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Located in British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island is the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand. While the city of Vancouver stands on the North American mainland, Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is located on the island.
The island was first explored by Europeans when British and Spanish expeditions arrived in the late 18th century. It was originally named Quadra's and Vancouver's Island in commemoration of the friendly negotiations held by Spanish commander of the Nootka Sound settlement, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, and by British naval captain George Vancouver in Nootka Sound in 1792, to find a solution to the Nootka Crisis. Quadra's name was eventually dropped and it has since been known solely as Vancouver Island. It is one of several North American locations named after George Vancouver, the British Royal Navy officer who explored the Pacific Northwest coast of North America between 1791 and 1794.
Along with most of the southern Gulf Islands, plus various minor islands offshore from its southern end, the southern part of Vancouver Island is the only part of British Columbia (and of Western Canada) that lies south of the 49th Parallel. The area has one of the warmest climates in Canada and since the mid-1990s has been mild enough in a few areas to grow subtropical Mediterranean crops such as olives and lemons.
The island is 460 kilometres (290 mi) in length, 80 kilometres (50 mi) in width at its widest point, and 32,134 km2 (12,407 sq mi) in area. It is the largest island on the West Coast of North America.
Marine transport is very important to Vancouver Island for access to the mainland of British Columbia and Washington State. There are no bridges connecting the island to the mainland. The only vehicle access to Vancouver Island is by ferry. BC Ferries, Washington State Ferries, Clipper Vacations and Black Ball Transport Inc. operate the seven vehicle ferry routes to the island departing from the cities of Victoria (Seattle, Port Angeles), Sidney (Tsawassen, Anacortes) and Nanaimo (Vancouver).
The climate is the mildest in Canada, with temperatures on the coast even in January being usually above 0 °C (32 °F). In summer, the warmest days usually achieve a maximum of 28–33 °C (82.4–91.4 °F). However, the rain shadow effect of the island's mountains, as well as the mountains of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, creates wide variation in precipitation. The west coast of the island is considerably wetter than the east coast. Average annual precipitation ranges from 6,650 millimetres (261.8 in) at Henderson Lake on the west coast (making it the wettest place in North America) to only 640 millimetres (25.2 in) at the driest recording station in the provincial capital of Victoria on the southeast coast's Saanich Peninsula. Precipitation is heaviest in the autumn and winter. Snow is rare at low altitudes but is common on the island's mountaintops in winter.