At about 460km in length and 100km in width, Vancouver Island is almost the same size as Holland!
Vancouver Island has an area of 32,000sq km, making it the largest island off the west coast of North America. It is also the 43rd largest island in the world and Canada’s 11th largest island.
Vancouver Island was actually named Quadra and Vancouver Island after the Spanish navigator Juan de la Bodega y Quadra and the British naval officer George Vancouver. However, as Spanish influences faded and British influences grew (for example, the name of the province, British Colombia), Quadra was dropped.
More than 7,000 known species inhabit the coastal waters of Vancouver Island where we’ll be kayaking. This includes more than 200 species of migratory birds and 33 species of land mammals.
Vancouver Island is the location where the Douglas fir tree was first recorded by Archibald Menzies. Menzies was first appointed as the naturalist on Captain George Vancouver’s voyage on the HMS Discovery in the late 18th century but also became the ship’s surgeon after the original doctor passed away.
Unlike the mainland, there are no grizzly bears, mountain goats, moose, skunks or coyotes on Vancouver Island. However, there are plenty of black bears and wolves including the endemic Vancouver Island wolf, a subspecies of the grey wolf.
The Vancouver Island marmot, another species unique to Vancouver Island, is one of the world’s rarest mammals. Larger than other marmot species and the largest member of the squirrel family, they were considered extinct in the 1990s and have come back due to breeding and conservation efforts. Vancouver Island marmots are a conservation symbol in BC and Mukmuk, the “sidekick” to the three official 2010 Winter Olympic mascots, is a Vancouver Island marmot.
Vancouver Island has the highest concentration of cougars in all of North America. As a side note, this high population of cougars (as well as lots of wolves and eagles) is related to the low populations of marmots.
Most of Canada’s Roosevelt elk, one of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America, lives on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is mostly made up of volcanic and sedimentary rock scrapped off the now disappeared Kula oceanic tectonic plate around 55 million years ago. Kula is from a Tlingit word meaning “all gone” and has been completely subducted under the North American tectonic plate, an action that led to the making of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Much of the central mountains, such as the region around Strathcona Park, is a part of the Karmutsen Formation, one of the thickest examples of oceanic crust out of the water in the world.
Strathcona Provincial Park also has Canada’s highest waterfall and one of the ten highest waterfalls in the world, Della Falls at 440m drop.
Vancouver Island is home to some of the world’s largest spruce trees, reaching over 95m in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. Additionally, Vancouver Island is also home to some of the most ancient cedars in the world, estimated at over 1,000 years old.
Hornby Island and Nooka Sound are two of the very few places in the world where divers can encounter the six gilled shark. Six gilled sharks are a primitive cousin of modern day sharks with six gills instead of five and only one dorsal fin near its tail. There is no iconic “Jaws” scene with the triangle of the back dorsal fin poking out of the water with these sharks. Also contributing to that is the fact that six gilled sharks are extremely deep creatures, known to dive over 1,800m depths (6,000 ft) and are most often found around 90m (300 ft). However around Hornby and Nooka, they apparently come up to shallower depths for reasons unknown.