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About British Columbia

Take this opportunity to learn about the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The Basics

B.C. is the western-most province in Canada, bordering the Pacific Ocean. Internationally known for its stunning natural beauty (there are six national parks), British Columbia is home to more than 4.4 million people. While most of these residents live in the Lower Mainland area, British Columbia’s land area is the size of France, Germany and the Netherlands combined. 

The capital of British Columbia is Victoria, which is situated on Vancouver Island. The most populous city in the province is Vancouver, Canada’s third largest city, with a metropolitan population exceeding 2.4 million. Approximately 35,000 immigrants from around the world arrive to B.C. each year, and immigrants make up a high proportion of B.C.’s population. In fact, over one third of Vancouver’s population comes from abroad, and B.C. has the largest Chinese community in Canada. The vibrant multicultural atmosphere and excellent quality of life make B.C. a major destination for newcomers to Canada.

British Columbia Economy and Employment

While British Columbia’s economy has traditionally been dominated by natural resources, in recent decades it has diversified significantly, now featuring an extensive industrial and service economy. Forestry and mining remain important industries, as is construction. Telecommunications is the centerpiece of a booming technology sector.

Tourism is a considerable source of revenue for the province, thanks to its vast natural beauty. B.C. plays host to much of the Rocky Mountains, thousands of miles of coastline, and sweeping acres of protected green space. B.C. also has the largest fishing industry in Canada,  as well as sizeable cattle and dairy farm operations. At the same time, B.C. is Canada's third-largest generator of hydro electricity and Canada's second-largest natural gas producer. The Vancouver area, where the majority of British Columbians reside, has become an important financial, business and technology center and is the third-largest film and television production centre in North America, after New York and Los Angeles. As an up-and-coming urban center, Vancouver is home to a flourishing service industry.

British Columbia is a good place to find a job in Canada. Unemployment rates in the province have dropped to their lowest levels in 30 years, falling consistently below 6%. Many of these new jobs are in the service or technology sectors. With growth forecasts very positive for the future of the province, there will continue to be many job opportunities for immigrants in British Columbia in the near future.

British Columbia Standard of Living

British Columbia is well known for its high standard of living, with the city of Vancouver consistently ranked among the top cities in the world to live and work in. For a new immigrant, Vancouver provides economic opportunity and support networks of existing immigrant communities, all within safe communities and natural beauty. Likewise Victoria and interior B.C. communities such as Kelowna provide a similar array of qualities.

While the cost of living in British Columbia is among the highest in Canada, mainly due to housing costs, average personal yearly earnings in B.C. are also quite high to compensate. B.C. has a mandatory minimum wage of $10.25/hr, and the second lowest personal income tax rate. With huge areas of protected parkland, two mountain ranges and the Pacific Ocean, there is plenty of opportunity for recreation and health living. Life expectancy is 82 years of age.

British Columbia Residential Housing

The housing market in British Columbia is slightly more expensive than the rest of Canada.

The average house price in British Columbia is highest within the cities of Vancouver and Victoria, though each are surrounded by suburbs. Overall, the percentage of household income taken up by ownership costs in the Vancouver and Victoria regions ranges anywhere from 30-60% for most residents. Commercial real estate is generally closer to the national average.

Many people who live in Vancouver choose to live in neighbouring suburbs such as Richmond, Surrey or Burnaby. Living in these cities offers lower housing costs and more space to accommodate families, within a short commute of the city. For new immigrants, these areas also offer established immigrant communities that provide a cultural community and support network.

British Columbia Education

British Columbia has a well respected public education system anchored by globally renowned research universities. In Canada, all citizens and permanent residents under the age of 20 are entitled to free education until the end of high school through the public school system. Within this taxpayer-funded system, there are a range of choices including community schools, alternative schools, aboriginal education programs, French immersion, fine arts programs, sports or trades programs and, of course, the main public stream. In B.C. students are not restricted by geographic distance and may attend any public school they wish in the province free of charge, provided there is space. For grades 10,11 and 12, students must pass provincial exams in order to graduate.

For students continuing their education after high school, British Columbia offers over 1,900 programs at 26 public post-secondary institutions, including six universities, three university colleges (offering undergraduate and master's degrees, often in specialized subject areas, as well as courses and programs in trades, vocational, and career technical studies), and 12 colleges covering a variety of occupations. British Columbians pay on average $4,800 per year on tuition, which is about 15% higher than the Canadian average. There are, however, a number of student aid, scholarship and loan programs available based on both merit and financial need to ensure accessibility to education.

British Columbia’s top universities, including the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University, and the University of Victoria form a research and development network that attracts scholars and scientists from around the world. UBC has had within its ranks Nobel Prize winners in medicine, physics and economics. This network provides an advanced knowledge base that helps the B.C. economy compete on the world stage.

British Columbia Health Care

Under Canadian Law, all provinces and territories must provide universal, publicly funded health care to all citizens and legal residents of Canada. In other words, most basic health services in Canada are offered at no direct cost to the patient. Certain procedures that are not deemed necessary (such as elective cosmetic surgery and a number of dental care procedures, for example) are generally not covered, but the list of services paid for publicly varies from province to province. British Columbia, like the rest of Canada, has universal, publicly funded health care. British Columbia has one of the highest public sector healthcare expenditures in Canada, and over $3,500 per capita is spent each year on health care in the province.

British Columbia History

British Columbia has some of the richest aboriginal history of any province in Canada. Anthropologists have found evidence of human habitation in the region as early as 11,500 years ago. With the province’s expansive coastline, B.C. supported the highest aboriginal population density of any region in Canada. At the time of European contact, nearly half of all people living in present-day Canada were in British Columbia.

European contact began with British explorers James Cook and George Vancouver (for whom the city and Vancouver Island are named) in the late 1700s. These explorers were followed by fur traders who would establish a permanent British presence in the area. Many of the major cities in British Columbia today had their origins as fur trading posts.

British Columbia joined Canadian confederation as a province in 1871, becoming the sixth province to do so. It was not until the turn of the century however that its borders were settled. During this time B.C. took in immigrants from all over Europe, as well as from China and Japan. With the arrival of transcontinental railroads, B.C. evolved from a mostly farming economy to forestry and mining.

After World War II, B.C. experienced a period of industrial growth and development. With the forestry industry bringing in a great deal of revenue, the province invested to modernize its economy with great success. This was also a period of cultural development for B.C., as Vancouver and Victoria became cultural centres, attracting authors, artists, poets, musicians and academics.

Today B.C. boasts some of the leading industries in Canada and an enviable quality of life. Its cities are consistently ranked as some of the best and cleanest places in the world to live. These qualities helped Vancouver succeed in being awarded the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

British Columbia Culture

British Columbia has a culture that is in many ways inspired by the natural beauty of the province. B.C. residents are known for their healthy living and outdoor recreational activities, with biking, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking and swimming all proving popular in the province. With one of the best natural environments in the world to enjoy outdoor recreation, the B.C. culture has embraced this good fortune to include a healthy appreciation of recreation.

B.C. culture is also significantly influenced by its history of high levels of immigration to the province. British, German, Chinese, German, Indian, and Japanese community influences can all be found throughout the province. These influences help to make cities like Vancouver very cosmopolitan and attract arts and culture from all around the world.

British Columbia Demographics

British Columbia is home to approximately 4.4 million residents. The birth rate, however, is at only 1.4 children born per woman, below the Canadian average of 1.6. What this means is that the majority of this population increase is coming from immigration. This trend is expected to continue and reach a level in the near future where the total population increase in the province is accounted for by immigration. With the labour force already feeling pressure, British Columbia will depend heavily on immigrants to come and work in Canada.

Because of its location on the Pacific Ocean, and thus its relative proximity to Asia, British Columbia has long experienced high levels of immigration from Asia. In particular Chinese-Canadians account for approximately 10% of the province’s population, along with sizable Japanese, Filipino and Korean populations. There is also a large number of Canadians from South Asia living in B.C., especially in Southern Vancouver and in Surrey. In the cities of British Columbia one can find a mosaic of people who immigrated from or have ancestry from all over the world.

British Columbia Immigration

Immigration has always played a major role in British Columbia, from the earlier settlers of the province right through to today. With the province’s decreasing birth rate, the province is expected to depend on immigration for all of its growth in the near future. To help meet its needs, British Columbia participates in the Provincial Nomination Program, which allows the province to help speed up the immigration process for qualified applicants who wish to settle in British Columbia and have the tools to contribute to the province’s development. Individuals may apply under one of two streams, strategic occupation (skilled workers in demand in B.C.) or business category (managers and investors who will contribute to economic development). B.C. is also a major destination for individuals coming to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

British Columbia Government

Canada’s government works on a federal system, with control over certain affairs belonging to the national government in Ottawa, and others under the control of the provincial governments. The province of British Columbia has its own democratically-elected parliament (known as the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia) which is found in the provincial capital of Victoria. There are 85 representatives elected to serve as Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA), each serving a specific geographic district. The current government of the province is led by the British Columbia Liberal Party (which is not affiliated with the federal Liberal Party of Canada). The government is led by Premier Christy Clark. British Columbia has regularly scheduled provincial elections every four years.

The Major Cities

Vancouver
Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia and consistently ranked in the top three most livable cities in the entire world. While the city itself has a population of around 600,000, the metropolitan area has over 2.4 million residents, making it the third largest city in Canada and the largest west of Toronto. With just over a thousand residents at the time the young city was founded in 1886, by 1911 it had grown to 100,000.

Vancouver enjoys a temperate climate as far as Canadian standards go, and it generally does not experience the cold snowy winters that are typical elsewhere in Canada. In this more pleasant climate, Vancouver features one of the largest parks of its kind in North America, Stanley Park. The skyline of the city also features mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west, making for some famous scenery.

The city has often been called a "city of neighbourhoods", made up of various areas that each have their own character and culture. Many of these neighbourhoods are identified by the immigrant communities that dominate them, such as Little Italy, Japantown or the Punjabi market. Other non-ethnic neighbourhoods such as Gastown or Granville also retain unique character and flavour.

Thanks to its quality of life, Vancouver is one of the top destinations for immigrants to Canada. The result is a very diverse population, where more than half of the residents speak a first language other than English. While the large percentage of immigrants has allowed communities to retain much of their culture, it has also created a city-wide culture that shares and celebrates a fusion of different cultures. The city's large dragon-boat festival for example, has participants from not only the Chinese-Canadian community, but from across the city.

Vancouver has a diverse financial and service-based economy. The city is also an important transit point for goods being shipped to and from Canada on the Pacific Ocean, exporting more goods than any other port in North America. Recently the low cost of doing business in the city has attracted a significant amount of film and television production, leading to the nickname of “Hollywood North”. In addition, the presence of high quality research universities has made it a home for many high-technology industries, including telecommunications and video game design.

Victoria
The city of Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The metropolitan area of Victoria has roughly 350,000 residents, with the majority living in the ring of smaller municipalities surrounding the provincial capital. Victoria is a short ferry ride away from the city of Vancouver.

Government administration, services and tourism comprise the major employers in the city of Victoria. Thanks to its climate and well-preserved environment, Vancouver Island has developed a popularity for recreation and eco-tourism, with Victoria at its centre. The city is also home to the well-known University of Victoria, drawing students, academics and researchers to the city.

Victoria is well-liked for its mild climate and peaceful nature. While the city has a flourishing culture and is a center for the arts, one can also find a smaller-town feel amongst its suburbs. Victoria has a very low crime rate and is known for its excellent standard of living.

Links and Resources

Government of British Columbia
Finding Work in British Columbia
British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program
Education in British Columbia
University of British Columbia
 

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