What Are The Canadian Cascades And How Were They Formed?


The Canadian Cascades are the Northernmost part of the Cascade Mountain Range, a cluster of volcanic and non-volcanic formations on the west coast of North America. While the Cascade Mountain Range begins in Northern California and extends north to the Fraser River in British Columbia, the Southernmost point of the Canadian Cascades is considered to be the Canada-U.S. border. The Canadian Cascades is located entirely in the province of British Columbia and has a peak elevation of 3,160 meters. 

How Were the Canadian Cascades Formed?

Sometimes referred to as the Canadian Cascade Arc, the Canadian Cascades was formed through the subduction of the Farallon Plate, which has now segmented into the Juan de Fuca Plate. The Juan de Fuca Plate Plate and the North American Plate continue to converge to this day, albeit at a much slower pace than it did millions of years ago. However, the subduction in this region is the reason why much of North America’s west coast is particularly susceptible to an activity like tremors and earthquakes. 

The first volcanic eruption occurred 29 million years ago resulting in the rock formations of the Chilliwack batholith. Since then, volcanic activity moved northwards to form the Pemberton Volcanic Belt along with many other volcanic systems. These systems include the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, the Coquihalla Volcanic Complex, the Mount Barr Plutonic Complex, and the Crevasse Crag Volcanic Complex. All 22 to 4 million years old, these volcanic systems formed many of the mountainous formations we see today. 

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Roughly 6 million years ago, the Pemberton Belt began to decline in its volcanism due to the steepening of the Juan de Fuca Plate, and the formation of the Explorer Plate. This resulted in the creation of what we know today as the Canadian Cascades.

Are the Canadian Cascades Volcanic?

The Canadian Cascades are considered part of the Pacific Ring of Fire which is considered volcanic. Geological evidence has revealed that volcanic belts in the Canadian Cascades were erupting up to 29 million years ago, and as recently as 1,000 years ago. For that reason, the Canadian portion of the Cascades is considered inactive relative to the American portion of the Cascades. 

South of the border, Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 and 2006, while Lassen Peak was eruptive between 1914-1921. However, historical records and geological evidence have not reported any similar activity in the Canadian Cascades recently.

At least four volcanic zones have been identified in British Columbia as part of the Canadian Cascade Arc, including one in The Interior, and three volcanic belts along the coast. These zones are considered dormant due to the amount of time since they were last active. However, should one of these zones exhibit activity in the future, landslides, eruptions and earthquakes could potentially devastate populous areas like Vancouver, Whistler and Squamish. 

What if Volcanoes in the Canadian Cascades Erupt?

In the unlikely event of an eruption, the Canadian National Seismograph Network is responsible for detecting seismic activity that could occur as a result. However, they may only be able to detect seismic activity if the eruption is large enough. The Geographical Survey of Canada would also be responsible for monitoring and assessing any activity. 

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From there, the Interagency Volcanic Event Notification Plan is in place to notify any necessary government agencies including Environment Canada, Public Safety Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 

Is There Any Indigenous History in the Canadian Cascades?

Sto:lo First Nations settlements existed in what is now Fraser Valley more than 8,000 years ago. In the late 18th century, smallpox killed almost 2/3 of the Sto:lo population, followed by further disruption to their community with a Hudson’s Bay trading post nearby. The Fraser Canyon Gold Rush further anglicized the region with new railways, towns, and workers. However, Sto:lo and Nlaka’pamux territories are still protected to this day. 

In 1700, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake caused massive flooding in the Canadian Cascades, and ultimately the destruction of many indigenous communities. While there is no written record of this, orally transmitted accounts of the event were passed down generation to generation. While the stories vary in content, many of them corroborate scientific evidence of the earthquake. 

Do People Visit the Canadian Cascades?

The Canadian Cascades are home to a number of communities, provincial parks, and mountain ranges with attractions for both tourists and locals. The Garibaldi Provincial Park, for example, was formed in 1920 and established as an official park in 1927 to preserve the region’s rich geology and history. The park is known for its hiking, fishing, climbing and canoeing, but famous for its mountaineering. Climbing Mount Garibaldi is considered very difficult to climb, however it has three peaks that can be summited: Diamond Head, Atwell Peak, and The Tent. In the winter, Diamond Head is particularly popular as a ski touring destination. 

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Other activities include the Gold Rush Trail, which takes visitors on an experiential journey through indigenous history, and how it was altered by the Gold Rush. Visitors also love visiting towns in the Fraser Valley like Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Hope, where they enjoy eating food from locally sourced ingredients and drinking locally-produced wine. 

To explore the Canadian Cascades by vehicle, people often take road trips down the Dark Sky Highway. This corridor is uninterrupted by urban development, offering tourists beautiful natural scenery during the day, and a clear view of the stars at night. The area is spotted with scenic lookouts, ski resorts and hiking trails that make for a breathtaking adventure.


The Canadian Cascades is rich in geological splendor, natural scenery, and human history. The mountain range tells us a story about Canada’s geological formation and serves as yet another reminder of our planet’s constant evolution over the course of its history. Whether you’re taking a long road trip, looking for somewhere to hike, or just want to take in some nature, the Canadian Cascades is as beautiful as it is vast. 

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