Mining is the principal industry of British Columbia. The country is rich in gold, silver, copper, lead and coal, and has also iron deposits. From 1894 to 1904 the mining output increased from $4,225,717 to $18,977,359. In 1905 it had reached $22,460,295. The principal minerals, in order of value of output, are gold, copper, coal, lead and silver. Between 1858 - the year of the placer discoveries on the Fraser river and in the Cariboo district - and 1882, the placer yields were much heavier than in subsequent years, running from one to nearly four million dollars annually, but there was no quartz mining. Since 1899 placer mining has increased considerably, although the greater part of the return has been from lode mining. The Rossland, the Boundary and the Kootenay districts are the chief centres of vein-mining, yielding auriferous and cupriferous sulphide ores, as well as large quantities of silver-bearing lead ores. Ores of copper and the precious metals are being prospected and worked also, in several places along the coast and on Vancouver Island. The mining laws are liberal, and being based on the experience gained in the adjacent mining centres of the Western States, are convenient and effective.
The most important smelting and reducing plants are those at Trail and Nelson in the West Kootenay country, and at Grand Forks and Greenwood in the Boundary district. There are also numerous concentrating plants. Mining machinery of the most modern types is employed wherever machinery is required.
The province contains enormous supplies of excellent coal, most of which are as yet untouched. It is chiefly of Cretaceous age. The producing collieries are chiefly on Vancouver Island and on the western slope of the Rockies near the Crow's Nest Pass in the extreme south-eastern portion of the provinces. Immense beds of high grade bituminous coal and semi-anthracite are exposed in the Bulkley Valley, south of the Skeena river, not far from the projected line of the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. About one-half the coal mined is exported to the United States.
A large percentage of the commerce is derived from the sea, the chief product being salmon. Halibut, cod (several varieties), oolachan, sturgeon, herring, shad and many other fishes are also plentiful, but with the exception of the halibut these have not yet become the objects of extensive industries. There are several kinds of salmon, and they run in British Columbia waters at different seasons of the year. The quinnat or spring salmon is the largest and best table fish, and is followed in the latter part of the summer by the sockeye, which runs in enormous numbers up the Fraser and Skeena rivers. This is the fish preferred for canning. It is of brighter colour, more uniform in size, and comes in such quantities that a constant supply can be reckoned upon by the canneries. About the mouth of the Fraser river from 1800 to 2600 boats are occupied during the run. There is an especially large run of sockeye salmon in the Fraser river every fourth year, while in the year immediately following there is a poor run. The silver salmon or cohoe arrives a little later than the sockeye, but is not much used for packing except when required to make up deficiencies.
The dog-salmon is not canned, but large numbers are caught by the Japanese, who salt them for export to the Orient. The other varieties are of but little commercial importance at present, although with the increasing demand for British Columbia salmon, the fishing season is being extended to cover the runs of all the varieties of this fish found in the waters of the province.
Great Britain is the largest but not the only market for British Columbia salmon. The years vary in productiveness, 1901 having been unusually large and 1903 the smallest in eleven years, but the average pack is about 700,000 cases of forty-eight 1-lb tins, the greater part of all returns being from the Fraser river canneries, the Skeena river and the Rivers Inlet coming next in order. There are between 60 and 70 canneries, of which about 40 are on the banks of the Fraser river. There is urgent need for the enactment of laws restricting the catch of salmon, as the industry is now seriously threatened. The fish oils are extracted chiefly from several species of dog-fish, and sometimes from the basking shark, as well as from the oolachan, which is also an edible fish.
The fur-seal fishery is an important industry, though apparently a declining one. Owing to the scarcity of seals and international difficulties concerning pelagic sealing in Bering Sea, where the greatest number have been taken, the business of seal-hunting is losing favour. Salmon fish-hatcheries have been established on the chief rivers frequented by these fish. Oysters and lobsters from the Atlantic coast have been planted in British Columbia waters.