The Columbia continues south across Washington state, but is forced off its natural course by a lava flow and glacial debris into a second huge curve, also called the "Big Bend." At the top of the bend, it is joined by the Okanagan River (314 km), which drains the lakes of the OKANAGAN VALLEY. Just north of the Oregon border it is joined by the Snake River and makes a right-angled turn, flowing west to the Pacific below Portland, Oregon. The Columbia is a long, powerful river which has cut deep gorges along much of its course, and it commands one of the greatest DRAINAGE BASINS in North America, totalling 155 000 km2 (including 51 800 km2 in the US). The average flow at the international boundary is 2800 m3/s.
Originally called Rio de San Roque by Spanish explorers, it was rediscovered by the Boston trader Captain Robert Gray, who named it after his ship, the Columbia. (The river may be unique in being named after a ship.) David THOMPSON of the North West Company was the first to explore it from its headwaters to its mouth (1811), but American traders had preceded him overland, and were already at work on Fort Astoria. The Hudson's Bay Company later built Fort Vancouver (1824-25) 150 kilometres inland from its mouth, and as the only water route to the interior from the Pacific, the river served as the major transportation artery until the railways came. The Columbia became the de facto boundary between British and American territory, but by the 1840s American immigration to the area was ascendant, and the British agreed to set the border at the 49th parallel.
Though its headwaters are in Canada, most of the river's development has been in the US. By the COLUMBIA RIVER TREATY (1961; ratified by Canada 1964), Canada agreed to build 3 storage dams: the Duncan (1967) north of Kootenay Lake, Hugh Keenleyside (1968) on the Columbia, and Mica (1973) north of Revelstoke. The Mica project, which began generating 1976-77, has a nameplate capacity of 1736 MW, and the total potential of the river is estimated to be 4000 MW in Canada.
The agreement has been controversial because of the environmental disruption of the dams and because the irrigation and hydroelectric power mostly benefit the US. However, Canada shares the power and revenue. Some of the world's largest hydroelectric generators are on the river; eg, at Grand Coulee. The dams have greatly impeded the salmon runs. The Columbia was one of the world's great spawning grounds.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
The Colonial Despatches
View digitized copies of correspondence (dated 1846 - 1859) between the British Colonial Office and the "colonies" of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Search or browse this site for references to specific individuals, communities, companies, or industries in the province. Also includes digitized images of maps of various locations. From the website for the University of Victoria.
Sir Henry James Warre
A collection of paintings and drawings depicting western Canada by Sir Henry James Warre. From the website for the British Columbia Archives.
An informative site about the history of Fort Vancouver in Washington State. From the National Park Service in the US.
This site chronicles the establishment of Fort Vancouver in present day Washington State. From the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
View a vintage photograph of Fort Vancouver from the Library of Congress (US).
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...