BERN CANTON (Fr. Berne), after the Grisons, the largest of the Swiss cantons, but by far the most populous, though politically Bern ranks after that of Zürich. It extends right across Switzerland from beyond the Jura to the snow-clad ranges that separate Bern from the Valais. Its total area is 2641.9 sq. m., of which 2081 sq. m. are classed as "productive" (including 591 sq. m. of forests, and 2.1 m. of vineyards), while of the remainder 111.3 sq. m. are occupied by glaciers (the Valais and the Grisons alone surpass it in this respect). It is mainly watered by the river Aar (q.v.), with its affluents, the Kander (left), the Saane or Sarine (left) and the Emme (right); the Aar forms the two lakes of Brienz and Thun (q.v.). The great extent of this canton accounts for the different character of the regions therein comprised. Three are usually distinguished: - (1) The Oberland or Highlands, which is that best known to travellers, for it includes the snowy Alps of the Bernese Oberland (culminating in the Finsteraarhorn, 14,026 ft., and the Jungfrau, 13,669 ft.), as well as the famous summer resorts of Grindelwald, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Interlaken, Meiringen, Kandersteg, Adelboden, Thun and the fine pastoral valley of the Simme. (2) The Mittelland or Midlands, comprising the valley of the Aar below Thun, and that of the Emme, thus taking in the outliers of the high Alps and the open country on every side of the town of Bern. (3) The Seeland (Lakeland) and the Jura, extending from Bienne and its lake across the Jura to Porrentruy in the plains and to the upper course of the Birs. The Oberland and Mittelland form the "old" canton, the Jura having only been acquired in 1815, and differing from the rest of the canton by reason of its French-speaking and Romanist inhabitants.
In 1900 the total population of the canton was 589,433, of whom 483,388 were German-speaking, 97,789 French-speaking, and 7167 Italian-speaking; while there were 506,699 Protestants, 80,489 Romanists (including the Old Catholics), and 1543 Jews. The capital is Bern (q.v.), while the other important towns are Bienne (q.v.), Burgdorf (q.v.), Delémont or Delsberg (5053 inhabitants), Porrentruy or Pruntrut (6959 inhabitants), Thun (q.v.), and Langenthal (4799 inhabitants). There is a university (founded in 1834) in the town of Bern, as well as institutions for higher education in the principal towns. The canton is divided into 30 administrative districts, and contains 507 communes (the highest number in Switzerland). From 1803 to 1814 the canton was one of the six "Directorial" cantons of the Confederation. The existing cantonal constitution dates from 1893, but in 1906 the direct popular election of the executive of 9 members (hitherto named by the legislature) was introduced. The legislature or Grossrath is elected for four years (like the executive), in the proportion of 1 member to every 2500 (or fraction over 1250) of the resident population. The obligatory Referendum obtains in the case of all laws, and of decrees relating to an expenditure of over half a million francs, while 12,000 citizens have the right of initiative in the case of legislative projects, and 15,000 may demand the revision of the cantonal constitution. The 2 members sent by the canton to the federal Ständerath are elected by the Grossrath, while the 29 members sent to the federal Nationalrath are chosen by a popular vote. In the Alpine portions of the canton the breeding of cattle (those of the Simme valley are particularly famous) is the chief industry; next come the elaborate arrangements for summer travellers (the Fremdenindustrie). It is reckoned that there are 2430 "Alps" or mountain pastures in the canton, of which 1474 are in the Oberland, 627 in the Jura, and 280 in the Emme valley; they can maintain 95,478 cows and are of the estimated value of 46 million francs. The cheese of the Emme valley is locally much esteemed. Other industries in the Alpine region are wood-carving (at Brienz) and wine manufacture (on the shores of the lakes of Bienne and of Thun). The Mittelland is the agricultural portion of the canton. Watchmaking is the principal industry of the Jura, Bienne and St Imier being the chief centres of this industry. Iron mines are also worked in the Jura, while the Heimberg potteries, near Thun, produce a locally famous ware, and there are both quarries of building stone and tile factories. The canton is well supplied with railway lines, the broad gauge lines being 228 m. in length, and the narrow gauge lines 157 m. - in all 385 m. Among these are many funicular cog-wheel lines, climbing up to considerable heights, so up to Mürren (5368 ft.), over the Wengern Alp (6772 ft.), up to the Schynige Platte (6463 ft.), and many others still in the state of projects. All these are in the Oberland where, too, is the so-called Jungfrau railway, which in 1906 attained a point (the Eismeer station) in the south wall of the Eiger (13,042 ft.) that was 10,371 ft. in height, the loftiest railway station in Switzerland.
The canton of Bern is composed of the various districts which the town of Bern acquired by conquest or by purchase in the course of time. The more important, with dates of acquisition, are the following: - Laupen (1324), Hasli and Meiringen (1334), Thun and Burgdorf (1384), Unterseen and the Upper Simme valley (1386), Frutigen, etc. (1400), Lower Simme valley (1439-1449), Interlaken, with Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen and Brienz (1528, on the suppression of the Austin Canons of Interlaken), Saanen or Gessenay (1555), Köniz (1729), and the Bernese Jura with Bienne (1815, from the bishopric of Basel). But certain regions previously won were lost in 1798 - Aargau (1415), Aigle and Grandson (1475), Vaud (1536), and the Pays d'En-Haut or Château d'Oex (1555). From 1798 to 1802 the Oberland formed a separate canton (capital, Thun) of the Helvetic Republic.
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)