Montane Cordillera
By: Jake O.

Map of Ecozone
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The Montane Cordillera takes up most of southern British Colombia, as well as a small amount of south-western Alberta. With grand mountains including the Canadian Rockies, and beautiful National Parks like Banff, the Montane Cordillera is one of the most diverse ecozones in Canada. This region’s climate varies greatly throughout the area because of the change in altitude; from cold snow-peaked mountains, to cool alpine meadows, to warm river valleys covered in forest. This ecozone has a wide variety of plant and animal life, and the habitats to sustain this life. There is also a large assortment of rocks and minerals throughout the ecozone, depending on the altitudes.

In the picture below, the Montane Cordillera is the blue ecozone, situated on the west coast of Canada.
Landform Region
Situated in southern British Colombia and south-western Alberta, and covering approximately 474 700km², the Montane Cordillera is well known for its rugged mountain areas, like the Canadian Rockies, which make up about two-thirds of the eastern half of the ecozone. The rest of the region is comprised of alpine meadows, plains, rivers and river valleys. The terrain is very diverse, and because of the extreme variations in altitude, all other categories (including climate, soils, rocks, minerals, etc.) are affected greatly. The highest peak found in the Montane Cordillera is Mount Robson, which measures 3954 metres. Not too far away from the highest mountain in the Rockies, one can find vast plains and deep valleys; a completely unexpected site in the Montane Cordillera. The mountains found in this region (the Rocky Mountains) were established by the faulting and folding of the Earth’s crust. These mountains were formed about 17 million years ago. Many of the plains and meadows found in the Montane Cordillera were made from volcanic activity about 60 million years ago. This bedrock was then overlaid with glacier deposits, creating the flat and rolling landscapes.

Rock Types and Minerals
A significant amount of mining is done throughout the Montane Cordillera. Most of this mining is for gold, copper, coal, lime (calcium containing inorganic material), molybdenum (number 42 on the Periodic Table; very high melting point), lead, zinc, barite (main source of barium), and others. All of these minerals are in high demand, creating many jobs in various sectors. The minerals that can be found in and near the Rocky Mountains include copper, gold, lead, molybdenum, silver, tungsten and zinc.
The Rocky Mountains are made of sedimentary rock, while the plains, meadows and valleys of the Montane Cordillera consist of igneous rock. There is a very low concentration of metamorphic rock compared to the other ecozones. Approximately 57% of the Montane Cordillera is sedimentary rock, relating greatly to the fact that almost two-thirds of the eastern half of this ecozone is occupied by the Rocky Mountains. Also, about 38% of the land in this area is igneous rock, which explains the great meadows, plateaus and valleys. These rocks were formed by the deposits of ancient lakes. The other 5% is made of metamorphic rock, and a mixture of other rock types.

Vegetation and Soil
With the diversity of landforms and elevation, and the variations of climates throughout all of the Montane Cordillera, the vegetation and soil contents differ greatly. In the alpine environments, one can find many lichens, herbs and shrubs, while the sub-alpine areas are covered with lodgepole pine, alpine fir, ponderosa pine, trembling aspen and Engelmann spruce; many other coniferous trees can also be found throughout the Montane Cordillera. Additionally, in the dry valleys of the region, there is a significant amount of grassland vegetation. In some of the meadows as well, we are able to find forested areas because of the moisture and temperature levels. These certain types of vegetation can grow in these specific places because of the climate, altitude and soil conditions.
The soil conditions also depend greatly on the altitudes of the region, as well as the climate. The soil on the inland plains supports the growth of grasslands and grassland vegetation, while north of this, richer soils are dominant, allowing for vineyards, cash crops (sellable crops), and other lively vegetation to grow. These areas in the Montane Cordillera contribute greatly to the agricultural jobs in the area. In the mountainous regions, specifically in the warmer areas, poor acidic soils can be found, which limit plant growth to a great extent. Once again, we can easily see the diversity of the Montane Cordillera, this time through vegetation and soil.

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Climate and Climograph
The climate in the Montane Cordillera changes extremely as you move throughout the region. The reason for these alterations in temperature and precipitation is not because of the large amount of land it covers, but because of the great changes in altitude. This alters the climate because as we move up one of the many mountains in the Montane Cordillera, the air pressure decreases, and causes changes in temperatures. Also, precipitation will differ from one side of a mountain to the other. For example, the west side of Mount Robson (highest peak in the Rockies) experiences much more precipitation than the other side because on the east end of the mountain, a rain shadow occurs, making it much drier. The annual rainfall also proves this point: on average, approximately 300mm of precipitation falls on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, while about 1200mm takes place on the west end. Speaking of rain shadows, the type of precipitation that is occurring is orographic, or relief. This precipitation is present because of all the mountains. This allows the moist, cool air to rise on one side of the mountain, and the dry, warm air to fall on the other; also called the Chinook (or a rain shadow). The air masses that form over the Montane Cordillera are the Maritime Polar (mP) that comes in from the west and travels east, and the Continental Polar (cP) which comes from the north; a very minimal amount of the Continental Polar air mass hits this region. Both of these air masses bring cool temperatures to the area (representing the Polar), and the Maritime makes for a moister climate, as it forms over water.
The temperatures across the Montane Cordillera vary greatly, as well. This region is home to Kamloops, the city in Canada with the warmest daytime temperatures in the summer; the average daytime temperature is about 27.2°C. Kamloops is situated in the Okanagan area, which experiences the mildest temperatures of the Montane Cordillera, with an average 15°C in the summer and -3.5°C in the winter. On the other hand, the coolest area in the region is in the northwest, in the Skeena Mountains, with average summer and winter temperatures at 11°C and -11°C respectively. It is very clear to see the diversity of not only vegetation and soil, rocks and minerals, but of climate in the Montane Cordillera.

Climograph for Kamloops, British Columbia; situated within the Montane Cordillera:


Trivia and Fun Facts
  • Home to many National Parks, including: Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier and Kootenay; highest concentration of National Parks in an ecozone.
  • Home to many of Canada’s popular animals, including: beavers, black bears, coyotes, elks, moose, muskrats, porcupines, raccoons, Rocky Mountain goats, white-tailed deer and wolves.
  • In the Rockies alone, there is a wide variety of plant and animal species: 16 types of amphibians and reptiles, 40 of fish, 69 of mammals, 277 of birds, 1300 of plants, and no fewer than 20,000 of insects and spiders.
  • Highest peak: Mount Robson at 3954 metres.
  • Population: approximately 864 000; fairly moderate compared to other ecozones in Canada. This population could be much higher if the Rocky Mountains weren’t occupying so much land.
  • Major Urban areas: Kamloops (pop. 93 000), Prince George (pop. 81 000) and Penticton (pop. 32 000).
  • Land is well suited for mining purposes, agricultural use, urban use, plant and animal life, and much, much more.
  • Most jobs given to these people are forestry, agriculture, tourism, and oil and gas production.
  • Kamloops got its name from a crater on Mars.
  • Attractions and entertainment in Kamloops: BC Wildlife Park, Kamloops Art Gallery, Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops Heritage Railways, Tobiano Golf Course, Kamloops Skate Park, Centre of the Universe, Kamloops Museum and Archives, Fossil Hunting, Dog Sledding, Helicopter Tours, Western Heritage Trails, and hundreds more!
  • Kamloops is approximately a 5 ½ hour drive to the Rocky Mountains (which is the same as from Burlington to Ottawa).
  • Considered the most diverse ecozone in all of Canada.

Test Questions
  1. Which of the following statements is true?
    a) The Montane Cordillera is the largest ecozone in Canada.
    b) The Montane Cordillera’s air masses include Maritime Polar and Continental Polar.
    c) Mount Robertson is the highest peak in the Montane Cordillera.

    d) The type of precipitation found in the Montane Cordillera is, for the most part, convectional.
  2. If you were in the Olympic Village in Vancouver, what ecozone would you be in? Describe the climate of this region, including air masses and types of precipitation.
  3. How long ago were the Rocky Mountains formed? How did they form? Describe the process.
  4. True or False: Mining creates many jobs in the Montane Cordillera and is very important to the region.If True, explain why mining is possible and include some examples of minerals mined. If False, explain why mining is not possible.
  5. Explain why you think there are a significant amount of National Parks in the Montane Cordillera.

Test Answers

  1. b) The Montane Cordillera’s air masses include Maritime Polar and Continental Polar.
  2. You would be in the Montane Cordillera. The climate is very diverse as it changes throughout the region. This happens because of all the mountainous regions and plains; changes in altitude. The air masses included with this ecozone are Maritime Polar and Continental Polar. These air masses bring cool winds, and mostly moist conditions. The precipitation that occurs in the Montane Cordillera is orographic, or relief. This happens when the cool, moist air goes up one side of the mountain and becomes warm, dry air on the other side.
  3. The Rocky Mountains formed approximately 17 million years ago by the faulting and folding of the Earth’s crust. During this process, two plates in the mantle underneath the Earth’s crust collided, making one of the plates go downwards, which then pushed the other upwards. This then forced the crust up, creating mountains. This was a very, very slow process, as the Rocky Mountains were forming over hundreds of years.
  4. True. Mining is a huge part of creating jobs for citizens in the area, and is also very important economic-wise. Mining is possible because there is a wide range of both sedimentary and igneous rock formations. This increases the possibilities of finding minerals, and in particular, a variety of them. The altitude changes and diverse climate conditions are also responsible for finding new minerals, as other products are able to grow. Some examples of minerals that can be found in the Montane Cordillera are: gold, silver, lead, copper, tungsten and zinc.
  5. There are numerous National Parks across the Montane Cordillera because of the many great landscapes, and even greater mountains. The region is so diverse that the varieties of soils, vegetation, rocks, etc. are endless. There are many mountainous regions, which are useful for hikes/trails and for discovering different plant and animal life. The wide, vast plains and meadows are ideal for uncovering vegetation and soils, while the valleys and rivers are full of new species, and new explorations.


1. Clark, Bruce. Making Connections Canada’s Geography. Toronto: Pearson Education, 2006.
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