A Guide to the BC Economy and Labour Market
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  BC's Economy and How It Has Changed Over Time  

BC then…

In 2008, the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Crown Colony of British Columbia3 was celebrated. The province has seen a lot of changes during the last century and a half.

The people

In the mid-1800s, BC was one of the "last frontiers" in Canada, populated mainly by aboriginals and young European men, many of whom were fishers, hunters, miners and loggers. When BC joined Confederation in 1871, its population was 36,000, accounting for just under 1% of the national total. The share had doubled (to 2%) by 1890. At the turn of the 19th century, 3% of Canadians were living in BC.

In the late 1800s, more than half of BC's population was under 30. Men outnumbered women nearly two to one.

The economy

BC's economy developed around the fur trade and the gold rush in the mid-1800s. The building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) helped bring the province into Confederation and when the last spike was driven in Craigellachie in 1885, a transportation link was opened up between the west coast and the rest of Canada. This laid the foundation for further development of the economy.

In the early years, BC's economy was highly dependent on resource industries such as logging, mining, fishing and agriculture. Manufacturing activities were based on the processing of natural resources: canning Fraser River salmon, producing lumber and paper from trees harvested in the province's coastal and interior forests and extracting the province's rich mineral wealth.

This dependence on primary industries helped forge an image of BC that persists to this day. Most people, when asked to name the largest industries in the province, continue to put forestry, mining, fishing and agriculture at the top of the list even though these industries are no longer the dominant forces in BC's economy.

…and now

Things have changed a lot since the early days of European settlement. By 1995, BC's population had reached 3.8 million-more than the entire Canadian population (3.7 million) when the province joined Confederation in 1871.

The people

There were 4.4 million people living in BC in 2008. With 13% of the Canadian population, it is now Canada's third most populous province, after Ontario and Quebec. BC produces about 12% of the country's total GDP.

Vancouver is home to more than two million people, making it the third largest metropolitan area in Canada (after Toronto and Montreal) and one of only six Canadian cities with a population in excess of one million4. It has become an important financial and industrial centre, and with its location on the west coast of the country, it is also a major transportation hub.

Although there were more men than women in the early years, by the 1960s, the number of males and females living in BC was roughly equal. The female population has been growing faster than the number of males and since 1980 there have been slightly more women than men living in the province. Men still outnumber women in some of the more rural areas of the province (northern BC and Cariboo) but this is not the case in the more urban regions.

The population is also ageing: only 36% of British Columbians are currently under 30, and 27% are aged 55 or older.

In recent years, immigration, especially from Asia, has been a major source of population growth. As a result, the Vancouver area, along with other parts of the province, is becoming more culturally and ethnically diverse.

The economy

As the face of the province's population and its cities has changed, so too has the provincial economy. A variety of new types of goods and services are being made available to meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural population. Technological and cultural changes have also affected the way companies do business.

  1. One of three crown colonies (the others were the Crown Colonies of Vancouver Island, and the Queen Charlotte Islands) which were merged into the United Colony of BC in 1866, and eventually became a province in 1871. 

  2. The others are Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton. 

A Guide to the BC Economy and Labour MarketA Guide to the BC Economy and Labour Market