British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, is bounded on the E by Alberta, on the S by Montana, Idaho, and Washington, on the W by the Pacific Ocean, on the NW by Alaska, and on the N by Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Along its deeply indented Pacific coast lie many islands, notably Vancouver Island (c.280 mi/450 km long) and the sparsely inhabited Queen Charlotte Islands. The province is almost wholly mountainous, with the Rocky Mts. in the southeast, the Coast Mts. along the Pacific, and the Stikine Mts. in the northwest.
Chief of the many rivers is the Fraser, which, with its tributaries, drains much of central and S British Columbia as it flows to the Pacific. Other rivers in that region include the upper Columbia and the Kootenay. In the north are the Peace, the Stikine, the Nass, and the Skeena. Hydroelectric resources in British Columbia are highly developed; large plants along the rivers operate pulp and paper mills. The station at Kemano on the Nechako River serves one of the biggest aluminum plants in the world, at Kitimat. Long, narrow lakes are found throughout the interior, supplying vast backwaters for dams; Williston Lake, on the Peace River, is the largest of these.
British Columbia attracts millions of visitors annually, and the land is a hunting and fishing paradise. There are four national parks—Glacier, Mt. Revelstoke, Yoho, and Kootenay—and hundreds of provincial parks and camping grounds. The climate along the west coast, tempered by the warm Japan Current, has made that area, especially Vancouver and Victoria, very attractive to tourists.
Large areas of central and N British Columbia are sparsely settled; almost three fourths of the population is crowded into the southwest coastal tip in the Georgia Strait region. Victoria is the capital. The largest city and chief port is Vancouver, which grew rapidly throughout the 1980s, experiencing a real estate boom and heavy immigration from China and Hong Kong. Other population centers include Richmond, Kelowna, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kamloops, and Prince George.
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