Vancouver Island, an island in the Pacific ocean, off the N. W. coast of North America, forming part of British Columbia, between lat. 48° 18' and 50° 55' N., and Ion. 123° 15' and 128° 30' W.; length from N. N. W. to S. S. E. about 275 m., greatest breadth about 85 m.; area variously estimated at from 13,000 to 16,000 sq. m.; pop., exclusive of Indians, about 6,000. It is separated from Washington territory on the south and southeast by the strait of Fuca and canal de Haro, and from the mainland of British Columbia on the northeast by the gulf of Georgia, Johnstone strait, and Queen Charlotte sound, which extends N. N. W. from Johnstone strait to the Pacific ocean, being about 75 m. long and 40 m. in greatest breadth. The coast of Vancouver island is much indented, and is lined with numerous islets. The principal inlets are Nootka sound and Barclay or Nitinat sound on the W. coast, Victoria harbor at the S. E. extremity, Esquimau harbor 3 m. W., and Nanaimo harbor 65 m. N. of Victoria. The city of Victoria is the chief place, and is the capital of British Columbia. The surface is varied by mountains, hills, and prairies; one valley contains as much as 300,000 acres.
Through the middle from N. to S. extends a range of bare and rocky mountains, having a general elevation of 2,000 ft., and culminating toward the south in Mt. Arrowsmith, 5,900 ft. high. The shores are abrupt and rocky, and between these and the central ridge are rounded and fir-covered hills. At the bases of the parallel ridges, in the interior, numerous lakes are formed, which are sometimes connected in a continuous chain, sometimes isolated. The only rivers are the short watercourses which discharge the overflow of the lakes or the surface waters of the ridges; in winter they are torrents, in summer nearly dry. Many springs are charged with sulphuretted hydrogen. The central ridge is composed of metamorphic and trappean rocks, fringed by a belt of carboniferous sandstones and other sedimentary rocks. The chief mineral wealth of the island is coal, anthracite and bituminous. The mines at Nanaimo have been successfully worked for some years, the coal finding a ready sale in San Francisco. There is good limestone on the island. Salt springs exist near Nanaimo and on Salt island, but they are not yet utilized. Some of these springs contain 3,446 grs. of salt to the gallon. The climate is equable and healthful, the summers being cool and the winters mild.
Spring and summer are dry, autumn and winter wet. The mean temperature at Esquimalt in 1874 was as follows: winter, 38.5°; spring, 53.5°; summer, 56.8°; autumn, 45.9°; year, 48.7°. The highest temperature observed was 78°, the lowest 13.5°. The rainfall was as follows: wijater, 7.28 inches; spring, 1.11; summer, 1.51; autumn, 8.9; year, 18.8. The island is well wooded, and spars and lumber are extensively exported. The chief trees are the pine, fir, spruce, oak, willow, alder, cedar, and maple. The Douglas pine preponderates at the south, and is especially valuable for masts. On the banks of the streams and in the valleys and open tracts there is considerable arable land. Wheat, potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables yield abundantly; oats and barley do not succeed so well. The Indians, of whom there are considerable numbers, live chiefly along the coast, and are peaceable. On the wooded promontories of the S. E. end of the island are old structures of which the use is now unknown. They are circles of stone, 3 to 18 ft. in diameter, and are found in groups varying from 3 or 4 to 50 or more.
Those that are in a complete shape are filled in to a height of 3 or 4 ft. with masses of loose stones from the erratic bowlders which are strewn over the whole surface of the country. The supposition that these structures were the dwellings of tribes that have now disappeared from the island derives probability from the circumstance that a tribe on the Frazer river now live in similar habitations. - Possession was taken of the island in 1792 in behalf of Great Britain by the navigator Vancouver, to whom it was surrendered by the Spanish commander Quadra. Vancouver explored its coasts, and gave it the name of Quadra and Vancouver, but the first part is no longer used. In 1843 the Hudson Bay company established a trading post at Victoria. The island was long claimed by the United States, but Great Britain was confirmed in her possession by the treaty of 1846. In 1849 it was granted to the Hudson Bay company for ten years. In 1859 it was erected into a colony, and in 1866 it was consolidated with British Columbia.