be represented by at least one national park. At the moment, 24 natural regions are thus represented, with no progress since 1999. Parks Canada are currently considering the feasibility of creating a National Park Reserve in the South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen area, which would represent one of the missing 15 regions.
British Columbia’s national parks are: Pacific Rim, Gwaii Haanas, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho, the Gulf Islands and Kootenay. Alberta’s are Banff, Jasper, Waterton lakes, Elk Island, and Wood Buffalo. In the Yukon are Kluane, Ivvavik and Vuntut.All of these have their own fees. An Discovery Pass, valid for all 27 parks, including those above, plus 78 National Historic Sites currently costs $67.70, $58 senior, $33.30 youth (six-16), and $136.40 family (up to seven). An annual pass for the Historic Sites alone is $53/45.10/26.50/106.90.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Wildlife by region
When Captain Cook first visited these shores, the waters teemed with the kind of cute sea otters that like to lay around on their backs adroitly opening up shellfish with their skillful little hands. Alas, the brisk trade in their pelts that followed this first sojourn of a European led the otters to be hunted to near extinction, a crisis from which they have recovered less well than the inland beaver. They can still be seen, though the Vancouver Aquarium is the most likely spot. Colonies of seals and sealions are a more likely spectacle, especially for sea kayakers off the West Coast of Vancouver Island or Haida Gwaii.Some 22,000 grey whales migrate past the West Coast every year from March to May. Orca (killer whales) are year-round residents, and can often be seen from the Vancouver Island shore, especially in Victoria. The world’s third largest residence of orca pods is in the Johnstone Strait close to Telegraph Cove. Humpback whales are also frequently seen in the Pacific, and further north are blue, beluga and right whales. Dolphins are also spotted. Of the many fish species, the most remarkable is salmon. Divers come to these shores to see the likes of giant octopuses and massive wolf eels. At low tide a large number of colourful critters can be seen in tide pools, especially in sheltered waters such as on the Gulf Islands. The starfish are big, numerous, and come in many colours.
The apparently harsh environment of the Arctic tundra is nevertheless rich in animal life and is the best place to see caribou and smaller mammals such as Arctic ground squirrels, and lemmings, ermines and weasels, Arctic white foxes and Arctic hares.The far north is home to Muskoxen and polar bears, while the Beaufort Sea is home to ringed and bearded seals, and the incredibly graceful beluga whales. Lots of ravens inhabit the north, earning their reputation as crafty tricksters. Predators including the gyrfalcon, the largest falcon in the world, jaegars, hawks, gulls and owls, including the snowy owl. Of the hundred or so bird species to be spotted, most are migratory, including numerous swans, geese and loons. The Arctic tern makes a 32,000 km return migration from the Antarctic, the longest annual migration of any creature.
West Coast forest
Planning your trip
Discount travel agents
…and leaving again
Australia and New Zealand
Flight Centre, http://www.flightcentre.com.au. Throughout Australasia.
STA Travel, 841 George St, Sydney 2000, T02-9212 1255; 10-243 Edward St, Brisbane 4000, T07-3221 3722; 5-240 Flinders St, Melbourne 3000, T03-9654 7266; and 267 Queen St, Auckland, T09-356 1550, http://www.statravel.com.au. Also in most major towns and university campuses.
Travel.com.au, 80 Clarence St, Sydney 2000, T1300-130482, http://www.travel.com.au.Trailfinders, 8 Spring St, Sydney 2000; 372 Lonsdale St, Melbourne 3000, T1300-780212, http://www.trailfinders.com.au.
In the UK
STA Travel, have 47 branches including 33 Bedford St, London WC2E 9ED, 0871- 468 0612; 11 Goodge St, London W1T 2PF, 0871-468 0623; 86 Old Brompton Rd, London SW7 3LH, T0870-160 0599, http://www.statravel.co.uk. Specialists in low- cost student/youth flights.Trailfinders, 194 Kensington High St, London, W8 6FT, T020-7938 3939; 1 Threadneedle St, London, EC2R 8JX, 0207-628 7628,http://www.trailfinders.com.
Air Brokers International, 685 Market St, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA94105, T1800-883 3273, http://www.airbrokers.com. Specialist and consolidator in RTW tickets.
Discount Airfares Worldwide On-line, http://www.etn.nl/discount.htm. A hub of consolidator and discount agent links.
STA Travel, 5900 Wiltshire Blvd, Suite 2110, Los Angeles, CA 90036, T1800-781 4040, http://www.statravel.com. Discount student/ youth travel company with branches in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Seattle and Washington DC.Travelocity, http://www.travelocity.com. Online consolidator.
Eating and drinking
While Vancouver has its share of sophisticated cafés, bistros and tapas bars, as well as the inevitable Irish pubs and phoney English boozers, the typical small-town Canadian pub has a pool table, a TV set screening sporting events, soft-rock or country music, a burger-dominated menu and a handful of locals propping up the bar playing keno (a lottery game). Chances are though, they’ll be a friendly bunch.
Sadly, most of the beer sold here is tasteless, weak, watery lager, such as Molson, Kokanee and Canadian. Yet Western Canada has pioneered the concept of microbreweries, which produce small-batch, carefully crafted beers using natural ingredients. All styles of beer are available, served carbonated and chilled. Breweries to look out for are Big Rock (Calgary), Nelson (West Kootenays), Yukon (Whitehorse), Tree (Kelowna), and Phillips (Victoria). Very small but excellent breweries include Raven (Vancouver), Crannog (Shuswap), and Salt Spring (southern Gulf Islands). Unibroue, based in Québec, brew Canada’s best beers.
While here, you should also make a point of trying some BC wines, the best of which are made in the Okanagan Valley. This region specializes in German-style whites, sparkling wines, pinot noir, and the sweet and sophisticated ice-wine. It’s hard to recommend specific wineries, but Tinhorn Creek and Red Rooster never disappoint.Canadians take their coffee pretty seriously. Locally brewed examples to look out for include Kicking Horse (Invermere, East Kootenays), Oso Negro (West Kootenays), and Salt Spring (southern Gulf Islands).
Western Canada, unlike the country as a whole, has developed a strong culinary identity, focused on the gastronomic playground of Vancouver. West Coast cuisine combines Asian, Californian and European techniques with a strong emphasis on the use of very fresh, locally produced ingredients, a genuinely innovative, creative, eclectic philosophy, and the extensive use of seafood. Elements are also taken from traditional Native American cooking, such as the grilling of salmon on cedar or alder, and the use of wild game like caribou and buffalo. Many different ethnic cuisines are fused with the West Coast sensibility, and are usually healthier for it.
Not surprisingly, vegetarians are well catered for in Vancouver, and in bohemian areas like the Gulf Islands and West Kootenays. The more you move into the redneck communities further north and east, however, the harder it gets to avoid the meat- and-potatoes mentality. However, if you are a meat-eater, Alberta AAA beef is as good as it gets, so if you like steak this is the place to indulge.In Canadian cities you can find any kind of food you want, until late at night. Most towns will have an expensive ‘fine-dining’ establishment, which usually means old-style European, predominantly French, with the emphasis on steak and seafood. In smaller communities, however, you’re often stuck with unimaginative ‘family’ restaurants, Chinese restaurants of dubious authenticity, pizza, and early closing. Certain ubiquitous chains like Earl’s and Milestone’s cover most of the comfort-food bases, and really are fine, especially if you’re travelling with kids. Equally ubiquitous are the family chains like Denny’s and Smitty’s, which are okay for big breakfasts, but the coffee leaves a lot to be desired. All the American fast-food outlets are here too, Subway is always a good bet for sandwiches.
Entertainment and festivals
While the standard and choice of entertainment and nightlife is good in Vancouver and, to a lesser degree, Calgary and Victoria, most Western Canadian towns simply don’t have the populations to support a thriving cultural scene comparable to European cities. Generally you will find a cinema or two, a theatre, a museum full of pioneer artefacts, gold-rush relics and stuffed animals, maybe an art gallery, a nightclub of dubious merit frequented by teenagers, and an arena for ice hockey, Canadian football, basketball, baseball or curling. On the other hand, summer in Western Canada is a time for non-stop festivals, and even the smallest towns hosts wonderful events that might focus on music (jazz, folk, blues), street entertainment, storytelling, food, or Native American culture (powwows).
Sep Vancouver Fringe Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival Sandcastle Festival, Harrison Hot Springs Fall Wine Festival, late Sep/early Oct throughout the Okanagan International Film Festivalin Calgary
Oct Vancouver ComedyFest
Dec Festival of Lights at Vancouver’s VanDusen Gardens
Jan Brackendale Winter Eagles Festival , near Squamish, celebrates the world’s biggest gathering of bald eagles p.
Feb Chinese New Year, Vancouver All Native Basketball Tournament, Prince Rupert, a massive and popular event that celebrates its 50th year in 2009
Mar Pacific Rim Whale Festival, held around Tofino, to celebrate the migration of up to 24,000 grey whales
Apr Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler. The biggest winter sports event in North America, featuring the world snowboarding championship
May International Children’s Festival in Vancouver. Spring Wine Festival, Okanagan
Jun Jazz festivals in Vancouver and Victoria Mid- to late Jun is the best time to see orca (killer whales) in the Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island, where they stay until Oct
Jul Dancing on the Edge Festival, Vancouver, Canada’s largest showcase of independent North American choreographers Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Celebration of Light, late- Jul to early Aug, Vancouver, a 2-week international fireworks competition The annual salmon migration occurs Jul-Sep, with peaks varying in different areas Merritt Mountain Music Festival is a huge country music event. Starbelly Jam Global Music Festival, East Shore, West Kootenays. Williams Lake Stampede, weekend closest to 1 Jul, is one of the biggest and oldest of its kind in BC Calgary Stampede, a 10- day cowboy extravaganza and Calgary Folk Music Festival, Calgary Banff Festival of the Arts, throughout the summer, showcases young artists in various media,a nd includes a Jazz Festival Great Northern Arts Festival, Inuvik, a 10-day bonanza featuring over 100 artists from north of the Arctic Circle Dawson City Music Festival, one of the bestAug Vancouver’s Pride Season the biggest Gay event in Western Canada culminates in the Gay Pride Parade Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, the most important festival of its kind in BC, and Victoria’s major event Filberg Festival, Comox, Vancouver Island. A massive 4-day expo of the best arts and crafts in BC Beach Festival, Parksville, features the Canadian Open Sandsculpting Competition Squamish Days, a loggers’ sports festival Kamloops Powwow, one of the best in the country Peach Festival, Penticton, is a massive party Ironman Triathlon, Penticton, a very serious event Jazzfest, Kaslo, enjoys one of the most spectacular locations of any festival Shambhala, a one of a kind rave in Salmo near Nelson Calgary Fringe Festival Yukon International Storytelling Festival in Whitehorse Discovery Days Celebrations in Dawson City feature the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival.
Due to long distances and regular stops, travel by bus can be very slow and seriously limits your flexibility. The network operated by Greyhound, T1800-661 8747, http://www.greyhound.ca, concentrates on towns close to the TransCanada and Yellowhead highways. Getting from Greyhound depots to sights and accommodation can also be very difficult, and may mean shelling out for a taxi. If relying on public transport, it’s best to keep your schedule simple and concentrate on one area, such as the Rockies or Vancouver Island.An excellent and very economic way to get around BC and the Rockies is with Moose Travel Network, T604-777 9905, http://www.moosenetwork.com. They run at least 16 different well-planned routes – from 2 days/$62 to 19 days/$999 – usually starting and ending in Vancouver, covering most possible itineraries and all the best sights. Travel is in mini-coaches seating up to 24 people, with most routes covered three or four times a week. You can get on and off where and when you want, with no time limits, allowing for maximum freedom and flexibility. They also schedule stops for sights such as hot springs, include numerous sporting activities like hiking and kayaking, and have negotiated a number of discounts for their customers. Similarly, True North Tours, T403-934 5972, http://www.back-packertour.com/truenorth tours, run 3- to 10-day tours of the Rockies in a 15-passenger van from Banff or Calgary, including accommodation in hostels, and most meals. The 6-day Rocky Express from Banff or Calgary to Jasper and back costs $550.
The best way to explore Western Canada properly is by car, since many sights cannot be reached by public transport. If hiring a vehicle seems expensive, consider off- setting this cost against accommodation by camping; in summer, a car and a tent are all you need. Older travellers tend to favour Recreational Vehicles (RVs), but these can be prohibitively expensive. Before hiring a vehicle, be sure to check if there is a mileage limit, and whether the insurance covers forestry roads. All-wheel, 4WD or front-wheel drive vehicles are useful if you are planning to go off the beaten track. Hitchhiking is a way of life in some rural areas, but even in Canada this carries a certain risk, especially for lone women.
Rules and regulations You must have a current driving licence to drive in Canada. Foreign licences are valid up to six months for visitors. If crossing the border in a vehicle, be sure to have your registration or ownership documents, and adequate insurance. Throughout Canada you drive on the right, and seat belts are compulsory. Speed limits are 90-110 kph on the open road, usually 50 kph in built-up areas. The police advise people to drive with lights on even during the day. Compared to most countries, driving is easy and relaxed, with wildlife representing the main hazard. In many towns, traffic lights are replaced by four-way stops: vehicles proceed according to the order in which they arrived. Turning right at traffic lights is legal if the way is clear.
Fuel costs Fuel (called ‘gas’ here) is easy to come by anywhere but the far north. It’s expensive (around 115 cents a litre), unless compared to British prices.
Maps We recommend investing in Rand McNally’s good-value BC and Alberta Road Atlas, which includes the whole region covered in this book, even the Yukon, and also has larger scale maps of key areas such as the southern interior and Rockies, and most towns and cities, with additional city centre maps for the biggest. Those who really want to get off the beaten track could invest in a Backcountry Mapbook (2001), Mussio Ventures, $16, which shows all the secondary and forestry roads, with full details on free and forestry campsites, hot springs and other useful features. For transport information throughout Canada, visit http://www.tc.gc.ca.
Vehicle hire Details of rental agencies are given in the transport sections of Vancouver, Calgary and Whitehorse. Some companies have a one-way service, meaning you can rent a car in one place and drop it off elsewhere. Prices start at about $25 per day, $180 per week, $700 per month plus tax and insurance. Another option would be to rent something you could sleep in. A mini-van works out at about $400 per week all-inclusive. RVs are the expensive but luxurious choice; prices start at about $175 per day for a small unit, $320 per day for a 24-footer, plus tax and insurance. All hire vehicles are registered with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA); in case of breakdown, simply call their T1800 number and give directions to where you are, and a towing operator will take you to the nearest CAA mechanic.Buying a car For long-term travellers, it would work out cheaper to buy a vehicle and sell it at the end of your trip. Bargains can be found in Vancouver. The classified section of the Vancouver Sun is a good place to start looking.
On the West Coast, ferries are a way of life. The main routes, operated by BC Ferries, T1888-223 3779, http://www.bcferries.com, connect Vancouver with Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and with the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast. Sailings on all these services are fairly regular . Vehicles can be taken on all but a few minor crossings and bikes can be taken on all.
Two very popular long-distance routes from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island – the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert and the Discovery Coast Passage to Bella Coola – provide excellent means of accessing the north, and can be treated as cheap but beautifully scenic cruises in their own right. In addition, a number of free ferries provide essential links across lakes in BC’s southern interior. The longest and most important of these are in the West Kootenays, crossing the Arrow Lakes near Nakusp, and Kootenay Lake near Nelson.Two other services worth mentioning are privately run boats that provide a popular means of accessing some very remote coastal spots around Vancouver Island. The MV Lady Rose out of Port Alberni runs to Bamfield, Ucluelet and Barkley Sound. The MV Uchuck III out of Gold River runs to Nootka Sound, Tahsis and Yuquot. Both will take and launch kayaks.
All international flights land at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) (T604-207 7077, http://www.yvr.ca), 13 km south of Downtown. There is a Visitor Information desk on the arrivals floor (Level 2) and an airport information desk (which operates a lost-and-found service) in the departure lounge, along with most of the shops. There are also plenty of phones and ATMs, a children’s play area and a nursery. Specially built for the 2010 Winter Olympics, the new SkyTrain branch – the Canada Line – connects YVR with Downtown in 26 minutes. Follow signs from the Arrivals lounge. A $5 levy is added to single ticket fares, but not to day passes, which thus work out cheaper. Taxis operate around the clock, charging $28-32 for the 25-minute trip downtown; a limousine from Aerocar Service iT1-888-821-0021, firstname.lastname@example.org, costs from $39 plus tax for up to eight passengers. Allthe major car rental agencies are located on the ground floor of the indoor parkade (multi-storey car park). Pacific Coach (T1800-661-1725, www. pacificcoach.com), run direct buses to Squamish and Whistler (SkyLynx, seven daily, three hours, $55 one way); and Victoria (seven daily, four hours, $49). Tickets can be bought at their counter in the Arrivals lounge, or on the bus. Look for the bus stop to the left when leaving the terminal.All long-distance buses and trains arrive at Pacific Central Station (1150Station St), a short SkyTrain ride from Downtown. BC Ferries arrive from Victoria and the southern Gulf Islands at Tsawwassen, about 30 km south of Vancouver. City buses connect with the SkyTrain to get you downtown from the ferry terminal ($5). Ferries from Nanaimo in central Vancouver Island arrive at Horseshoe Bay, 15 km northwest on Highway 99, with two direct buses downtown ($3.75).
Arriving by air
For visitors other than those from the United States, who have the option of driving or taking a train and bus from Seattle, the only feasible way of getting to Canada is by air. The best-served city in the west is Vancouver, though Calgary is a much more obvious starting point for those focusing on the Rockies. One-way and return flights are available to both destinations. Enquire also about ‘open jaw’ tickets (flying into one and out of the other). From the UK, Zoom, http://www.flyzoom.com, offers the most departure points, but Air Transat currently has the cheapest flights.It is advisable to start looking for your ticket early, as some of the cheapest have to be bought months in advance and the most popular flights sell out quickly. On the other hand, those with the flexibility to leave at a moment’s notice can sometimes snap up unbelievable last-minute bargains. The best way to find a good deal is on the internet, at http://www.ebookers.com, but note that the cheapest flights often limit your stay to two weeks. The prices below are for return fares, including all taxes fees and charges, and are for the high season. Typically, this means July and August only; the rest of the year – even June and September – is roughly 65% of this price, with a slight further drop in November and January.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
From the rest of Europe
The following are arranged in order of current price, from cheapest to most expensive. Those flying from European cities not mentioned here should seek out the cheapest flights to Heathrow or Frankfurt, and continue from there.Air Transat flies from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Munich to Vancouver and Calgary (€900). Air Condor www11.condor.com flies from Frankfurt to Vancouver (€900) and Whitehorse (€1000). Belair, http://www.flybelair.com, flies to Vancouver from Berlin (€900), Munich, Zurich, Vienna and most major German cities (€1000). KLM, http://www.klm.nl, flies from Amsterdam to Vancouver or Calgary (€1000). Lufthansa, http://www.lufthansa.com, flies from Frankfurt to Vancouver and Calgary (€1200).
From the UK
From the USA and eastern Canada
Flights from the US are numerous and frequent. The following flights are to Vancouver. Most of these airlines also fly to Calgary. Air Canada has return flights to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco (US$400), and New York (US$740). United Airlines, http://www.united.com, flies from Chicago (US$825), Denver (US$700), and San Francisco (US$420). Alaska Airlines, http://www.alaskaair.com, flies from Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Philippine Air, http://www.philippineairlines.com, and America West, http://www.americawest.com, fly from Las VegasCathay Pacific, http://www.cathaypacific.com, flies from New York.Air Canada and West Jet, T1800-538 5696, http://www.westjet.ca, both fly from all Canadian cities, including Montreal ($500), and Toronto ($470).
Canada has its share of tacky souvenirs, usually featuring moose, grizzlies or maple leaves, but a bottle of authentic maple syrup makes a nice gift, or you can buy smoked salmon (which will keep) in a hand-crafted cedar box, decorated in native Northwest Coast-style. The most popular items among tourists are works by Canada’s various First Nations, such as the Inuit or Haida. These include carvings in gold, silver, wood and argillite (a black slate-like rock), jewellery, masks, paintings and prints, clothing, mocassins, beadwork, dream-catchers and much more. Arts and crafts costs less in the places where they are made, such as Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). There is a lot of mass-produced rubbish sold to tourists, so be sure to shop around to get an idea of just how exquisite good native art can be.Non-aboriginal arts and crafts are also exceptionally fine and often extremely good value given the workmanship involved. Regions such as the Gulf Islands and West Kootenays are overrun with artists, but Vancouver’s Granville Island is the best place to see a wide range of works. Visitors to Alberta may want to buy some authentic cowboy boots, a stetson hat or a set of chaps. Music lovers will be pleased to hear that Canada is one of the cheapest places in the world for CDs. It could also be better for sports equipment than your home country. Note that most things are cheaper in Alberta where there is no provincial tax.
Cross-country (or Nordic)
Downhill and snowboarding
Until you stray far from the beaten track, accommodation in Western Canada is plentiful and easily found across the price ranges. Mid-range, usually characterless, hotels and motels dominate the scene, especially in smaller towns. Rooms are typically clean but uninspiring, with generic decor, a TV, tub, small fridge and coffee maker. Facilities such as saunas, hot tubs, fitness rooms and indoor pools are often small and disappointing. Many of the most impressive hotels, operated by the Fairmont chain, were constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) at the turn of the last century, and resemble French chateaux. Motel rooms are usually side-by-side, with an exterior door and often a parking spot right outside.
For the same price as a mid-range motel, you can usually find an attractively furnished room in a small B&B or guesthouse, with a hearty breakfast included, representing much better value. Generally operated by friendly, helpful and knowledgeable hosts, these offer an excellent opportunity to meet Canadians on their own ground, but might deter those who value their privacy or can’t shake off that feeling of staying with their auntie.
In a similar vein, many travellers have had wonderful experiences when staying in lodges. Often found in remote spots, sometimes associated with outdoor activities, these usually consist of a large central building containing facilities and rooms, with cabins scattered around the extensive grounds. Some of the gorgeous log constructions, for which the West Coast is famous, are exceptional and well worth a splurge. For something more exotic, consider staying on a working ranch or farm, which abound in Alberta and the Cariboo. For more details contact the BC Guest Ranchers’ Association, http://www.guestranches.com. Resorts, primarily found on the coast, tend to have cabins, huts or chalets of varying standards, along with their own restaurants, beaches and other facilities. There has not always been room to mention these, so seek them out in the excellent BC Approved Accommodation Guide, http://www.HelloBC.com.
Almost all Canadian towns have a hostel, many affiliated to Hostelling International (HI), with a reduced fee for members. For information and reservations contact http://www.hihostels.ca. There is no age limit. A typical hostel has dormitories with four or more beds, usually single sex, and a few private rooms for couples and families. Facilities include shared washrooms with showers, a common room with TV and sometimes games, and a library, a kitchen/dining room, and lockers. Many organize activities or tours. Almost all are clean, friendly, a bit noisy and great for gleaning information and meeting fellow travellers. In the Rockies, a string of rustic HI hostels enjoy locations second only to the campgrounds, making them a great budget option. For the latest non HI-affiliated hostels, and they have started proliferating of late, check http://www.backpackers.ca. A number of other low-cost options can be found at http://www.budgetbeds.com.
Camping is the cheapest option, and the best way to immerse yourself in Western Canada’s magnificent countryside. Where the scenery is wildest, camping is often the only choice. The best campgrounds are those within provincial parks, which are not driven by profit margins and tend to have more spacious sites, with plenty of trees and privacy. The busier ones often have shower facilities and hot running water. Campsites in big towns tend to be far from the centre, expensive and ugly, making a hostel a better option. Those that cater to RVs, with pull-through sites and hook-ups, often resemble car parks, with few trees and no privacy.Seekers of calm will gravitate towards the small campgrounds that have no facilities beyond an outhouse and a water pump. Even cheaper are forestry campgrounds, which are almost always situated in remote spots on logging roads (ask at local Visitor Centres). ‘Guerilla camping’ means finding out-of-the-way spots where you can pitch your tent for free, or sleep in the back of your van, without being bothered. Much of Western Canada (but not the Rockies) is remote enough to make this possible. Logging roads are always a good place to look (and you may stumble on a forestry site). Anyone interested in this approach might want to buy Kathy and Craig Copeland’s Camp Free in BC (Voice in the Wilderness Press). Volume one covers the south, volume two the north.
Sport and activities
In Mar and Apr, around 24,000 Pacific grey whales pass Vancouver Island’s west coast. Pods of resident orca (killer whales) are easily seen from many locations, even from the shore or a ferry. Humpback whales can be seen around Feb from more northerly spots.There are plenty of reputable operators running whale-watching tours. When choosing one, bear in mind that the most important decision is whether you want to ride in an inflatable Zodiac, which is a faster, wetter and more exciting trip, or a hard- shell boat, which is more sedate.
When to go
Western Canada’s weather is fickle, unpredictable and highly localized. The Okanagan and Thompson valleys, for instance, are so dry as to be nearly desert, yet can get very cold in winter, while the West Coast receives copious amounts of rain year-round, but is blessed with Canada’s mildest winters and earliest springs. Weather in the mountains can change from blazing sunshine to blizzards in a single day, even in July.
With so much water to play in and around, an uninterrupted string of great festivals, outdoor pursuits galore, and (usually) as much sun as you could want, summer is the obvious time to visit Western Canada. Most hikes in the Rockies and other mountain regions are only snow-free between July and September, which is also the most reliable time to see those snowy peaks free of cloud. Many attractions, campgrounds and Visitor Centres only open from Victoria Day (third Monday in May) to Labour Day (first Monday in September). When we say ‘summer’ or ‘May-Sep’, this is what we mean. In the Yukon, the summer days are extremely long, with the sun barely setting at all around the summer solstice.
Many places (the Rockies in particular) are overrun with tourists during the summer. Accommodation rates are higher and coastal ferries tend to get booked up, so reservations for both are highly recommended. The best overall time is mid-August to September: the crowds are thinning, the trails are still open and the autumn colours are spectacular in the mountains and the Yukon. Spring is a good time for visitors concentrating on the coast, as the blossoms are out in Victoria and Vancouver, and the whales are migrating past Tofino.Winter in Canada is a different matter entirely. Tourism is still very much alive, but attracting a different group of people: those who come to ski or snowboard. Canada offers some of the best, most affordable skiing in the world, as well as many other snow-related activities. Most sights are closed in winter, however, and transportation can be slow. Late February to March are the best months for skiing: the days are getting longer and warmer but the snow is still at its best. Vancouver, which has three ski hills, makes an excellent year-round destination.
Where to go
The Gulf Islands-Victoria-Tofino-Courtenay-Sunshine Coast loop could be combined with a tour of the southern interior including the Coast Mountains and Okanagan. Or head to the north of Vancouver Island, take the Inside Passage up the ruggedly beautiful West Coast to Prince Rupert; visit Haida Gwaii and take a kayak tour to abandoned First Nations villages; head across on the Yellowhead Highway to Mount Robson and Jasper; drive through the Rockies to Banff, then back to Vancouver taking in parts of southern BC. The even more ambitious could continue north from Prince Rupert to Skagway on an Alaska ferry, do a tour of the Yukon, then drive south on the Cassiar Highway, taking a diversion to see the glaciers on the way to Stewart.
A fantastic inland loop would be to drive the Crowsnest Highway to Osoyoos, then head north through the Okanagan Valley to Vernon, drive east to Nakusp, do the West Kootenays loop of New Denver-Slocan Valley-Nelson-Kaslo-New Denver, then return to Nakusp and continue north to Revelstoke; head east to the Rockies, then north up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper; return to Vancouver via Mount Robson, Wells Gray Park, Kamloops, and the Sea to Sky Highway.For an Alberta-based loop, drive from Calgary to Drumheller, south to the Dinosaur Park, then take in Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Cardston and Waterton Lakes Park; cross the Crowsnest Pass and head north through the West Kootenays, finally looping back to the Rockies. A month in the Yukon would allow you to do some hikes in Kluane National Park and the Tombstone Mountains, and take a longer canoe trip such as the two-week paddle up the Yukon River, or drive the Dempster Highway to Inuvik and visit the frozen north.
Those with only a week definitely have to focus on one area. For a taste of the Gulf Islands and two very different but equally enticing towns, hop from Vancouver to Victoria (Vancouver Island) via Galiano and Salt Spring islands, maybe squeezing in a hike along the East Sooke or Juan de Fuca trails. For outdoor pursuits, take the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to the Coast Mountains around Squamish, Garibaldi Park and Whistler. Drivers could return via the dramatic Fraser Canyon. For big trees, whale watching, hot springs, endless beaches, sea kayaking and a lively seaside scene, head straight to Tofino (Vancouver Island). If time allows, squeeze in a trip to Gabriola Island from Nanaimo.Alternatively, fly into Calgary and spend the whole week in the Rockies. Concentrate on Banff, Lake Louise and Yoho, but try to drive as far north as the Columbia Icefield. Those drawn to the north could take an internal flight to Whitehorse, hire a vehicle and drive a wonderfully scenic loop of the Yukon, including Kluane National Park, the Top of the World Highway, Dawson City, the Dempster Highway as far as the Tombstone Mountains, then back to Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway.
With two weeks or more, you could combine the above Gulf Islands and Tofino trips, with a brief stop in Chemainus. Return to Vancouver via Nanaimo, or continue north to Courtenay, catch a ferry to Powell River and drive south along the Sunshine Coast. Alternatively, combine either of these coastal trips with a week in the Coast Mountains. Fast drivers could potentially see a lot of British Columbia’s southern interior. From Vancouver, take the Sea to Sky Highway or Fraser Canyon routes to Salmon Arm, then spend some time in the wineries, orchards and beaches of the Okanagan, returning via the Crowsnest Highway. Or continue on the TransCanada Highway to Revelstoke, head south through the West Kootenays and back on the Crowsnest, maybe getting a taste of the Okanagan on the way. With an open-jaw ticket flying out of Calgary, you could get a taste of the Coast Mountains, Okanagan or the West Kootenays, and the Rockies.Consider spending all of your time in the Rockies. Work north from Banff to the Columbia Icefield, then on the way back down do the Lake Louise-Yoho-Kootenay Park loop. A great longer loop, for those with itchy feet, would involve driving the whole Icefields Parkway to Jasper, then heading west to Mount Robson, south to Kamloops via Wells Gray Park, then back to Calgary on the TransCanada Highway via Revelstoke and Yoho Park. The Yukon loop described above would make a great two- or three-week trip. If time allows, add a short canoe trip or a diversion to Haines, Alaska or Atlin, BC.