There has been human habitation in British Columbia for at least 11,500 years. Aboriginal peoples flourished throughout the region for thousands of years until about 1774, when the first documented exploration of the area, conducted by the Spanish Juan Pérez, occurred. The Spanish continued to tentatively explore the region until 1778, when the first British Royal Navy ships arrived captained by James Cook. Successful trade initiated by these British sailors with the native peoples spurred increased trade in the region. The first European settlement was established in 1788 by an English explorer. This was followed by Spanish settlements, and there was some rivalries between the two countries until 1795, when the Spanish ceded their holdings there under the Nootka Convention. Exploration and settlement of the region continued for some time after this under the auspices of the Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company. The area was hotly contested by these groups and the American Fur Company, who sold their holdings to the North West Company until 1812, when the fort nominally returned to American hands following the War of 1812. This remained the case until 1821 when the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies merged. The land was largely administrated by the Hudson's Bay Company, though it was co-occupied by British and Americans as per the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. The Company used their control of the land to operate a trade monopoly and discourage immigration so as to maintain this monopoly.
In the mid-1840s Americans began to dispute the border between what was then called the Columbia District and Oregon Country. In 1846 the boundary was officially set at the 49th parallel. In 1849 the Colony of Vancouver was established, and through the 1850s Vancouver entered a period of economic and settlement growth in which their industries grew and diversified somewhat beyond the fur trade. The mainland remained largely unchanged until 1858, when the discovery of gold spurred the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. The population of the city of Victoria swelled suddenly and massively. Worried about the impact that the influx of Americans might have on the sovereignty of Columbia, the Colony of British Columbia was established as a crown colony in August of that year. A number of gold rushes continued into the 1860s, which forever altered the infrastructure of British Columbia, and left the colony in debt following efforts at road-building and urbanization. By 1867 the struggling colony was left with the choice to continue on its current course as a British colony, to become annexed by the United States, or to become annexed by the newly-formed Dominion of Canada. Though the economic appeal of the United States was strong, British Columbia was persuaded to enter into the Dominion of Canada in 1871, with the guarantee that Canada would absorb the new province's debt, and also that they would build a transcontinental railway to facilitate travel. This railway was completed in 1885.
Following its absorption into Canada, British Columbia entered a period in which its economy and population flourished in a number of areas, particularly fishing, forestry and farming. This lead, in the early twentieth century, to the rise of the labour movement and a series of strikes. At the same time the influx of immigrants, particularly Asian immigrants seeking entry into the labour force, lead to the imposition of a series of racially-biased laws to limit immigration. Prohibition was instituted in 1917, and remained on the books until 1921. During this period the illegal alcohol trade flourished, and continued to do so into the 1930s while Prohibition continued in the States. Like the rest of the country, British Columbia was hard hit by the Great Depression. Vancouver became a gathering point for thousands of destitute men who compounded the economic situation, leading to increasingly violent political action. A segment of the On-to-Ottawa Trek originated in Vancouver, but was soon shut down by the police. British Columbia managed to recover from the Depression largely by the time of the Second World War. There followed a period of time during which residents of Japanese descent were relocated and interned in the Interior due to fears that they may be collaborating with the Japanese forces. Following the war, British Columbia experienced some political upset due to the growing popularity of social reformist parties. The election of the Social Credit Party marked a period of sharp economic incline, with infrastructure revolutions accompanying social and political shifts leading to a rise of left-wing sentiment through the 1970s. The province underwent a serious recession in the 1980s that was largely resolved by the 1990s. In 2010 British Columbia played host to the Winter Olympics, which were held in Vancouver.
British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada. It consists of a mainland and several islands of varying size. It is bordered to the northwest by Alaska, to the north by the Yukon and Northwest Territories, to the east by Alberta, to the south by Washington, Idaho and Montana, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean and Alaska. Its capital is the city of Victoria, while its largest city is Vancouver.
There are just over 4,400,000 people living in British Columbia, a majority of whom live in Metro Vancouver. British Columbia is very ethnically diverse. The most commonly reported ethnicity is English, which makes up just under 30% of the population. Other commonly reported origins are Scottish, Canadian, Irish, German, and Chinese. Other populations claiming other origins, such as French, Indian, and Ukrainian, do not individually make up more than 10% of the total population. The most commonly reported religion is Christian, with just under 45% of the population claiming adherence to some denomination. About 36% of the population claims no religion. Small populations of other religions, such as Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim adherents, do not exceed 5% of the total population.
A majority of the population speaks English as a first language, with about 73% of the population identifying it as a language that they speak. Just under 2% of the population claims to be able to speak French, or both English and French, while 25% of the population claims to speak other languages.