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The Pacific Northwest (PNW), sometimes referred to as Cascadia, is a geographic region in western North America bounded by its coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains to the east. Though no official boundary exists, the most common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Some broader conceptions reach north into Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east into western Montana. Other conceptions may be limited to the coastal areas west of the Cascade and Coast mountains.
Left-right from top: Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier, Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake, Vancouver skyline, the Black Tusk, Cannon Beach, Portland skylineand Mount Hood
|Largest metropolitan areas
|Pacific Northwest English
The Northwest Coast is the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest, and the Northwest Plateau (also commonly known as "the Interior" in British Columbia), is the inland region. The term "Pacific Northwest" should not be confused with the Northwest Territory (also known as the Great Northwest, a historical term in the United States) or the Northwest Territories of Canada. The region is sometimes referred to as Cascadia, which, depending on the borders, may or may not be the same thing as the Pacific Northwest.
The region's largest metropolitan areas are Greater Seattle, Washington, with 4 million people; Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, with 2.84 million people; and Greater Portland, Oregon, with 2.5 million people.
The culture of the Pacific Northwest is influenced by the Canada–United States border, which the United States and the United Kingdom established at a time when the region's inhabitants were composed mostly of indigenous peoples. Two sections of the border—one along the 49th parallel south of British Columbia and one between the Alaska Panhandle and northern British Columbia—have left a great impact on the region. According to Canadian historian Ken Coates, the border has not merely influenced the Pacific Northwest—rather, "the region's history and character have been determined by the boundary".
Definitions of the "Pacific Northwest" region vary, and even Pacific Northwesterners do not agree on the exact boundary. The most common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and sometimes the Canadian province of British Columbia.
Definitions based on the historic Oregon Country reach east to the Continental Divide, thus including all of western Montana and western Wyoming. Sometimes, the Pacific Northwest is defined as being the Northwestern United States specifically, excluding Canada.
The Pacific Northwest has been occupied by a diverse array of indigenous peoples for millennia. The Pacific Coast is seen by some scholars as a major coastal migration route in the settlement of the Americas by late Pleistocene peoples moving from northeast Asia into the Americas.
The coastal migration hypothesis has been bolstered by findings such as the report that the sediments in the Port Eliza Cave on Vancouver Island indicate the possibility of survivable climate as far back as 16 kya (16,000 years ago) in the area, while the continental ice sheets were nearing their maximum extent. Other evidence for human occupation dating back as much as 14.5 kya (14,500 years ago) is emerging from Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon. However, despite such research, the coastal migration hypothesis is still subject to considerable debate.
Due in part to the richness of Pacific Northwest Coast and river fisheries, some of the indigenous peoples developed complex sedentary societies, while remaining hunter-gatherers. The Pacific Northwest Coast is one of the few places where politically complex hunter-gatherers evolved and survived to historic contacts, and therefore has been vital for anthropologists and archaeologists seeking to understand how complex hunter and gatherer societies function. When Europeans first arrived on the Northwest Coast, they found one of the world's most complex hunting and fishing societies, with large sedentary villages, large houses, systems of social rank and prestige, extensive trade networks, and many other factors more commonly associated with societies based on domesticated agriculture. In the interior of the Pacific Northwest, the indigenous peoples, at the time of European contact, had a diversity of cultures and societies. Some areas were home to mobile and egalitarian societies. Others, especially along major rivers such as the Columbia and Fraser, had very complex, affluent, sedentary societies rivaling those of the coast.
In British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, the Haida and Tlingit erected large and elaborately carved totem poles that have become iconic of Pacific Northwest artistic traditions. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, thousands of indigenous people live, and some continue to practice their rich cultural traditions, "organizing their societies around cedar and salmon".
Initial European exploration
In 1579, the British captain and erstwhile privateer Francis Drake sailed up the west coast of North America perhaps as far as Oregon before returning south to land and make ship repairs. On 5 June 1579, the ship briefly made first landfall at South Cove, Cape Arago, just south of Coos Bay, Oregon, and then sailed south while searching for a suitable harbor to repair his ailing ship.[excessive citations] On June 17, Drake and his crew found a protected cove when they landed on the Pacific coast of what is now Northern California. While ashore, he claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I as Nova Albion or New Albion. Juan de Fuca, a Greek captain sailing for the Crown of Spain, supposedly found the Strait of Juan de Fuca around 1592. The strait was named for him, but whether he discovered it or not has long been questioned. During the early 1740s, Imperial Russia sent the Dane Vitus Bering to the region. By the late 18th century and into the mid-19th century, Russian settlers had established several posts and communities on the northeast Pacific coast, eventually reaching as far south as Fort Ross, California. The Russian River was named after these settlements.
In 1774, the viceroy of New Spain sent Spanish navigator Juan Pérez in the ship Santiago to the Pacific Northwest. Peréz made landfall on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) on July 18, 1774. The northernmost latitude he reached was 54°40′ N. This was followed, in 1775, by another Spanish expedition, under the command of Bruno de Heceta and including Juan Peréz and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra as officers. On July 14, 1775, they landed on the Olympic Peninsula near the mouth of the Quinault River. On August 17, 1775, Heceta, returning south, sighted the mouth of the Columbia River and named it Bahia de la Asunción. While Heceta sailed south, Quadra continued north in the expedition's second ship, Sonora, reaching Alaska, at 59° N. In 1778 English mariner Captain James Cook visited Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island and also voyaged as far as Prince William Sound.
In 1779, a third Spanish expedition, under the command of Ignacio de Artega in the ship Princesa, and with Quadra as captain of the ship Favorite, sailed from Mexico to the coast of Alaska, reaching 61° N. Two further Spanish expeditions, in 1788 and 1789, both under Esteban Jose Martínez and Gonzalo López de Haro, sailed to the Pacific Northwest. During the second expedition, they met the American captain Robert Gray near Nootka Sound. Upon entering Nootka Sound, they found William Douglas and his ship Iphigenia. Conflict led to the Nootka Crisis, which was resolved by agreements known as the Nootka Convention. In 1790, the Spanish sent three ships to Nootka Sound, under the command of Francisco de Eliza. After establishing a base at Nootka, Eliza sent out several exploration parties. Salvador Fidalgo was sent north to the Alaska coast. Manuel Quimper, with Gonzalo López de Haro as pilot, explored the Strait of Juan de Fuca, discovering the San Juan Islands and Admiralty Inlet in the process. Francisco de Eliza himself took the ship San Carlos into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From a base at Port Discovery, his pilotos (masters) José María Narváez and Juan Carrasco explored the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait, Rosario Strait, and Bellingham Bay. In the process, they discovered the Strait of Georgia and explored it as far north as Texada Island. The expedition returned to Nootka Sound by August 1791. Alessandro Malaspina, sailing for Spain, explored and mapped the coast from Yakutat Bay to Prince William Sound in 1791, then sailed to Nootka Sound. Performing a scientific expedition in the manner of James Cook, Malaspina's scientists studied the Tlingit and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples before returning to Mexico. Another Spanish explorer, Jacinto Caamaño, sailed the ship Aranzazu to Nootka Sound in May 1792. There he met Quadra, who was in command of the Spanish settlement and Fort San Miguel. Quadra sent Caamaño north, to carefully explore the coast between Vancouver Island and Bucareli Bay, Alaska. Various Spanish maps, including Caamaño's, were given to George Vancouver in 1792, as the Spanish and British worked together to chart the complex coastline.
From 1792 to 1794, George Vancouver charted the Pacific Northwest on behalf of Great Britain, including the Strait of Georgia, the bays and inlets of Puget Sound, and the Johnstone Strait–Queen Charlotte Strait and much of the rest of the British Columbia Coast and southeast Alaska shorelines. For him the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island are named, as well as Vancouver, Washington. From Mexico, Malaspina dispatched the last Spanish exploration expedition in the Pacific Northwest, under Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayentano Valdes aboard the schooners Sutil and Mexicana. They met Vancouver in the Strait of Georgia on June 21, 1792. Vancouver had explored Puget Sound just previously. The Spanish explorers knew of Admiralty Inlet and the unexplored region to the south, but they decided to sail north. They discovered and entered the Fraser River shortly before meeting Vancouver. After sharing maps and agreeing to cooperate, Galiano, Valdés, and Vancouver sailed north to Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands, charting the coastline together. They passed through Johnstone Strait and Cordero Channel and returned to Nootka Sound. As a result, the Spanish explorers, who had set out from Nootka, became the first Europeans to circumnavigate Vancouver Island. Vancouver himself had entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca directly without going to Nootka first, so had not sailed completely around the island.
In 1786, Jean-François de La Pérouse, representing France, sailed to Haida Gwaii after visiting Nootka Sound, but any possible French claims to this region were lost when La Pérouse and his men and journals were lost in a shipwreck near Australia. Upon encountering the Salish coastal tribes, either Pérouse or someone in his crew remarked, "What must astonish most is to see painting everywhere, everywhere sculpture, among a nation of hunters". Maritime fur trader Charles William Barkley also visited the area in Imperial Eagle, a British ship falsely flying the flag of the Austrian Empire. American merchant sea-captain Robert Gray traded along the coast, and discovered the mouth of the Columbia River.
Continental crossover exploration
Explorer Alexander Mackenzie completed in 1793 the first continental crossing in what is called today central British Columbia and reached the Pacific Ocean. Simon Fraser explored and mapped the Fraser River from Central British Columbia down to its mouth in 1808. And mapmaker David Thompson explored in 1811 the entire route of the Columbia River from its northern headwaters all the way to its mouth. These explorations were commissioned by the North West Company and were all undertaken with small teams of Voyageurs.
United States President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to travel through the Midwest starting from St. Louis, cross the Continental Divide and reach the Columbia River up to its mouth. Americans reached the Pacific Ocean "overland" in 1805. The Pacific Fur Company sent in 1811 an "over-lander" crew including a large contingent of Voyageurs to retrace most of the path of the earlier expedition up to the mouth of the Columbia and join the company ship. The Tonquin came oversea via Cape Horn to build and operate Fort Astoria.
These early land expeditions mapped the way for subsequent land explorations and building early settlements.
Subsequent land explorations
The Willamette River was the first PNW inland waterway to be explored north–south during trapping expeditions carried out throughout the 1810s by the Pacific Fur Company soon acquired by the North West Company (NWC). During the 1820s, the upper Willamette, the Umpqua, the Rogue, the Klamath were all reached still heading southward up toward the Sacramento River and California under the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) having now itself acquired the NWC. The Siskiyou Trail was gradually being established by Alexander Roderick McLeod and Peter Skene Ogden leading related expeditions for the HBC.
Also during the 1820s, HBC explorations were carried out northward originating from the Columbia River Fort Astoria long renamed to Fort George. Simon Plamondon first ventured during the early 20s into the Cowlitz River up to Cowlitz Prairie. By 1824, an expedition led by James McMillan was reaching Puget Sound via the Chehalis River (Washington) and a portage. The same expedition went on all the way to Boundary Bay and reached the Fraser River via the Nicomekl and the Salmon linked via a portage. The lower Fraser was revisited 16 years after explorer Simon Fraser (NWC) had first reached its mouth, although originating from northern present-day British Columbia. Puget Sound soon after would get reached via the Cowlitz and the Cowlitz Landing portage, but originating from new HBC headquarter Fort Vancouver located closer by, North of the Columbia.
Noteworthy Russian settlements still in place include: Unalaska (1774), Kodiak (1791), and Sitka (1804) making them the oldest permanent non-Indigenous settlements in the Pacific Northwest. Temporary Spanish settlement Santa Cruz de Nuca (1789–1795) held on a few years at Nootka Sound.
Other early occupation non-Indigenous settlements of interest, either long lasting or still in place, built and operated by either the North West Company, the Pacific Fur Company or the Hudson's Bay Company include: Fort Saint-James (1806; oldest in British Columbia west of the Rockies), Fort Astoria (1811; oldest in Oregon), Fort Nez Percés (1818), Fort Alexandria (1821), Fort Vancouver (1824), Fort Langley (1827; oldest in southern British Columbia), Fort Nisqually (1833), and Fort Victoria (1843).
Also of interest are the first mixed ancestry settlements sometimes referred as Métis settlements or French Canadian settlements. Native and newly arrived "half-breeds" (born out of "Europeans" and Indigenous alliances), local and newly arrived Indigenous people as well as "French Canadians" all issued of the fur trade were all able to peacefully coexist. Small scale farming occurred. Catholic missions and churches thrived for many years. These first settlements were: French Prairie, Frenchtown near Walla Walla, Cowlitz Prairie (Washington), French Settlement (Oregon) and Frenchtown near Missoula. Most mixed ancestry people ended up resettled in or around Indigenous reserves during the subsequent period, or otherwise assimilating in the mainstream.
Initial formal claims to the region were asserted by Spain in 1513 with explorer Nuñez de Balboa, the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. Russian maritime fur trade activity, through the Russian-American Company, extended from the farther side of the Pacific to Russian America. This prompted Spain to send expeditions north to assert Spanish ownership, while Captain James Cook and subsequent expeditions by George Vancouver advanced British claims. As of the Nootka Sound Conventions, the last in 1794, Spain gave up its exclusive a priori claims and agreed to share the region with the other powers, giving up its garrison at Nootka Sound in the process.
The United States established a claim based on the discoveries of Robert Gray, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the construction of Fort Astoria, and the acquisition of Spanish claims given to the United States in the Adams–Onís Treaty. From the 1810s until the 1840s, modern-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana, along with most of British Columbia, were part of what the United States called the Oregon Country and Britain called the Columbia District. This region was jointly claimed by the United States and Great Britain after the Treaty of 1818, which established a co-dominion of interests in the region in lieu of a settlement. In 1840, American Charles Wilkes explored in the area. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, headquartered at Fort Vancouver, was the de facto local political authority for most of this time.
This arrangement ended as U.S. settlement grew and President James K. Polk was elected on a platform of calling for annexation of the entire Oregon Country and of Texas. After his election, supporters coined the famous slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight", referring to 54°40′ north latitude—the northward limit of the United States' claim. After a war scare with the United Kingdom, the Oregon boundary dispute was settled in the 1846 Oregon Treaty, partitioning the region along the 49th parallel and resolving most, but not all, of the border disputes (see Pig War).
The mainland territory north of the 49th parallel remained unincorporated until 1858, when a mass influx of Americans and others during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush forced the hand of Colony of Vancouver Island's Governor James Douglas, who declared the mainland a Crown colony. The two colonies were amalgamated in 1866 to cut costs, and joined the Dominion of Canada in 1871. The U.S. portion became the Oregon Territory in 1848. It was later subdivided into Oregon Territory and Washington Territory. These territories became the states of Oregon, Idaho, Washington and parts of other Western states.
During the American Civil War, British Columbia officials pushed for London to invade and conquer the Washington Territory in effort to take advantage of Americans being distracted in the war on the Eastern region. This was rejected, as the UK did not wish to risk war with the United States, whose forces were better prepared and trained much more than the British troops.
American expansionist pressure on British Columbia persisted after the colony became a province of Canada, even though Americans living in the province did not harbor annexationist inclinations. The Fenian Brotherhood openly organized and drilled in Washington, particularly in the 1870s and the 1880s, though no cross-border attacks were experienced. During the Alaska Boundary Dispute, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to invade and annex British Columbia if Britain would not yield on the question of the Yukon ports. In more recent times, during the so-called "Salmon War" of the 1990s, Washington Senator Slade Gorton called for the U.S. Navy to "force" the Inside Passage, even though it is not an official international waterway. Disputes between British Columbia and Alaska over the Dixon Entrance of the Hecate Strait between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii have not been resolved.
The last known great earthquake in the northwest was the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. The geological record reveals that "great earthquakes" (those with moment magnitude 8 or higher) occur in the Cascadia subduction zone about every 500 years on average, often accompanied by tsunamis. There is evidence of at least 13 events at intervals from about 300 to 900 years.
Active volcanoes in the region include Mount Garibaldi, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Meager, Mount Jefferson, Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak and Glacier Peak.
The Pacific Northwest is a diverse geographic region, dominated by several mountain ranges, including the Coast Mountains, the Cascade Range, the Olympic Mountains, the Columbia Mountains, and the Rocky Mountains. The highest peak in the Pacific Northwest is Mount Rainier, in the Washington Cascades, at 14,410 feet (4,392 m). Immediately inland from the Cascade Range are broad, generally dry plateaus. In the US, this region is known as the Columbia Plateau, while in British Columbia, it is the Interior Plateau, also called the Fraser Plateau. The Columbia Plateau was the scene of massive ice-age floods, and as a consequence, there are many coulees, canyons, and the Channeled Scablands. Much of the plateau, especially in eastern Washington, is irrigated farmland. The Columbia River cuts a deep and wide gorge around the rim of the Columbia Plateau and through the Cascade Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
Because many areas have plentiful rainfall and mild summers, the Pacific Northwest has some of North America's most lush and extensive forests, which are extensively populated with Coast Douglas fir trees, the second tallest growing evergreen conifer on earth. The region also contains specimens of the tallest trees on earth, the coast redwoods, in southwestern Oregon, but the largest of these trees are located just south of the California border in northwestern California. Coastal forests in some areas are classified as temperate rain forest.
Coastal features are defined by the interaction with the Pacific and the North American continent. The coastline of the Pacific Northwest is dotted by numerous fjords, bays, islands, and mountains. Some of these features include the Oregon Coast, Burrard Inlet, Puget Sound, and the highly complex fjords of the British Columbia Coast and Southeast Alaska. The region has one of the world's longest fjord coastlines.
The Pacific Northwest contains an uncountable number of islands, many of the smaller ones being unnamed. The vast majority of such islands are in British Columbia and Alaska. Vancouver Island is by far the largest island in the area, but other significant land masses include the Haida Gwaii, vast and remote Princess Royal Island, Prince of Wales Island and Chichagof Island. The Salish Sea located close to major populated areas contains smaller but more frequently visited and well known islands. These include Whidbey Island, Salt Spring Island, and Texada Island, along with dozens of smaller islands in the San Juan and Gulf Island chains.
The major cities of Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma all began as seaports supporting the logging, mining, and farming industries of the region, but have developed into major technological and industrial centers (such as the Silicon Forest), which benefit from their location on the Pacific Rim.
If defined as British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Pacific Northwest has four US National Parks: Crater Lake in Oregon, and Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades in Washington. If a larger regional definition is used, then other US National Parks might be included, such as Redwood National and State Parks, Glacier Bay National Park, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and parts of Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. There are several Canadian National Parks in the Pacific Northwest, including Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Mount Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park in the Selkirk Range alongside Rogers Pass, Kootenay National Park and Yoho National Park on the British Columbia flank of the Rockies, Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in Haida Gwaii, and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in the Strait of Georgia. There are numerous protected areas in British Columbia and in the United States.
Other outstanding natural features include the Columbia River Gorge, Fraser Canyon, Mount St. Helens, Malaspina Glacier, and Hells Canyon. The south-central Coast Mountains in British Columbia contain the five largest mid-latitude icefields in the world.
The main general climatic types of the Pacific Northwest are temperate; cool temperatures and frequent cloudy skies are typical. Under the Köppen climate classification, a warm-summer Mediterranean (Csb) designation is assigned to many areas of the Pacific Northwest as far north as central Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, including cities such as Victoria, Vancouver (coast area), Seattle, and Portland. Other climate classification systems, such as Trewartha, place these areas in the oceanic zone (Do). An Alpine climate dominates in the high mountains. Semi-arid and arid climates are found east of the higher mountains, especially in rainshadow areas. The Harney Basin of Oregon is an example of arid climate in the Pacific Northwest. Humid continental climates occur inland on windward sides, in places such as Revelstoke, British Columbia. A subarctic climate can be found farther north, especially in Yukon and Alaska.
The lack of rain in the hot season is associated with high atmospheric pressure. The shadows of the mountains also greatly decrease the amount of precipitation. West of the Cascades, the marine climates have a much greater precipitation than the west coast of Europe due to orographic lift, with some regions seeing as much as 3,500 mm (138 in) of precipitation per year. Winters are very mild for the region's latitude. The growth of Arbutus, an evergreen broad-leafed tree, is possible on Vancouver Island due to the mild winters.
The Big Dark
The Big Dark is a term for winter in the Pacific Northwest. At a latitude of almost 48 degrees north, Seattle has sunsets before 6 PM between October and March, and fewer than eight hours of daylight for many weeks around the winter solstice. The darkness contributes to seasonal affective disorder among people living in northern cities, including those in the Puget Sound region. The darkness is enhanced by a return from dry summers to extremely cloudy and wet weather characterized by recurring atmospheric rivers and Pacific Northwest windstorms.
Much of the Pacific Northwest is forested. The Georgia Strait–Puget Sound basin is shared between western British Columbia and Washington, and the Pacific temperate rain forests ecoregion, which is the largest of the world's temperate rain forest ecoregions in the system created by the World Wildlife Fund, stretches along the coast from Alaska to California. The dry desert inland from the Cascade Range and Coast Mountains is very different from the terrain and climate of the coastal area due to the rain shadow effect of the mountains, and comprises the Columbia, Fraser and Thompson Plateaus and mountain ranges contained within them. The interior regions' climates largely within Eastern Washington, south central British Columbia, Eastern Oregon, and southern Idaho are a part of the Great Basin Desert, although by their northern and eastern reaches, dry land and desert areas verge at the end of the Cascades' and Coast Mountains' rain shadows with the boreal forest and various alpine flora regimes characteristic of eastern British Columbia, the Idaho Panhandle and western Montana roughly along a longitudinal line defined by the Idaho border with Washington and Oregon. The North American inland temperate rainforest is in the so-called interior wet-belt, approximately 500–700 km inland from the pacific coast on western, windward mountain slopes and valley bottoms of the Columbia Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The interior wet-belt refers to a discontinuous band of humid forest patches, that are scattered over 1000 km between Purden Lake in Canada’s British Columbia (54° North) and Montana and Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains and Idaho’s Salmon River Mountains (45° North). It is closely associated with the North Central Rockies forests ecoregion designated by the WWF, which extends over a similar range but incorporates various non-temperate rainforest ecosystems.