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NatureSpeak Articles

The Coast Range does not exist in Canada

The Coast Range lies in British Columbia and the Yukon? No dice, the Coast Range is a series of low hills bordering the Pacific Ocean in southern Washington, all of Oregon and northern California. Their location was defined by American physiographers in the early decades of the 20 th century. But the Coast Mountains lie within British Columbia and finally fade out in the Yukon Territory just west of Whitehorse. Our "mountains" were so defined by the eminent Canadian geologist of the 19 th century, Dr. George Mercer Dawson, and have been re-affirmed to that nomenclature by the Geographic Board of Canada on several occasions in the early 20 th century, as well as by three very high-powered treatises on British Columbia and Yukon landforms compiled since then.

Now, let us look at hierarchy of the classification of the various features of our western landscape — a science known as "physiography" and who are these eminent authors who defined it.

The principles of the classification of the landforms of our landscape were first set out by Dr. H.S. Bostock (1948) in his landmark publication: "Physiography of the Canadian Cordillera, with special reference to the area north of the fifty-fifth parallel" (Geological Survey of Canada, Memoir 247). "The Canadian Cordilleraforms part of the great system of mountains that border the Pacific in North and South America," forming the watershed between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and the Arctic Ocean as well in Canada and Alaska. Within Canada and Alaska the Cordillera is subdivided into three systems: Eastern, underlain by mainly sedimentary rocks and bounded by the Rocky Mountain Trench on its west side; Interior, of mixed volcanic, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, intruded here and there by granitic rocks (Columbia Mountains in southern B.C., and Omineca Mountains to the north); and Western, of predominantly granitic rocks, with overlying remnants here and there of metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks (that’s us).

Within the Western System there are three great chains defined as Mountains (the next level down in hierarchical order): the Cascade Mountains to the south and east of the Fraser River, which continue southward through Washington into Oregon; the Coast Mountains which run from the Fraser northward to the Takhini Valley in the Yukon; and the Insular Mountains of Vancouver and Queen Charlotte Islands. A major feature defined as the Coastal Trough separates the Coast Mountains to the east from the Insular Mountains on the west, and the latter continue northward through to the Saint Elias Mountains of southeast Alaska, southwest Yukon.

Now turning to the sub-division of "mountains", the descending hierarchical levels are Ranges , then an individual Range within them, and finally an informally named "group" which refers to a local cluster of peaks. The sub-division of the Coast Mountains into Ranges was initially set out by Dr. Bostock: Pacific Ranges to as far north as the Nass River Valley (north of Prince Rupert), and north of the Nass the Boundary Ranges, which lie along the boundary to southeast Alaska and then fade out in the Yukon.

The second treatise to arrive on the scene, however, has taken a further look at the physiographic classification, because much post-war mapping noted subtle changes in the coastal geology. Written by S.S. Holland (1964) and titled, "Landforms of British Columbia – physiographic outline" (B.C. Dept. Mines and Petroleum Resources, Bulletin 48), he reduced the extent of the Pacific Ranges, terminating them at the Bella Coola Valley, and delineated the Kitimat Ranges to the north. Chilcotin Ranges were outlined on the eastern side of the Pacific Ranges as well, running between Lillooet and Tatla Lake.

At that time the science of physiography began to include the elements of climate and oceanography and the spectacular stratified geology of the Chilcotins reflect a drier leeward aspect. Taking the new definition further, a third treatise by the late Dr. W.H. Mathews of Garibaldi Geology acclaim, there is an added coastal element with delineated: Southern Fiord Ranges to the west of the Pacific Ranges, and Northern Fiord Ranges to the west of the Kitimat Ranges (Geological Survey of Canada, Map 1701A, 1986). So, what defines a boundary between the Fiord Ranges and the Pacific or Kitimat Ranges? If the mountains lie between fiords, and the glaciers upon them are small, rather than extensive terrain-smothering ice fields, they are part of the Fiord Ranges, which locally include all the peaks about Howe Sound, as well as Mount Garibaldi and Cloudburst Mountain. We at Whistler, however, are in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains, and our nearest extensive ice fields are those about Powder Mountain, the Pemberton Ice field, and within Garibaldi Park.

Finally, well eventually, some parts of the Pacific Ranges have locally defined Range(s). In 1965, for example, the Canadian Geographic Board approved our delineation of submitted Fitzsimmons Range, Spearhead Range, and McBride Range, which were taken from old timers’ terminology that up to then lacked formal defined boundaries.

Obviously, vast expanses of the Pacific Ranges, elsewhere, await definition of a local range but some that do officially exist are: Tantalus Range, Waddington Range and Cayoosh Range. Here is your chance to define a few more and have your work recorded for geographic posterity.

As for further sub-division of a range into legally-defined Groups, a common practice in the European Alps, there are as of yet officially none, but "Joffre Group" (in no defined range) and "Sky Pilot Group" (in the Britannia Range) are mountaineers’ jargon for two local popular climbing areas.

To summarize, our local physical geographic terminology is in descending hierarchical order: Canadian Cordillera, Western System, Coast Mountains, Pacific Ranges, and Fitzsimmons Range if on Whistler Mountain, or Spearhead Range if on Blackcomb Mountain. Both of the latter run as far east as the divide between the Cheakamus River and Nannygoat Creek.

So, to make a long story short, the Coast Range or Coast Mountain Range are not in British Columbia, nor do we have a clumsily-worded Rocky Mountains Range at Banff-Jasper! Editors of newspapers and magazines, please take note: you will not find such terminology on any government-issued map.

For the local businesses who are using such names, you can either move your operation to coastal USA where the Coast Range lies, or you can continue to sell your wares and services under the guise of misleading advertising!

Upcoming events

Birdwalk date changed. In June, our monthly birdwalk clashes with the Breeding Bird Survey in Pemberton. As a consequence, we are changing our date from June 4 to Saturday, June 11. Starting time and place remain the same at 7 a.m. at the west end of Lorimer Road.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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