While the Pacific Northwest Coast was one of the first regions inhabited by our earlier human ancestors, it was one of the last to be reached and settled by later European arrivals. This occurred predominantly due to the fact that the earliest humans in North America arrived from the west across the Pacific ocean and then followed the receding ice sheets of the last major ice age while the later European arrivals came across the Atlantic, landing on the east coast before travelling west over the continent.
While Canada is clearly a rather large country which would take some time to cross, it still took there early explorers longer than one would expect to reach the west coast. There are several potential explanations for this:
- Geography – the most western part of the country is separated from the rest by a range of quite intimidating mountains (even by today’s standards). This is a large part of the reason why B.C. has a lot less snow than the rest of the country (sorry!)
- Expectations – the initial reason for sending explorers from Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean towards the west, was to look for an alternate route to India and the Middle East. Even without access to the internet and modern travel guides, I think it was probably evident to them very early on that that wasn’t where they had landed. Which leads to….
- Resources – the desire to reach the Orient and Middle East was based predominantly on a desire for the spices, cloth, metals and other resources that these countries offered. North America, on the other hand, had a lot of trees, water, and land which, while highly valued today, was not all that impressive to these travelers and probably resulted in a reduced interest in further exploration.
This third reason of resources is connected to the reason why, what is now, British Columbia was finally explored and populated. It turned out to have attributes which made it desirable to Europeans. The first of these was fur pelts, specifically otter which (for obvious reasons) isn’t typically found inland and, later on, it was the gold rush of the 1800’s which drew people to the area. Without these two discoveries, the history of this pacific region would have been very different.