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British Columbia is the westernmost province of the Dominion of Canada. Territorially, it is also the largest, being 357,600 square miles in extent. It is composed of the mainland and islands. Prominent among the latter are Vancouver and Queen Charlotte Islands. The mainland is bounded on the south by the States of Washington and Idaho, on the east by the summits of the Rocky Mountain as far as a point where they meet the line of 120th degree of longitude, thence by that line to the 60th degree of latitude, the northern limit of the province. On the west it extends as far as the Pacific Ocean, except north of Portland Canal, where a narrow strip of coast land and a group of important islands form a part of Alaska.
British Columbia has been called a sea of mountains, and this designation is fairly accurate, save perhaps for some forty miles on either side of the Chilcotin River, where are to be found rolling or tolerably level plateaux at least 3,000 feet above the sea and covered with excellent bunch grass. They are more or less open and the remainder of the province might be described as a continuous forest of conifers, interspersed here and there with deciduous trees and dotted at long intervals with natural prairies. The mountains are too numerous for enumeration. The principal ranges are the Lillooet mountains in the south-west, the Cariboo and the Babine mountains in the north-eastern and north-western interiors respectively, north of which numberless sierras connect the Rockies with the Cascade or Coast range, a chain of steep and rugged mounts that run parallel to the former. Between these many evidences of ancient physical upheavals lie either fertile valleys or deep, long, and narrow lakes. The latter are to be found especially in the northern interior. Prominent among them are lakes Babine, which covers an area of some 196,000 acres; Tatla, 152,000, Morice, 148,000; Stuart, 142,000 French; 140,000; Chilco, 109,760, and many others almost as large. In the south are lakes Kootenay, with an estimated area of 141,120 acres, Okanagan, 86,240, and Harrison, 78,400. Most of these sheets of water give rise to, or are drained by, rivers which in the spring assume generally the nature of torrents. The chief watercourses of the province are the Fraser River, with the Nechaco, the Quesnel, and the Thompson as tributaries, the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stickine in the north-west; the Finlay and its continuation, the Peace, with their tributary, the Parsnip, in the north-east, while the south-eastern corner is drained by the upper Columbia.
These streams, especially the Fraser and Skeena, are yearly ascended by immense shoals of salmon of the genus oncorhynchus, which are a great source of revenue, while the vast forests of the coast and southern interior, composed mostly of red cedar (thuya gigantea), fir (pseudotsuga Douglassii) and various species of spruce, are likewise the objects of remunerative industries. The country's most valuable treasures are, however, under ground, being found in the shape of minerals of which the following represents the production for 1906: copper, $8,288,565; gold, $5,579,039; lead, $2,667,578; silver, $1,897,320; other materials, $1,000 000. For the same period of time Vancouver Island and parts of the mainland yielded coal and coke to the value of $5,548,044, though it is well known that vast deposits of the same exist on the mainland, which only awaits capital to become productive. As to agriculture, it takes a rather secondary place in British Columbia; yet it is by no means neglected. In the valley of the lower Fraser and in the districts of Okanagan, Kamloops, Lillooet, etc., fruit-raising is considered more remunerative. Apples and pears of all kinds, peaches, tomatoes, and smaller fruit grow to perfection. From a climatological standpoint, extremes are to be found within the broad limits of the province. The coast enjoys an almost constantly mild, though wet, climate, and roses are grown in the open throughout the winter in Vancouver and Victoria. Beyond the Cascades is the dry belt, where irrigation becomes a necessity, while north of the 52d parallel the winters become more and more severe in proportion to the latitude and the altitude.
The latest official census (1901) gave the population of the province as 178,657, of whom 33,081 were Catholic. The entire population can not now be less than 260,000 with perhaps 48,000 Catholics. The capital is Victoria, in the southern extremity of Vancouver Island; population in 1901, 20,816, estimated now at 30,000 including 6,000 Orientals. The commercial metropolis is Vancouver, at the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway on Burrard Inlet. Founded practically, in 1886, it had already 26,103 inhabitants in 1901. At the present time it claims a population of 71,150, some 4,500 of whom are Chinese and 1,800 Japanese. Next in importance are, on the mainland, New Westminster (about 10,000 inhabitants), Nelson (8,000), Rossland (7,150), and, on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo, a famous coal centre (6,230).
The figures for the total population of the province include 25,593 Indians divided into six very distinct stocks; (1) the Kootenays in the south-eastern corner; (2) the Salish, who are the aborigines of the southern portion of the mainland and the south-eastern coast of Vancouver Island; (3) the Kwakwiutl or Wakashans immediately north of the latter on the coast of the mainland and the northern and western parts of Vancouver Island; (4) the Haidas on Queen Charlotte Islands; (5) the Tsimpsians along the lower course of the Skeena and on the littoral of the mainland as far north as Alaska, and (6) the Dénés who range over the entire extent of the northern half of the province east of the Kwakwiutl and the Tsimpsians. The Kootenays number but 587, all Catholics as well as the 2,500 Dénés of the north, but the Salish are fully 12,000, of whom about one-tenth are Protestants, the remainder Catholics. The Tsimpsians are partly heathen and partly Protestants, while the Wakashans and the Haidas, the former especially, have mostly retained their aboriginal faith in shamanistic practices, to the exclusion of any of the sects
Navigators of various nationalities were the first representatives of our civilization to come in contact with these aborigines. In 1774 it was the Spanish Juan Perez; in 1778 the English Captain Cook, the French Lapérouse came in 1785; Captain Meares in 1787, Marchand, a Frenchman, in 1791; the American Gray in 1789, and the famous George Vancouver in 1792. But no settlement resulted from the visits of these mariners, who confined their operations to geographical work and fur trading with the natives. In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie crossed the Rocky Mountains from the east and reached the Pacific overland. The first white settlements were established in the northern interior by members of the Northwest Fur Trading Company: Fort McLeod in 1805; Forts St. James and Fraser in 1806, and Fort George, at the confluence of the Nechaco with the Great River the following year. The latter stream was explored to its mouth in 1808 by Simon Fraser, and is now known under his name. Shortly afterwards, other posts were founded and a brisk trade carried on in the northern interior, which was long called New Caledonia, and comprised at one time the basin of the Thompson, discovered in 1808 by the astronomer-geographer David Thompson.
The headquarters for the Pacific of the corporation (the Hudson's Bay Company since its absorption of the Northwest Company in 1821) which operated throughout the land were at Fort Vancouver, on the lower Columbia. When it became evident that this would be found to be in American territory, the authorities established (1843) another general depot at the southern end of Vancouver Island, which was at first called Fort Camosun, and then Victoria. Later on, the rich deposits of gold on the Fraser, and throughout the district of Cariboo, brought in large numbers of miners to the new post, round which a city of tents and shacks grew (1858) as if by magic. James Douglas (afterwards Sir), a prominent fur trader, was named governor of Vancouver Island as early as 1851. The gold mines and consequent influx of immigrants made it a necessity to erect the mainland into another colony, with him at its head (1858). A year later a capital for the new territory was chosen at a point on the mainland facing the apex of the Fraser delta, resulting in the founding of what is now New Westminster. Finally, after various vicissitudes, chief among which was the Chilcotin massacre of 1864, the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, already united in 1866 under one government at Victoria, were admitted into the Canadian Confederation on the 20th of July, 1871. Under the new regime, the province is governed by a lieutenant governor appointed and paid ($9,000 per annum) by Ottawa, with the help of responsible ministers and a Legislative Assembly composed of thirty-four members elected by the people.
From a religious standpoint, the visits of the early navigators made little impression on the native mind. Some missionaries have wrongly supposed that the mantles worn on ceremonial occasions by the coast Indians originated in the copes of the priests that accompanied the Spanish and other ships. These are aboriginal with the natives. However, it is on record that, immediately prior to the advent of the white settlers, the old people among the Kwakwiutl tribe had a clear recollection of strangers "clad in black and having a crown of hair round the head, who had come to see the Indians" (Rapp, Sur les Missions de Quebec, March, 1855, p. 113). The very first resident of what is now British Columbia (Lamalice, at Fort McLeod) was a Catholic, and so were the great explorer Simon Fraser, J. M. Quesnel, one of his two lieutenants and all his French Canadian companions. These and the numerous servants of the trading posts, who were also Canadians, gave the aborigines their first ideas of Christianity. Later on, Father de Smet, S.J. visited the Kootenays, and in 1843 Father J. B. Z. Bolduc accompanied Douglas to Vancouver Island, where he ministered to crowds of wondering Indians. In 1842 Father M. Demers had made an extended trip through the inland tribes, visiting in turn the Okanagans, the Shushwaps (both of the Salish stock) and the Carriers, a Dene tribe in the north. Four years later, a Jesuit priest, Father Nobili, walked in his footsteps and even went as far as Fort Babine, on the lake of the same name, instead of retracing his steps at Fort St. James, as his predecessors had done. The year thereafter (1847), Father Demers became the first bishop of the newly founded see of Vancouver Island, now the Archbishopric of Victoria. One of his first cares was to call for the help of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate already working in Oregon, one of whom, Father L. J. D'Herbomez, was consecrated Bishop of Miletopolis (9 October, 1864) and appointed to the Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia, which on 2 September, 1890, became the Diocese of New Westminster, on the mainland.
The chief Catholic institutions of Victoria are a hospital at the capital, together with an academy for girls, a college for boys, and a kindergarten, all, except the college, in charge of the Sisters of St. Ann. A protectory which was started at the same place is now at Quamichan; Nanaimo possesses, in addition to the Catholic school, an orphanage which originated in Victoria. There are schools for Indian boys and girls at Kuper Island and among the Songhees of Victoria, and the Benedictine Fathers and Sisters conduct Indian schools on the west coast of the Island. On the mainland, identical institutions are to be found at St. Mary's Mission, North Vancouver, Sechelt, Kamloops, William's Lake, and Kootenay. These schools for the natives are supported, not always adequately, by the Federal Government of Canada. New Westminster, Vancouver, Cranbrook, and Greenwood each boast of a well equipped hospital; New Westminster is the seat of St Louis College, and Vancouver, in addition to a flourishing academy conducted by the Sisters of St. Ann, has a House of Refuge under the care of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
The public schools are on the American model and aiding religious institutions through grants or general exemption from taxes is prohibited. By virtue of an Act passed by Parliament after a signal public service rendered by the Sisters of St Ann, the latter's Academy at Victoria enjoys freedom from such an encumbrance, and Church property may also be more or less favored in this respect by special legislation on the part of the city councils. The clergy cannot be drafted into a jury or coerced into military service, though they may be allowed to serve if they so wish. Attending the provincial penitentiary and asylum for the insane, there are Catholic and Protestant chaplains paid by the federal authorities. Churches can be incorporated, and are then recognized as eligible for bequests and to acquire and possess property. While divorce in Canada is generally granted only by the Dominion Senate, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has jurisdiction over that issue, because at the time this province entered the Confederation, it was left free to enjoy the privileges it then possessed.
Hist. Of B.C. (San Francisco, 1890); BIGG, Hist. of B.C. (Toronto, 1894); MORICE, Au pays de l'ours noir (Paris, 1897); La Colombie brittannique in Les missions catholiques francaises au XIXe siecle (Paris, 1903); The Hist. of the Northern Interior of B.C. (Toronto, 1904); GOSNELL, The Year Book of B.C. (Victoria, 1903); WADE, The Thompson Country (Kamloops, 1907).
A. G. Morice.