The Cordillera of western Canada lies in a region of oceanic and island-arc lithosphere accreted to North America during subductions of the last 200 Ma. Magnetometer arrays have shown the crust of the region to be highly conductive. Magnetotelluric (MT) soundings across the Intermontane and Omineca tectonic belts between 50°N and 54°N reveal structure in terms of electrical resistivity. Pseudosections of phase and apparent resistivity and preliminary resistivity–depth sections are shown for three transects. The resistivity range is from less than one ohm metre to several thousands of ohm metres. In old continental shields, crustal resistivities cover a similar four-decade range transposed up two decades, i.e., 102–106 Ω∙m. We show that the observed resistivities can be produced by water with NaCl and (or) CO2 in solution, at the high temperatures of the Cordilleran crust, in fractured rock of effective porosity 4–5%. The resistivity variations may represent varying fracture densities. By following structures from outcrops we infer that the more resistive rocks are probably granitoid plutons, with low fracture densities. The highly conductive basalts probably have higher fracture densities. Sections and phase maps indicate that granitoid plutons continue from the Coast Plutonic Complex, under a thin layer of basalt, across the southwestern half of the Intermontane Belt. Near the centre of the Intermontane Belt, in line with the Fraser fault system, highly conductive rock continues from the surface at least to midcrustal depths. Resistivities as low as 1 Ω∙m in the uppermost crust under the Cariboo Mountains, in the Omineca Belt, are ascribed to intense fracturing or mineralization. For the southernmost transect, between 50°N and 51°N, a phase pseudosection shows informative resemblances to the sections farther north. Resistivity–depth inversions at seven sites from six-decade MT data give penetration into the upper mantle, but some of these sites may be affected by static shift. All results fit the mantle upflow hypothesis advanced earlier by Gough.