The mountain structures originated in three great orogenic periods, the earliest in the Archean, the second at the end of the Palaeozoic and the third at the end of the Mesozoic. The Archean mountain chains, which enclosed the present region of Hudson Bay, were so ancient that they had already been worn down almost to a plain before the early Palaeozoic sediments were laid down.
The Mesozoic sediments were almost entirely laid down to the west and south-west of the protaxis, upon the fiat-lying Palaeozoic rocks, and in the prairie region they are still almost horizontal; but in the Cordillera they have been thrust up into the series of mountain chains characterizing the Pacific coast region.
The ridges and intervening valleys, long parts of which have an approximately parallel trend from south-west to north-east, were formed by the erosion of folded sediments of varying hardness, the weak belts of rock being etched out to form valleys and the hard belts remaining as mountain ridges.
The terraces represent the out-cropping edges of hard sandstone layers included in the series of plateau sediments, and are named according to the colour of the rock exposed in the south-facing escarpments, the Pink Cliffs (highest), White Cliffs and Vermilion Cliffs.
Most interesting among these are the Henry Mountains, formed by the intrusion of molten igneous rock between the layers of sediments, causing the overlying layers to arch up into dome mountains.