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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The maritime foreign trade of British Columbia Kerfoot, Denis Edward


For almost a century, British Columbia has exhibited a marked dependence on overseas markets to absorb a large proportion of the provincial, primary and secondary natural-resource production. The geographical location of the province, on Canada's western seaboard, and the bulky nature of many of the export commodities, makes the ocean highway a logical transportation link in the distribution of this commerce to foreign markets. The objective of this study is to trace and quantify, as precisely as possible, the development of this international, seaborne trade. It is impossible to present a complete and comprehensive account of all the items of commerce entering into British Columbia's maritime, foreign trade. However, a detailed analysis of international shipping activity on the Canadian Pacific Coast shows that, throughout the period under review, the export movement has been far more significant than the corresponding import movement. Moreover, a few staple commodities, grain, lumber, pulp and paper, coal, mineral concentrates and refined metals, have formed the mainstay of this outward traffic flow. Consequently, the scope of the study is restricted to a consideration of the distributional patterns of maritime foreign trade associated with export shipments of these commodities. The preponderance of the export movement is also reflected in the traffic balance of the individual ports on the Canadian Pacific Coast. All these ports exhibit a common characteristic in their function to serve the province's basic, export industries, and, to a lesser extent, to tranship bulk commodities from Alberta and Saskatchewan. This common bond constitutes the basis for a collective study of all these shipping points under a single term - The Port of British Columbia. A map showing the distribution of these shipping points, further demonstrates that most of them are located at points in and around the Strait of Georgia which, in effect, constitutes one large, natural harbour and is the core region of the Pacific Coast port. In addition to this central core, the remaining shipping points may be grouped into two export-oriented outports centred on the Alberni Canal area and northern coast respectively. The procedure adopted in this thesis thus attempts to answer the following questions arising out of a study of the maritime foreign trade of the Port of British Columbia. What were the chief commodities exported, and in what quantity? What effect did this trade have with regard to the number, distribution, and relative importance of shipping points within the Port of British Columbia? What were the dominant directional patterns of flow, and which were the most important forelands for these export shipments? The answers to these questions, with respect to the trade in specific commodities, are given in chapters three, four and five. The maritime foreign trade of the Port of British Columbia can be subdivided into four relatively distinct phases. Beginning in the middle of the eighteenth century, trade increased steadily until 1900, and, following a period of stagnation in the first decade of this century, continued to increase slowly until the end of the First World War. Throughout this Phase of Early Development, the principal exports were coal from Vancouver Island, and lumber from the Lower Mainland, and the number of shipping points closely reflected the number of operating mines and mills. Export forelands were confined to markets within the Pacific Basin, chiefly California and Australia. The opening of the Panama Canal, the construction of grain elevators and the first pulp and paper mills, together with an extremely favourable trading environment after the war, stimulated a vast increase in cargo traffic from the Pacific Coast. The Phase of Expansion of the maritime foreign trade of the Port of British Columbia, between 1919 and 1929, was based on the expansion and diversification of the export trade in forest products, and, after 1921, on the spectacular development of the western grain route. Patterns of accessibility in maritime space were drastically altered by the opening of the Panama Canal, and, throughout this phase, the commodity flow through the new waterway dominated the pattern of foreign exports from the province. The United Kingdom emerged as the most important individual, export foreland, and the significance of Atlantic markets was further emphasised by the growth of waterborne lumber shipments to the Eastern United States. In the Phase of Recession, between 1930 and 1945, the magnitude of the export movement underwent marked fluctuations as first depression, and later war, profoundly influenced world commodity trade. The general decline in international shipping activity resulted in only a slight reduction in the number of shipping points on the Pacific Coast. Export forelands showed a marked contraction as tariff barriers excluded British Columbia exports from many foreign markets. The dominant directional pattern of commodity flow was still southward through the Panama Canal, despite the diversion of the grain trade to Eastern Canadian ports, but it now consisted chiefly of lumber shipments destined for the United Kingdom. The final episode in the development of the maritime foreign trade of the Port of British Columbia, the Phase of Post-War Growth, has witnessed an unprecedented expansion in the volume of grain, lumber, newsprint and wood pulp exported from the Pacific Coast. Shipments of iron and copper concentrates, coking coal and aluminum, have given added strength to this export movement. This phase of greatly augmented maritime intercourse has brought a new era of prosperity to all sections of the coast, but especially to the area served by the two outports. The most significant change in the distributional pattern of export forelands has been the development of a large commodity flow to Asian markets, the logical destinations for export shipments from the Port of British Columbia. For the first time since 1920, trade with Pacific countries has exceeded that shipped through the Panama Canal. There is every reason to conclude that the positive trend of the post-war period will be continued over the next decade. Each of the export commodities, investigated in this study, exhibits a common growth potential, and in the future, as in the past, the Port of British Columbia will play an important role in the transportation of these exports to foreign markets.

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