Friday, July 16, 2010

British Columbia

Once a person spends a bit of time in the west coast Canadian province of British Columbia (called "BC" by locals for ease sake), something strange and remarkable comes over them that stays with them for the rest of their lives. It becomes impossible for them to dream of living anywhere else. Their dreams become filled with visions of mountains, beaches, rainforests and beautiful people. They are, in short, captivated.

British Columbia is home to nearly 5 million people, with half of them, 2.5 million, living in the paradise city of Vancouver. The province has 940,000 square km of land, from the Alaskan and Yukon borders in the north to the border with Washington state in the south. and yet nearly 52% of the land is uninhabited, making BC one of the least-densely populated areas in the world. The United Nations determined that for every person living in BC, there is 520 square metres of land!

While Canada has consistently maintained one of the highest standards of living in the world for the past four decades as determined by the United Nation's Human Development Index (switching places every year with Australia and Denmark for the top 3 countries), British Columbia is consistently ranked as having the highest standards of living within Canada. Vancouver has been awarded Best City in the World 8 years in a row by a variety of sources: the UN, Forbes, the US Organization of Mayors, and National Geographic. Vancouver is rated as having the best infrastructure, lowest crime rates, best schools, best air quality, best health care, highest employment rates, stable housing markets, etc etc of all the cities in the world. All this despite a global economic crisis (which left Canada, and BC in particular, fairly untouched due to vast natural resources, a smart banking sector, prudent government planning and a touch of good luck).

Vancouver, of course, takes all the credit for BC's wonders, but there are so many more to behold. Drive north of Vancouver for a couple of hours and you'll find yourself in the Okanogan Valley, a huge valley between two mountain ranges with excellent black earth. This has been developed into a vast agricultural area and the third largest wine-making area in North America. Drive north for 12 hours and you find yourself in Prince Rupert, a bustling little city with the feel of an old gold-rush-era frontier town. A bit further north from there and you find yourself in Alaska. Along the way you'll pass through the Sunshine Coast area, along the Pacific Ocean, with some breathtaking geography and a well-groomed highway.

Off the coast lies a series of islands, the biggest and most populated of which is Vancouver Island. This island is a little bigger than Denmark. The city of Victoria is on the sourthern tip, jutting into American waters and only a 40 minute catameran ride from Seattle. Victoria is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. It's population, 400,000, is mostly engaged in IT, finance and government work (Victoria is the provincial capital of BC), but a little known secret about Victoria is that it is sub-tropical and the only place in Canada where palm trees grow naturally!

Drive north of Victoria along the west coast of the island for 2 hours and you reach Tofino and Ucluelet (called "Ukee" by locals), the western-most points in North America where the Pacific crashes onto breathtaking cliffs and people swim and surf off long, sandy beaches. Several resorts offer "storm watching" packages in the winter. Sit in a comfortable room with a fireplace and giant wrap-around windows overlooking the cliffs of Tofino and watch as massive waves batter the rocky shore.

The people of BC are incredibly friendly. One time in Vancouver my ex and I were sitting in a bar where a live band was playing 90's alternative covers, and we were talking about how it is hard to find people to hang out with in big cities. Just as we finished saying this, a pretty blonde girl sitting at the table next to us leaned over and said, with a big smile on her face, "Hello! What's your name?" It is very easy to make friends in BC because people are very laid back. Time moves a bit slower in BC.

Finally, BC is one of the most dreamy and spiritual places I have ever been. The culture is a blend of US pop, old English, spicy Asian and earthy native. With eagles overhead, mountains and ocean all around, orca, blue and sperm whales nearby and gigantic 1000-year-old trees everywhere, it is impossible not to feel a touch of the divine. This may be why BC is home to both new-age hippy-types and moderately-liberal Christian denomitions. In BC, God is all around.

Here are some videos I've dug up from the internet showcasing British Columbia. If you want to take a vacation or even immigrate anywhere in this world, I highly recommend British Columbia, Canada.

A tourism promotion video for BC.

A video showcasing Vancouver.

A video showcasing the Okanagan wine region.

A video showcasing Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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