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British Columbia History

The Vancouver Public Library has extensive primary and secondary resources on the history of British Columbia. This guide is designed to help you begin your research on this topic and use library resources effectively.


Bill Helin painting depicts the damage caused by B.C.'s tsunami of 1700. (Bill Helin)

The oral histories of coastal Indigenous groups of British Columbia have long told of a massive earthquake and tsunami in early 1700, devastating the coast and its inhabitants. The painting above by Tsimshian artist Bill Helin depicts this event.
The 1700's marked a period of European exploration and contact with coastal Indigenous groups.
  • By the 1740's, Russians had begun trading on the B.C. coast.
  • In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook became the first European to set foot in British Columbia on his third expedition to the Pacific.
  • During this time, Spanish explorers Perez and Quadra were also exploring the coast. A fort was built in Nootka Sound.
  • In 1776, a devastating small pox epidemic hit Indigenous communities, other epidemics followed. 
  • In 1793, Alexander MacKenzie became the first European to cross North America overland.

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