Setting up camp here at least 15, 000 years ago, BC’s Aboriginal settlers likely arrived from Asia via a land bridge across the Bering Strait. With abundant animal, marine and plant life available, coastal tribes like the Haida and Nisga’a thrived, developing sophisticated cultures and intricate trade networks. Inland, the Salish and Chilcotin people led more nomadic existences, relying on migratory caribou and salmon.
These early civilizations prospered for centuries until avaricious 18th-century European explorers appeared. The Russians and Spanish sailed in first, followed in 1778 by Britain’s Captain James Cook. He sparked a stampede of ‘fur prospectors’ from the Old World and, by the 1820s, the Hudson’s Bay Company – still around today – was operating fortified trading posts across the region. A few years later, Britain declared Vancouver Island a crown colony.
The discovery of Fraser River gold in 1858 resulted in a massive new wave of European and American economic migration, with thousands arriving in search of instant fortunes. Britain swiftly claimed the rest of the province, naming riverfront New Westminster as capital. After the gold rush lost its shine, many of these speculators stayed to form permanent settlements.
Uniting mainland BC and Vancouver Island in 1866, the Brits named Victoria as their new regional capital. Five years later, the fledgling province joined Canada, agreeing to confederation on condition that a railroad be extended from the east. The first trans-Canada train chugged across to the west coast in 1886.
While BC lumber soon began flowing across the world, fuelling the region’s growth for the next few decades, WWI and the Wall Street Crash triggered a slow and protracted depression in the province. Prosperity only returned when WWII sparked shipbuilding and armaments manufacturing, diversifying the economy away from logging.
By the 1990s, global tourism and Asian migration had become major influences on the regional balance sheet, with Vancouver particularly enjoying a huge surge in development. A second development peak was triggered when the city won hosting rights to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. It’s a boom mirrored across the province, with projects mushrooming in communities from Prince Rupert to Port Alberni. The first gold rush may be over, but for BC’s developers the second one is in full swing.