The following books on British Columbia and Alberta provide background information, and can add immeasurably to your enjoyment of your trip. The following list contains books both in print and out of print -- all are easily available in bookstores and Internet shopping sites.
Canadian History -- A basic primer on the country's complex history is The Penguin History of Canada, by Kenneth McNaught. The Canadians, by Andrew H. Malcolm, is an insightful and highly readable rumination on what it is to be Canadian, written by the former New York Times Canada bureau chief.
Peter C. Newman has produced an intriguing history of the Hudson's Bay Company, Caesars of the Wilderness, beginning with the early fur-trading days. The Great Adventure, by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, tells the story of the Mounties and their role in the subduing of the Canadian west.
Pierre Berton is the preeminent popular historian of Canada. He has written nearly 50 books on Canada's rich past, all well researched and well written. His books cover many subjects, from the days of the Hudson's Bay Company and the fur trade to pondering on what it means to be Canadian in the 21st century.
For a specific history of British Columbia, try British Columbia: An Illustrated History, by Geoffrey Molyneux, or The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, by Jean Borman. Review Vancouver's past with Vancouver: A History in Photographs, by Aynsley Wyse and Dana Wyse.
Alberta: A History in Photographs, by Faye Reinebert Holt, is a good introduction to the history of that province, though the engaging Alberta History Along the Highway: A Traveler's Guide to the Fascinating Facts, Intriguing Incidents and Lively Legends in Alberta's Remarkable Past, by Ted Stone, is the book you'll want to take along in the car. (The same author has a companion volume on British Columbia.)
To learn about Canada's Native peoples, read Native Peoples and Cultures of Canada, by Alan D. McMillan, which includes both history and current issues. The classic book on Canada's indigenous peoples, The Indians of Canada, was written in 1932 by Diamond Jenness. The author's life is an amazing story in its own right, as he spent years living with various indigenous peoples across the country.
Natural History -- Two good general guides to the natural world in western Canada are the Audubon Society's Pacific Coast, by Evelyn McConnaghey, and Western Forests, by Stephen Whitney.
British Columbia: A Natural History, by Richard Cannings, is an in-depth guide to the province's plants, animals, and geography. Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Guide to the Natural History of Western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, by Eugene N. Kozloff, is another good general resource.
For information on the natural history of Alberta's southern prairies, pick up From Grasslands to Rockland: An Explorers Guide to the Ecosystems of Southernmost Alberta, by Peter Douglas Elias.
Bird-watchers might want to dig up a copy of Familiar Birds of the Northwest, by Harry B. Nehls.
Read about the natural history of extinct wildlife in A Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, by Stephen Jay Gould, which details the discovery and scientific ramifications of the fossil beds found in Yoho National Park.
Outdoor Pursuits -- Edward Weber's Diving and Snorkeling Guide to the Pacific Northwest is a good place to start if you're planning a diving holiday in the Northwest.
Mountain Bike Adventures in Southwest British Columbia, by Greg Maurer and Tomas Vrba, is just one of a cascade of books on off-road biking in western Canada.
A good hiking guide to western British Columbia is Don't Waste Your Time in the B.C. Coast Mountains: An Opinionated Hiking Guide to Help you Get the Most from this Magnificent Wilderness, by Kathy Copeland. A Guide to Climbing and Hiking in Southwestern British Columbia, by Bruce Fairley, also includes Vancouver Island.
The Canadian Rockies Access Guide by John Dodd and Gail Helgason is an excellent resource for hikers and cross-country skiers in the national parks of Alberta.
Hiking Alberta, by Will Harmon, covers 75 hikes along the eastern face of the Rockies. Chris Dawson's Due North of Montana: A Guide to Flyfishing in Alberta will point you toward favorite fishing holes.
Fiction & Memoir -- Alice Munro's short fiction captures the soul of what it is to be Canadian in brief, though often wrenching, prose. Some of the stories in The Love of a Good Woman take place in Vancouver. Another good selection of short stories as well as poetry is Fresh Tracks: Writing the Western Landscape, a collection of writings by western Canadian authors.
The frontier-era conflicts in southern Alberta form the backdrop for the award-winning The Englishman's Boy, by Guy Vanderhaeghe, an atmospheric western with a story that travels from Fort Macleod to Hollywood.
Richard P. Hobson, Jr., writes of his experiences as a modern-day cowboy on the grasslands of central British Columbia in an acclaimed series of memoirs titled Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, The Rancher Takes a Wife, and Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy.
Vancouver and southwestern British Columbia is and has been home to a number of noted international authors. Mystery writer Laurali R. Wright lived in Vancouver, and her Karl Alberg mystery series usually took place in and around Vancouver. Jane Rule's Desert of the Heart was a breakthrough in lesbian fiction when it was published in 1964.
Generation X chronicler Douglas Coupland lives in Vancouver. Science-fiction writer William Gibson's dark vision of the cyber-future attracts a large young audience. W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe) writes about baseball and First Nations issues from his home in the Lower Mainland.
Film & TV
British Columbia is one of the centers of film in Canada, and many Canadian features are set in Vancouver. Numerous Hollywood films have also been shot in the province: Twilight and New Moon, Legends of the Fall, Little Women, Jumanji, and Rambo: First Blood give an idea of the range of films done here. Television's groundbreaking series The X-Files was shot in and around the city for its first 4 years of production. (Vancouver doubles as many American cities, notably Washington, D.C.)
The Canadian Rockies feature frequently in movie Westerns, though often they stand in for other locals. Brokeback Mountain was filmed in Alberta, with the Canadian Rockies standing in for Wyoming. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Unforgiven were also filmed in Alberta.
Vancouver is a major trendsetter in Canadian music, particularly in the realms of folk and post-punk pop music. The music scene in Calgary and Edmonton is also vibrant, though with significantly more country music overlays: k.d. lang is the province's most famous musical export.
Vancouver's leading role in Canadian rock stylings doesn't mean that the city lacks a full array of classical music institutions, including the well-respected Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver Opera Association. The city's love of music is also on display in its many music festivals, particularly the beloved Vancouver Folk Music Festival, one of the largest and most laid-back folk festivals in North America. The Vancouver International Jazz Festival is another major musical event featuring a diverse line-up of musicians from around the world.
Vancouver is extremely ethnically diverse, providing a League-of-Nations-like multiplicity to its music scene, which moves beyond typical World Beat internationalism. You'll find Chinese, East Indian, and Russian punk bands, and lots of rock groups that blend central European and Eastern Mediterranean influences. Muslim punk, often referred to as "taqwacore" (a neologism formed from taqwa, Arabic for piety, and hardcore) is another genre popular in some Vancouver clubs. Secret Trial Five, an all-female punk band with its roots in Vancouver, has caused a sensation with its politically pointed, hard-edged sounds.
One of Vancouver's defining moments in folk-rock history is Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," which was a commentary on the city's rapid urbanization. Other early rock bands with Vancouver and B.C. roots were Bachman Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, and the Boomtown Rats.
Vancouver is currently a hotbed for Indie Rock and singer songwriters that blend folk and rock. Notably recent bands with B.C. roots include The New Pornographers, with its side acts Destroyer and singer Neko Case; Ladyhawk; Said The Whale; and Left Spine Down.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.