Vancouver Island is in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Canada. It is part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. The island is 460 kilometres (290 mi) in length, 100 kilometres (62 mi) in width at its widest point, and 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi) in area. It is the largest island on the West Coast of North America.
The southern part of Vancouver Island is the only part of British Columbia or Western Canada to lie south of the 49th Parallel, along with most of the southern Gulf Islands and minor offshore islands. This area has one of the warmest climates in Canada, and since the mid-1990s has been mild enough in a few areas to grow subtropical Mediterranean crops such as olives and lemons.
Vancouver Island had a population in 2016 of 775,347. Nearly half of that figure (367,770) live in the metropolitan area of Greater Victoria. Other notable cities and towns on Vancouver Island include Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Parksville, Courtenay, and Campbell River. Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is located on the island, but the larger city of Vancouver is not – it is on the North American mainland, across the Strait of Georgia from Nanaimo.
Vancouver Island has been the homeland to many indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The island was explored by British and Spanish expeditions in the late 18th century. It was named Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island in commemoration of the friendly negotiations held in 1792 by Spanish commander of the Nootka Sound settlement, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, and by British naval captain George Vancouver, during the Nootka Crisis. Quadra’s name was eventually dropped from the name. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, who explored the Pacific Northwest coast between 1791 and 1794.
Vancouver Island is the world’s 43rd largest island, Canada’s 11th largest island, and Canada’s second most populous island after the Island of Montreal. It is the largest Pacific island anywhere east of New Zealand.
Vancouver Island has been the homeland to many indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The groupings, by language, are the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, and various Coast Salish peoples. Kwakwaka’wakw territory includes northern and northwestern Vancouver Island and adjoining areas of the mainland, the Nuu-chah-nulth span most of the west coast, while the Coast Salish cover the southeastern Island and southernmost extremities along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Their cultures are connected to the natural resources abundant in the area.
The Kwakwaka’wakw today number about 5,500, who live in British Columbia on northern Vancouver Island and the mainland. They are also known as Kwakiutl in English, from one of their tribes, but they prefer their autonym Kwakwaka’wakw. Their indigenous language, part of the Wakashan family, is Kwak’wala. The name Kwakwaka’wakw means “speakers of Kwak’wala”. The language is now spoken by less than 5% of the population—about 250 people. Today 17 separate tribes make up the Kwakwaka’wakw. Some Kwakwaka’wakw groups are now extinct. Kwak’wala is a Northern Wakashan language, a grouping shared with Haisla, Heiltsuk and Wuikyala. Kwakwaka’wakw centres of population on Vancouver Island include communities such as Fort Rupert, Alert Bay and Quatsino, The Kwakwaka’wakw tradition of the potlatch was banned by the federal government of Canada in 1885, but has been revived in recent decades.
The Nuu-chah-nulth (pronounced [nuːʧanˀuɬ], or approximately “new-cha-nulth”) are indigenous peoples in Canada. Their traditional home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In pre-contact and early post-contact times, the number of nations was much greater, but as in the rest of the region, smallpox and other consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of some groups, and the absorption of others into neighbouring groups.
They were among the first Pacific peoples north of California to come into contact with Europeans, as the Spanish, Americans and British attempted to secure control of Pacific Northwest and the trade in otter pelts, with Nootka Sound becoming a focus of these rivalries. The Nuu-chah-nulth speak a Southern Wakashan language and are closely related to the Makah of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State and Ditidaht.
The Coast Salish are the largest of the southern groups. They are a loose grouping of many tribes with numerous distinct cultures and languages. On Vancouver Island, Coast Salish peoples territory traditionally spans from the northern limit of the Gulf of Georgia on the inside of Vancouver Island and covering most of southern Vancouver Island. Distinct nations within the Coast Salish peoples on Vancouver Island include the Chemainus, the Comox of the Comox Valley area, the Cowichan of the Cowichan Valley, the Esquimalt, the Saanich of the Saanich Peninsula, the Songhees of the Victoria area and Snuneymuxw in the Nanaimo area.
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