Canadian Geographic
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British Columbia, 1891-1931

Prior to the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to Vancouver in 1887, the economy of British Columbia was dependent on maritime linkages, via the south coast, for the export of staple commodities (coal, gold, fish, fur, and lumber).

In 1891 the geographic pattern of staples extraction had changed relatively little but coal, lumber, and fish had assumed greater importance. The widespread application of industrial techniques to problems of resource extraction (the steam donkey engine in logging), processing (the iron chink in canning), and marketing (the rail network) contributed to rapid economic growth in British Columbia during the two decades before the First World War. Growth of staples industries, in turn, promoted both improvements in and expansion of the transportation system: the realm of staples production and processing was widened and intensified. In mining and canning but not forestry a few large companies dominated. During the 1920s the new economy was consolidated; production of leading staples reached record levels and forestry had replaced mining as the leading sector.

There was considerable diversity in the communities that developed to extract and process the staple resources of British Columbia. At one end of the continuum lay coastal float camps primarily for logging and seasonal cannery settlements (Mill Bay), at the other the coal-mining communities of the Nanaimo region. The former were characterized by impermanence, isolation, pronounced seasonal rhythms, gender imbalance, and a restricted domestic realm; the latter displayed more normal demographic and settlement characteristics.

Canadian Western Lumber Company, part of the Mackenzie and Mann empire, became the largest lumber producer in the province, its mill processing logs drawn largely from Vancouver Island. By 1931 the work-force was ethnically diverse but English Canadians and Americans dominated managerial and supervisory positions. French Canadian labourers, recruited in Qu├ębec established the nearby settlement of Maillardville.

Click here for information about more recent foresty activity in British Columbia


This series contains two graphs related to production of BC lumber. The first illustrates percentages of total production contributed by various regions from 1915 to 1928. The second shows percentages of water-borne shipments that were distributed to each continent around the world from 1891 through 1928. The user can explore portions of each graph by clicking to zoom in and out, and dragging to pan around it.


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Ship Building, 1863-1914

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Quiz :

In what period did the sailing-ship industry flourish in Atlantic Canada?

1890 to 1920
1820 to 1880
1940 to 1970