Vancouver Island (1991 pop. 579,921), 12,408 sq mi (32,137 sq km), SW British Columbia, Canada, in the Pacific Ocean; largest island off W North America. It is c.285 mi (460 km) long and c.30 to 80 mi (50–130 km) wide and is separated from the mainland by Queen Charlotte, Georgia, and Juan de Fuca straits. The rugged island, a partially submerged portion of the Coast Mts., rises to 7,219 ft (2,200 m) at Golden Hinde Mt. Level plains extend inland from the eastern coastline. The Pacific coastline is deeply indented by numerous fjords and inlets. The island has a mild humid climate; W Vancouver Island receives the greatest amount of precipitation in North America. There are many lakes and streams but no navigable rivers. The island is heavily forested, and lumbering and wood processing are major industries. Vancouver Island is underlaid by a mineral-rich batholith, from which iron, copper, and gold are mined. Coal is extracted from a depression at the edge of the batholith; the mines at Nanaimo provide most of the coal for British Columbia. Fishing, agriculture, and tourism are other important economic activities. Pacific Rim National Park, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse national historic sites, and Strathcona Provincial Park are there. Population is concentrated along the east coast; Victoria (the provincial capital), Nanaimo, Port Alberni, and Esquimalt (site of a large naval base) are the largest cities. There are many small ports and fishing settlements. Both Spain and Britain claimed the island; it was sighted (1774) by Juan Pérez, the Spanish explorer, and Capt. James Cook was the first (1778) to land there. In 1788, John Meares, an English trader, built a fort on Nootka Sound, which was later occupied by Spanish forces. In 1792 the island was circumnavigated and chartered by Capt. George Vancouver. British sovereignty over Vancouver was confirmed (1846) when the U.S.-Canada line was drawn through Juan de Fuca Strait by the Oregon Treaty. Vancouver Island was made a crown colony in 1849 and in 1866 became part of British Columbia.
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