Traveler's Guide to British Columbia

10 FAQs About British Columbia for First-Time Travelers

Aerial of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia
Image Courtesy of Tourism Vancouver / Albert Normandin

See also: First Time in Canada? 7 Things You Should Know Before You Visit Vancouver

Traveling to Vancouver, Canada for the first time? Not sure what the "BC" in "Vancouver, BC" stands for? Then this quick primer on British Columbia is for you!

10 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about British Columbia for Travelers to Vancouver

1. What is British Columbia?
Canada is made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories, just as the United States is made up of 50 states. Vancouver is in the province of British Columbia. The "BC" (or "B.C.") in "Vancouver, BC" stands for British Columbia.

2. Where did the name "British Columbia" come from? Why "British"?
Like all of the Americas, Canada was colonized by Europeans, specifically the British and French. This is why Canada's official languages are English (from the British) and French (from the French). Everyone in British Columbia speaks English.

The name "British Columbia" was chosen by the British Queen Victoria in 1858. "Columbia" refers to the Columbia River, which also runs through Washington state in the U.S.

3. Is British Columbia still British?
No. Canada became its own country on July 1, 1867. (Which is why Canadians celebrate July 1 as Canada Day). Canada became independent of Great Britain in 1982, though Queen Elizabeth (Great Britain's Queen) is still the constitutional monarch of Canada, which is why the Queen appears on Canadian money.

4. Who lived in British Columbia before European colonization?
Again, like all of the Americas, there were indigenous people in Canada before Europeans arrived. In Canada, these are the First Nations, the M├ętis and the Inuit peoples. Everywhere you go in Vancouver, starting at the Vancouver Airport, you will find art and artifacts made by the First Nations people of British Columbia.

5. Is Vancouver the capital of British Columbia?
No. The capital of British Columbia is Victoria, not Vancouver; Victoria is a city on Vancouver Island (which is not the same as the City of Vancouver). However, Vancouver is the biggest city in British Columbia.

6. So Vancouver Island is different than Vancouver?
Yes. Vancouver Island is an island off the coast of British Columbia (it is still part of British Columbia). You can travel to Vancouver Island from Vancouver via plane or ferry boat

7. How big is British Columbia?
Big! British Columbia is 922,509.29 square kilometers (356,182.83 square miles).* It borders the U.S. to the south (the states of Washington, Idaho and Montana) and stretches all the way to Alaska, the Canadian Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

8. How many people live in British Columbia?
British Columbia has a population of 4,606,371.** About 2.5 million people live in the Vancouver region, sometimes called "Greater Vancouver" and/or "Metro Vancouver." 

9. Is British Columbia part of the Pacific Northwest?
Yes! Despite being in two different countries (Canada and the U.S.), British Columbia--particularly the areas around Vancouver--shares much of the same culture and cuisine as the Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon. British Columbia's "Pacific Northwest cuisine" is very similar to Seattle's. 

10. Are there more places to visit in British Columbia besides Vancouver?
Yes! Here are just a few:

*Statistics from Statistics Canada, 2011 Census
**Statistics from BC Stats

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