Lower Mainland

The Lower Mainland is a name commonly applied to the region surrounding and including Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As of 2016, 2,759,365 people (60% of British Columbia's total population) lived in the region; sixteen of the province's thirty most populous municipalities are located there.[1] Islands contained within rivers in the region are considered to be part of the Lower Mainland.

Lower Mainland
Economic region
Core area of the Lower Mainland outlined
Coordinates: 49°05′00″N 122°21′00″W
ProvinceBritish Columbia
  Total36,303.31 km2 (14,016.79 sq mi)
  Extended area31,368.24 km2 (12,111.35 sq mi)
  Core area4,935.07 km2 (1,905.44 sq mi)
  Density78.0/km2 (202/sq mi)
  Extended area
  Core area
Time zoneUTC−8 (PST)
  Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
Postal code prefixes
Area codes236, 604, 672, 778

While the term Lower Mainland has been recorded from the earliest period of non-native settlement in British Columbia, it has never been officially defined in legal terms. The British Columbia Geographical Names Information System (BCGNIS) comments that most residents of Vancouver might consider it to be only areas west of Mission and Abbotsford, while residents in the rest of the province consider it to be the whole region south of Whistler and west of Hope.[2] However, the term has historically been in popular usage for over a century to describe a region that extends from Horseshoe Bay south to the Canada–United States border and east to Hope at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley.[3]

The climate, ecology and geology of the Lower Mainland are consistent enough that it has been classified as a separate ecoregion (the Lower Mainland Ecoregion) within the ecological framework of Canada, used by both the federal and provincial environment ministries.[4][5] The region is the traditional territory of the Sto:lo, a Halkomelem-speaking people of the Coast Salish linguistic and cultural grouping. There are two regional districts within the region, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.


The region is bounded to the north by the Coast Mountains and to the southeast by the Cascade Mountains, and is traversed from east to west by the Fraser River. Due to its consistency of climate, flora and fauna, geology and land use, "Lower Mainland" is also the name of an ecoregion—a biogeoclimatic region—that comprises the eastern part of the Georgia Depression and extends from Powell River on the Sunshine Coast to Hope at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley.[6]

One of the mildest climates in Canada, the region has a mean annual temperature of 9 °C (48 °F) with a summer mean of 15 °C (59 °F) and a winter mean of 3.5 °C (38.3 °F). Annual precipitation ranges from an annual mean of 850 millimetres (33 in) in the west end to 2,000 millimetres (79 in) in the eastern end of the Fraser Valley and at higher elevations. Maximum precipitation occurs as rain in winter. Less than ten percent falls as snow at sea level but the amount of snowfall increases significantly with elevation.[6]



Population history
Source: Statistics Canada

As of the 2016 census, the population of the Lower Mainland totals 2,759,385:

These figures are slightly inflated due to the inclusion of areas within the Regional Districts which are not normally considered to be part of the Lower Mainland, notably the lower Fraser Canyon and the heads of Harrison and Pitt Lakes, which are within the FVRD, and Lions Bay and Bowen Island, which are within the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

The population of the Lower Mainland was up 9.2 percent from the 2006 census. This is among the highest growth rates in the continent.


The Lower Mainland is among the most diverse regions in Canada. Europeans form just over 50% of the population, while other significant ethnic groups which dominate the Lower Mainland include Chinese (17.6%) and South Asians (12.2%).

Ethnic groups in the Lower Mainland (2016)
Ethnic groupEuropean1,397,28051.5%
South Asian330,92512.2%
Southeast Asian47,1901.7%
West Asian46,3651.7%
Latin American36,8551.4%
Multiple minorities36,4001.3%
Visible minority, n.i.e.6,8950.3%
Total population2,715,000100%

Regional districts

Regional districts were first created across British Columbia in 1966–1967 to form bodies for inter-municipal coordination and to extend municipal-level powers to areas outside existing municipalities. Today, the Lower Mainland includes two regional districts: the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) and the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). Both regional districts, however, include areas outside the traditional limits of the Lower Mainland. Metro Vancouver includes areas like Surrey and Langley that are geographically in the Fraser Valley.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is made up of 21 municipalities. The MVRD is bordered on the west by the Strait of Georgia, to the north by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, on the east by the Fraser Valley Regional District, and to the south by Whatcom County, Washington, in the United States.

The Fraser Valley Regional District lies east of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and comprises the cities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack, the district municipalities of Mission, Kent, and Hope, and the village of Harrison Hot Springs. It also includes many unincorporated areas in the Fraser Valley and along the west side of the Fraser Canyon (the Fraser Canyon is not in the Lower Mainland).

Regional district powers are very limited and other localized provincial government services are delivered through other regionalization systems.

Indigenous territories

The traditional territories of the Musqueam and Tsleil'waututh lie completely within the region; the southern portion of Squamish traditional territory is also in the region. Its claims overlap those of the Tsleil-waututh, Musqueam, and Kwikwetlem. Other peoples whose territories lie within the region are the Sto:lo, Chehalis, Katzie, Kwantlen, Tsawwassen, and Semiahmoo; many of their territories overlap with those of the Musqueam, and with each other. Many other peoples of the Georgia Strait region also frequented the lower Fraser, including those from Vancouver Island and what is now Whatcom County, Washington.

Sto:lo traditional territory, known as Solh Temexw in Halkomelem, more or less coincides with the traditional conception of the Lower Mainland, except for the inclusion of Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake, which is in In-SHUCK-ch territory, and the lands around Burrard Inlet.

Health regions

Health system services and governance in the Lower Mainland are provided by Vancouver Coastal Health, serving Vancouver, Richmond and the North Shore, and the mainland coast as far north as the Central Coast region, and Fraser Health, which serves the area of the Lower Mainland east of Vancouver and Richmond.[15]

Natural threats


The Lower Mainland is considered to have a high vulnerability to flood risk. There have been two major floods, the largest in 1894 and the second largest in 1948. According to the Fraser Basin Council, scientists predict a one-in-three chance of a similar-sized flood occurring in the next 50 years.[16]

In the spring of 2007, the Lower Mainland was on high alert for flooding. Higher than normal snow packs in the British Columbia Interior prompted municipal governments to start taking emergency measures in the region. Dikes along the Fraser River are regulated to handle about 8.5 m at the Mission Gauge (the height above sea level of the dykes at Mission). Warmer than normal weather in the interior caused large amounts of snow to melt prematurely, resulting in higher than normal water levels, which, nevertheless, remained well below flood levels.[17][18]

Flooding can cover much of the Lower Mainland. Cloverdale, Barnston Island, low-lying areas of Maple Ridge, areas west of Hope, White Rock, Richmond, parts of Vancouver, and parts of Surrey are potentially at risk. In 2007, the Lower Mainland was largely spared, although northern regions of the province, along the Skeena and Nechako Rivers, experienced floods. Climate scientists predict that increasing temperatures will mean wetter winters and more snow at the high elevations. This will increase the likelihood of snowmelt floods.[19]

The provincial government maintains an integrated flood hazard management program and extensive flood protection infrastructure in the Lower Mainland. The infrastructure consists of dikes, pump stations, floodboxes, riprap, and relief wells.[20]


While earthquakes are common in British Columbia and adjacent coastal waters, most are minor in energy release or are sufficiently remote to have little effect on populated areas. Nevertheless, earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 7.3 have occurred within 150 kilometres (93 mi) of the Lower Mainland.

Based on geological evidence, however, stronger earthquakes appear to have occurred at approximately 600-year intervals. Therefore, there is a probability that there will be a major earthquake in the region within the next 200 years.[21]

In April 2008, the United States Geological Survey released information concerning a newly found fault line south of downtown Abbotsford, called the Boulder Creek Fault. Scientists now believe this fault line is active and capable of producing earthquakes in the 6.8 magnitude range.[22]


Much of the Lower Mainland is vulnerable to explosive eruptions from the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt. Volcanoes in this zone are capable of producing large quantities of volcanic ash that may cause short and long term water supply problems for Lower Mainland communities.[23] All airports covered by the accompanying eruption column would be closed, heavy ash falls would damage electrical equipment and weak structures could collapse under the weight of the ash.[24]


The Lower Mainland's communities includes large cities in Metro Vancouver, and smaller cities, towns and villages along both banks of the Fraser River. Neighbourhoods within cities are not listed unless historically or otherwise notable and/or separate. Only some of the many Indian Reserves are listed.

Upper Fraser Valley
Central Fraser Valley
Lower Fraser Valley/Metro Vancouver

See also


  1. Canada 2016 Census Canada 2016 Census Archived 11 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on: 2017-02-10.
  2. "Lower Mainland". BC Geographical Names.
  3. Gentilcore, R.L., ed. 1993. Historical Atlas of Canada, Vol II, The Land Transformed 1800–1891. Plate 36, "Lower Mainland 1881." Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-3447-0.
  4. Environment Canada. Pacific Maritime Ecozone Archived 7 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Ecological Framework of Canada. Retrieved on: 2011-07-09.
  5. "Georgia Depression Ecoprovince". Ecoregions of British Columbia. BC Ministry of Environment. Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2008.
  6. Environment Canada. Ecoregions of Canada – Lower Mainland Archived 16 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Ecological Framework of Canada. Retrieved on: 2011-07-09
  7. "Community Highlights for Fraser Valley Regional District".
  8. "Community Highlights for Vancouver".
  9. Canada 2011 Census Canada 2011 Census Subdivisions Archived 23 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on: 2012-02-14.
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 March 2017. Retrieved 2 January 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 July 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 July 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. Census Profile, 2016 Census: Fraser Valley, Regional district. Statistics Canada. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  14. Census Profile, 2016 Census: Greater Vancouver, Regional district. Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  15. BC Ministry of Health. British Columbia Health Authorities: Maps Archived 5 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on: 2011-07-10.
  16. "Flood Hazard Management on the Fraser River". Fraser Basin Council. Archived from the original on 26 June 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
  17. "Fraser Valley prepares for possible flooding". CBC News. 5 June 2007. Archived from the original on 9 July 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2007.
  18. Nguyen, Linda (7 June 2007). Lower Mainland at flood risk for weeks yet Archived 26 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved on: 18 June 2008.
  19. Drake, Laura (16 June 2007). "Flooding in future may be more frequent, scientists say". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 24 June 2007.
  20. Ministry of Environment. "Lower Mainland Dike and Emergency Maps". Archived from the original on 20 June 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2007.
  21. British Columbia. Provincial Emergency Program. (1999). British Columbia Earthquake Response Plan, Appendix 2-The Earthquake Threat Archived 13 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine. ISBN 0-7726-3924-8. Retrieved on: 7 April 2008.
  22. McClatchy Washington Bureau. Earthquake risk. Retrieved on 2009-05-12.
  23. "Garibaldi volcanic belt: Garibaldi Lake volcanic field". Catalogue of Canadian volcanoes. Natural Resources Canada. 1 April 2009. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 26 May 2018.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  24. V. Stasiuk, Mark; J. Hickson, Catherine; Mulder, Taimi (2003), "The Vulnerability of Canada to Volcanic Hazards", Natural Hazards, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 28: 580, ISSN 0921-030X
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