Breathtaking British Columbia:
Prepare Before You Go for a Deeper Understanding
British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Sherbsworld/Sheryl Hickey
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It’s no mystery why BC is on many nature lovers’ bucket list. Hugging the Pacific Coast on the west and fusing with the Rocky Mountains on the east, with dense forests and arid grasslands in between, British Columbia is Canada’s most environmentally diverse province. It has over 27,000 km of coastline, adorned with sweet smelling spruce and cedar, and home to some of the most diverse wildlife our planet has to offer.
With a quarter of the population made up of minority groups and 40,000 new immigrants settling every year, it is also the most ethnically diverse province.
Vancouver pleases city dwellers with micro-breweries, scenic coastal walks, and movie sets. As many of the wide boulevards resemble that of New York, the lower budget is appealing to the US film industry. Vancouver is also the perfect base for exploring the nearby nature, taking weekend climbing breaks to Squamish, spectacular road trips to Whistler, and even skiing at one of its 3 city slopes.
Many of BC’s residents are environmentally conscious. Vancouver Island’s unique beauty has attracted artists, musicians, and environmentalists for generations. For centuries, Indigenous communities have preserved and lived off the land and multitude of waterways.
So if abundant wildlife, laid back cities, crispy mountain views, and lush greenery appeals to you, then BC offers all that and more.
Why plan your trip to BC?
Whether you’re island hopping around the Georgia Strait or exploring the National Parks, you’ll want to lose yourself in your surroundings. BC has so much beauty to absorb. It’s home to 10 mountain ranges, thousands of crystal clear alpine lakes, the Great Bear Rainforest, and many wellness centres on islands like Salt Spring. Believe me, you will want to switch off from the outside world.
If you know what to expect beforehand, you’ll also be prepared for the weather. The wettest part of Canada is on the west coast, and temperatures can plummet in winter months.
Doing your research beforehand will allow you to immerse yourself in the vast nature and not worry about the lack of data reception. Some of my best memories were when I had no connection to anything other than my own complete isolation.
Prepare before you go and you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the nature and the history of BC’s people.
Learn the culture of the nation’s first people
As a naive European, I assumed that because Canada was founded less than 150 years ago and has no historic architecture, it was a very new country. How wrong I was. Evidence shows the Haida people lived along the west coast at least 15,000 years ago. The Haida are one of Canada’s First Nations communities, the first people to ever settle on the land before being colonised by Europeans in the 18th century.
Now a third of Canada’s Indigenous communities live in BC. It’s where half of Canada’s Indigenous languages originate from. Indigenous peoples’ deep-rooted culture and connection to the land is weaved through the intricate textiles, local art, and wood carvings that you see throughout the province. Their history is one of displacement, bloodshed, and discrimination and it deserves and demands recognition.
As a foreign visitor, it’s difficult to know where to start, but Peter Walter’s podcast Introduction to Indigenous Relations in BC is a handy stepping stone. You can learn about customs and etiquette, and the respective terms to address different Indigenous groups.
Crafts are a huge part of Indigenous culture, and you can learn to make wool woven pouches and dream catchers at home by following the tutorials on the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s website.
For more articles about Indigenous culture, business and heritage, check out the Indigenous BC website.
Know what to do if you go down in the woods today
The wilderness in BC will bring out the adventurer in you. But before you venture out, you really should know what you might find. Humans aren’t the only species to make BC their home. This biodiversity hotspot is home to grizzly, black and spirit bears, wolves, elk, skunks, racoons, beavers, Bighorn sheep, caribou, cougar (puma), and moose. Wildlife encounters can be a rewarding and mesmerizing experience– it doesn’t have to be a terrifying one. The best practice is to know how to handle an encounter, or how to avoid them. Memorize the do’s and dont’s that could save your life!
A general rule of thumb is to make noise whilst you’re in nature to avoid suddenly startling animals: play music, sing loudly, and store your food up high at night. Understand that different animals behave and react differently, and that ultimately, you’re in their territory. And remember to always listen to local advice on weather conditions. Setting off at the wrong time can be more fatal than any wildlife sighting.
Read about the industry which has sparked movements for protection
Two thirds of BC is dense forest, and historically, this is what attracted European settlers. The threat of logging has sparked movements across ancient communities and with new environmentalists for protection of some of the old growth forests.
The notorious story of a BC logger who became an obsessed conservationist was captured in John Vaillant’s book, The Golden Spruce. It tells the story of Grant Hadwin, who, at the same time that Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver, committed environmental terrorism by felling a rare 300-year-old golden spruce on the island of Haida Gwaii. Common opinion is that he went crazy from a lifetime of witnessing the destruction of nature. The book explores Hadwin’s manic actions, details the history of the ruthless logging trade, and highlights the sacred significance of nature to the First Nations around the coast.
There are movements throughout BC to call for protection of old growth forests and spread awareness about conservation, and they welcome support. Old Growth Blockade is based on Vancouver Island and is working with local chiefs to defend trees up to 2,000 years old.
Learn about ocean health and help conserve this vibrant ocean life
BC has some of the clearest and richest waters on the planet, and there is a sense of connection between the locals and the coast. Some of the best cold water diving can be experienced here, where rare anemones and nudibranchs vibrantly decorate ocean walls. Sightings of local and transient orca are common, as well as grey whales, humpbacks, salmon, seals, sea lions, and dolphins. My most magical travel memory was seeing a humpback whale wave and follow me along the shore on a beach on Haida Gwaii.
Oceans are threatened by plastic waste and pollution. The Georgia Strait Alliance shares information on ocean health awareness, as well as organises events like beach clean ups.
Cosy up with great films set in this magical landscape
With 6 National Parks and 400 provincial parks, BC is a film director’s playground. It’s the backdrop of adventure films such as the Red Bull snowboard film, The Art of Flight. The distinct, moody landscape where the forest meets the ocean features throughout the Twilight series. These films were set all over BC and the US’s Pacific Northwest. Leo fans will love blockbuster hit The Revenant, which was filmed near Fernie and around the Squamish River. And last, for a heartfelt documentary about a First Nations community, Waałšiʔaƛin (Coming Home) will introduce you to some of the struggles and challenges one nation faces.
These films will give you a stunning preview of BC. You can lose yourself in the dreamy scenery before you’ve even packed!
Travelling BC is a jaw-dropping experience you’ll never forget. I spent a lot of my time there on the coast, taking boats to the islands and looking out for sea life. I highly recommend exploring the islands on the west coast, such as Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, Salt Springs, and Meares Island via water taxi from Tofino. The cheapest way to get to the bigger islands is by travelling on the many routes BC Ferries offers.
Road journeys are also incredibly scenic in BC, but they are always longer than you think, so allow extra time!
My final tip is to respect your surroundings. BC offers its beauty, and the only thing required in return is for you to look after it. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. Clear up after your camp, follow local instructions, and listen to warnings– you’re in the wild now! And remember that much of the land here is sacred to Indigenous people. They were here before you, so please show your respect.
Enjoy BC. You will long for it once you’ve left!