Fort Nelson, British Columbia

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Fort Nelson
Mile 300, Fort Nelly
Fort Nelson is located in British Columbia
Fort Nelson
Fort Nelson
Location of Fort Nelson in British Columbia
Fort Nelson is located in Canada
Fort Nelson
Fort Nelson
Fort Nelson (Canada)
Coordinates: 58°48′21.3″N 122°41′47.3″W / 58.805917°N 122.696472°W / 58.805917; -122.696472Coordinates: 58°48′21.3″N 122°41′47.3″W / 58.805917°N 122.696472°W / 58.805917; -122.696472
ProvinceBritish Columbia
Regional MunicipalityNorthern Rockies Regional Municipality
 • Governing bodyNorthern Rockies Regional Council
 • MPBob Zimmer (Cons - Peace River)
 • MLADan Davies (Lib - Peace River North)
 • Total4.68 km2 (1.81 sq mi)
410 m (1,350 ft)
 • Total3,366
 • Density719.1/km2 (1,862/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC−07:00 (MST[2])
Postal code span
Area code(s)250 / 778 / 236
Highways Hwy 97
WebsiteFort Nelson
Northern Rockies Regional Municipality

Fort Nelson is a community in northeast British Columbia, Canada, within the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM).[3] It held town status prior to 6 February 2009, when it amalgamated with the former Northern Rockies Regional District to form the NRRM,[3][4] becoming its administrative centre. The NRRM is the first regional municipality in the province.[5]

The community lies east of the northern Rocky Mountains in the Peace River region along the Alaska Highway at Mile 300.[6] The town is approximately four hours drive, in the summer, from the nearest urban centre, Fort St. John, and potentially six hours under winter driving conditions.[7]

According to the 2016 Canadian Census, the population was 3,366, a drop of 5.5% from the 2011 Census.[1] Average house values have dropped from 282,000 in 2014 to 103,000 in 2019. Over a 5-year period, the house price has dropped by 63.4%.[8][9][10]


Fort Nelson, named in honour of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, was established by the North West Trading Company in 1805 as a fur-trading post.[11] Due to fires, floods and feuds, Fort Nelson is in its fifth location.

World War II[edit]

Fort Nelson Airport was a valuable asset for allied military forces in World War II, as it served as an airbase for the United States Air Force and for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Contrary to popular belief that the construction of the Alaska Highway commenced in Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson was the original Mile 0 on the Alaska Highway because of the existence of a previously constructed road from Fort St. John to Fort Nelson.[12] The United States Army built perhaps the most notable historical artifact in the area, the Alaska Highway. Construction began in 1942 out of a firm belief that Alaska faced a significant threat of Japanese invasion. Initial highway construction was performed by over 11,000 U.S. soldiers. After approximately nine months, the highway was finally completed, making Fort Nelson a bustling service-centre along the road. After the Japanese surrender of 1945, the U.S. Army ceded the Canadian portion of the highway to the Canadian government, which it made accessible to the public in 1948.[13]

Post-World War II[edit]

In the early 1950s the first five acres were sold to locals, which marked the start of the community as a separate entity from the military. Oil and gas exploration in the early 1950s provided Fort Nelson with the industrial sector that it required[citation needed] to jump-start expansion of the community into what would eventually become the village of Fort Nelson in 1971. However, due to collapse in oil price in 2014, most gas fields and associated rigs have been shut down and put out of operation on an indefinite basis.[14] After the completion of BC Hydro's natural gas power plant to provide electricity to the region, Fort Nelson experienced true growth. A railway was built by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (BC Rail) up to Fort Nelson in 1971 which allowed efficient transportation of the local industry's major products (lumber, and gas) to larger markets in the south. The railway was left in abandoned state due to lack of use in the 2010s and was subsequently closed down. No facility has since been built to replace the railway to ship commodity to markets.


The closure of both forestry mills officially ended the major economic pillar in 2008, mainly due to the collapse in US housing prices and subprime mortgage crisis.[15] The 2014 collapse in oil prices decimated the natural gas industry. Without oil production in the Horn River Basin and lack of pipeline access. Many major oil companies, including Apache, Nexxen and Encana, decided to shut down their local production. With the bankruptcy of Endurance energy, many local workers were laid off.[16] The Community Forest or boreal caribou protection initiative, with support of local First Nations and Mayor Gary Foster has impacted the potential logging quota and possible areas for new gas well development.[17] The Community Forest would be 193,262 ha (477,560 acres) out of a total of 1,465,000 ha (3,620,000 acres).[18]

Since 2012, lack of access to maternal care has deterred many young professionals from relocating to Fort Nelson for work.[7] In 2019, outages in electrical power,[19] telephone service[20] and internet access in 2017[21] have disrupted the municipality. Lack of basic infrastructure, including user-friendly facilities, have deterred many tourists from enjoying local attractions.[22] On 26 March 2020, the shuttered Tackama mill was set on fire and suffered significant damage. Circumstances were suspicious and RCMP was called to investigate for any criminal element.[23]

Due to the collapse of LNG price and the closure of the biggest private employer in the local region, Fort Nelson has suffered an exodus of residents, including former business owners who cannot find jobs in their birthplace, and amongst the casualties of this economic downturn include the Fort Nelson dollar store. The owner of the Fort Nelson dollar store told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk that '[she] just had no choice but to decide to close and try and make it out of here paying off people I owe money to.'[24] The owner of the dollar store predicted that 'A lot of people are hurting. A lot of people are leaving Fort Nelson and leaving their houses, either renting them out or just downright giving them back to the banks.'[24]


Fort Nelson lies near the confluence of Fort Nelson River (which took the name from the community), Muskwa River and Prophet River. The entire region of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, of which Fort Nelson is the largest community, constitutes 10% of the province's total landmass. Fort Nelson is well known to be surrounded by mountainous beauty pertaining to the northern portion of the Rocky Mountains.[25]

Muskwa River


The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is home to an extensive variety of wildlife which attracts many tourists and hunters to the region. Wildlife found in the area include animals such as moose, black bear, grizzly bear, caribou, deer (white-tail and mule), elk, bison, stone sheep, mountain goat, wolves, and several more. The region, especially the area around the Liard Hot Springs, is home to several bird species such as the golden eagle, the bald eagle, and the great horned owl.[25]

Bison in Northern Rockies


Fort Nelson has a climate right on the boundary between a subarctic climate (Köppen Dfc) and a humid continental climate (Dfb). Winters, except when dry chinook winds blow from the Pacific Ocean, tend to be severely cold and generally dry with an average monthly snow depth of only 18 cm (7.1 in), while summers are warm and occasionally rainy, though spells of hot weather are rare.[26]

Fort Nelson is colder than anywhere else in British Columbia from November through February, but the mean average temperature during the summer is warmer than coastal areas even far south such as Victoria and comparable to Vancouver.

Climate data for Fort Nelson Airport (Canadian Climate Normals 1981-2010 Station Data)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high humidex 9.0 13.3 16.1 26.7 33.9 36.4 41.2 36.6 32.3 26.7 17.8 10.4 41.2
Record high °C (°F) 10.7
Average high °C (°F) −16.1
Daily mean °C (°F) −20.3
Average low °C (°F) −24.6
Record low °C (°F) −51.7
Record low wind chill −55.0 −55.6 −51.5 −37.6 −19.9 −3.3 0.0 −3.8 −19.7 −39.2 −51.6 −54.6 −55.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 21.5
Average rainfall mm (inches) 0.3
Average snowfall cm (inches) 28.6
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm) 10.5 8.7 8.9 6.4 10.3 12.9 14.6 12.7 10.7 10.3 11.1 9.8 126.9
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 0.3 0.1 0.4 2.8 9.5 12.9 14.6 12.7 10.1 5.0 0.5 0.3 69.2
Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm) 11.2 9.5 9.3 4.4 1.9 0.0 0.0 0.2 1.2 6.8 11.8 10.6 66.7
Average relative humidity (%) 71.3 63.6 50.8 41.3 42.0 45.2 50.5 51.6 53.8 66.3 77.9 75.2 57.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 64.3 99.4 166.3 236.4 267.3 285.2 273.7 258.2 170.6 97.6 60.4 48.3 2,027.7
Percent possible sunshine 29.3 38.1 45.5 54.7 51.2 51.9 50.0 53.9 44.1 30.6 25.7 24.4 41.6
Source: [26]


In the 2016 Canadian Census, Fort Nelson had a population of 3,336 living in 1,424 of its 1,682 total dwellings, a -5.5% change from its 2011 population of 3,561. With a land area of 4.68 km2 (1.81 sq mi), it had a population density of 712.8/km2 (1,846.2/sq mi) in 2016.[1]

As of the 2016 Canadian Census Fort Nelson had 760 Indigenous peoples made up of 415 First Nations, 300 Métis and 25 Inuit.[1] Fort Nelson is a fairly young community in comparison to the rest of the province, with 26.68% of the population being under the age of 19.[1] Approximately 31.92% of Fort Nelson residents over the age of 25 have attained an education beyond a high school certificate or equivalent in the forms of trades, colleges, or universities.[1]

Historical populations

Fort Nelson is home to 3,336 residents, representing 69.05% of the NRRM's total population of 4,831 in 2016.

In a 2017 report the vacancy rate was 49% and rental was $1,000.[27]

According to the 2016 census, only 225 people are aged 65 or over, representing only fewer than 7% of the overall town population.[1]


Due to major decrease in oil price in 2014[28] and lack of pipeline access to the lucrative Asian market, the abundant natural gas in the Horn River Basin remains untapped.[29][30] Fort Nelson has experienced substantial contraction in economy, noted by significant reduction in business licenses, long term decline in school enrolment and increase in mortgage foreclosures.[30][31] Before 2014, natural gas, forestry, tourism and agriculture made up the majority of local industry. Nowadays, the town heavily relies upon the government sector and tourism.

The majority of Fort Nelson's economic activity is currently concentrated in the tourism industry and government sector, and until recently, natural gas extraction and forestry.[29][32][33] The forests surrounding Fort Nelson are part of Canada's boreal forest. Fort Nelson is on the southwest edge of the Greater Sierra oil and gas field.

Natural gas[edit]

Unconventional gas exploration was the premier industry in Fort Nelson, employing a large percentage of Fort Nelson's community members. The region's natural gas industry centres around the Horn River Basin, Liard basin, and the Cordova basin which all contain vast amounts of gas in shale rock formations. Many of the world's most recognizable oil and gas companies have actively divested their capital and sold their operations in the region, including Encana, Nexen, Apache, Imperial Oil.[34] The most common form of gas extraction is the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in which a drill bit is first vertically, then horizontally inserted deep into the ground in an attempt to reach poorly accessible shale gas formations. As with any gas operation in North America, there are significant concerns to the environmental pollution, First Nations rights, market access and social effects of the industry on the surrounding area. Water is withdrawn from nearby lakes and rivers, which continues to be a hot topic in the region and within the oil and gas industry. The boreal woodland caribou protection initiative also significantly curtailed the area allowed for gas extraction, further dampening investor interest.[35]

On 1 January 2020, NorthRiver Midstream, a subsidiary of Brookfield Infrastructure, announced the completion of purchase of Enbridge assets in northeastern British Columbia, one of which includes the biggest private employer in the town.[36] Shortly afterward on 28 February 2020, NorthRiver Midstream announced the complete shutdown and deactivation of the only gas plant and associated pipelines, resulting in significant job losses of eight local people.[37][38]

Responding to the February 2020 announcement of the closure of the Fort Nelson gas plant, local MP Bob Zimmer stated, "This announcement is very unfortunate for all in the North and most of all the residents of Fort Nelson. One consistent source of work for residents in Fort Nelson, when other sectors have struggled, has been the Fort Nelson North Processing Facility and now that's gone."[37]


Fort Nelson Forestry

Fort Nelson is surrounded by vast plains and mountains of boreal forest. The relatively untouched timber supply was the contributing factor to companies such as Canfor constructing large factories that employed hundreds of people. In recent years, both the Canfor mill and the Tackama mill have completely ceased operations based on high costs and a struggling US housing market. The closure of the mills proved to be devastating for locals, displacing several hundreds of local employees and their families.[citation needed] At present, the municipal government is the largest employer in the region, based on its need for service roads, grant administration, and deforested operational land.


Although very seasonal in Fort Nelson, tourism continues to be an important economic sector in Fort Nelson's economy. Approximately 300,000 tourists, most of whom are retired RV travellers heading to or from Alaska, visit Fort Nelson on an annual basis.[39] The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is also home to several world-renowned tourist attractions such as the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, and the Alaska Highway. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, birdwatching and hiking are all popular outdoor recreational activities that draw thousands of tourists to the region every year. Due to coronavirus outbreak, the Northern Lights festival struggled to attract any tourist into the region in 2020. Organisers hope that the next year will have a better turnout.


Fort Nelson Heritage Museum located on the Alaska Highway

On 18 June 2005, people in Fort Nelson held a water balloon fight with over 40,000 water balloons being tossed in less than three minutes. At the time, it was a world record.[47]


Fort Nelson was originally incorporated as a village in 1971, but established itself as an unregistered community shortly before that. In 1960, based on significant growth in the oil and gas industry of the region, the Fort Nelson Improvement District was formed in order to provide community members with essential infrastructural needs such as water and sewer services. Harry Clarke was elected the first mayor of Fort Nelson in 1971 and since then, Fort Nelson has consistently elected one regional representative, although not always historically referred to as a mayor. In February 2009, citizens of the region voted heavily in favour of officially amalgamating the region's governing bodies into The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is the first of its kind in British Columbia.



The Fort Nelson General Hospital was constructed in 1944 and continues to serve the community.[48] As of 2012, citing a lack of a qualified physician, Northern Health advised all pregnant patients that they must travel to other regions (Fort St. John, Grande Prairie, Kelowna) to give birth. All expecting mothers are asked to sign a waiver of understanding. The travel fee and accommodation expenses are not reimbursed.[7]

Despite its small population, there are currently two operating pharmacies.[49]

Due to a shortage in nursing staff, the Fort Nelson General Hospital has advised the public to use the hospital for emergency medical services only.[50]


Fort Nelson is located along Highway 97 (Alaska Highway), south of the intersection with the Liard Highway (British Columbia Highway 77).

Sierra Yoyo Desan Road was the main oilfield road in the area starting in Fort Nelson and ending 188 km (117 mi) east north east. With numerous resource roads and winter ice roads entering Alberta through Rainbow Lake or Zama City.

In 2017, national broadcaster CBC said the highway was "one of the deadliest stretches of highway in the province." based on a 2015 Global News report.[7][51]

Greyhound Canada ceased to operate a bus depot in the community in 2018.[52][53] Since the departure of Greyhound, residents have found it increasingly difficult to gain access to medical appointments because BC Bus North only has once-weekly scheduled service to serve the community.[54]


The Fort Nelson Airport or Northern Rockies Regional Airport[55] is located 3.8 nautical miles (7.0 km; 4.4 mi) east northeast[56] of Fort Nelson. The airport is a Tier-2 regional airport facility in Canada. The only scheduled airline company serving the airport is Central Mountain Air, which has since reduced its service from seven days a week to six days a week and from five daily flights to only one daily trip. Passengers are only able to connect to the outside world via Prince George Airport. The Northern Rockies Regional Airport is designated as a non-secure airport and does not offer passenger screening.[57] A business case was proposed in 2015, but due to the lack of demand, the federal government did not approve the provision of Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents.[58] Charter flights are available to other Canadian destinations.


CN Rail operates a former BC Rail line that has its northern terminus in Fort Nelson. CN currently brings fuel bi-weekly to supply the area.


Fort Nelson is home to three public elementary schools (G.W. Carlson, and J.S. Clark, both grades K - 4, and R.L. Angus, grades 5 - 7) and one public high school (Fort Nelson Secondary School, grades 8 - 12), as well as an independent school owned and operated by the Fort Nelson First Nation (Chalo School). The Northern Lights College has a small campus situated in Fort Nelson that awards several trades certificates and diplomas to students.

School District 81 Fort Nelson registered the second highest decrease in overall enrolment in British Columbia. The total number of students has decreased by 12.5% since the 2015/16 school year, making the district a significant outlier in reduced enrolment, due to the collapse in population.[59]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Census Profile, 2016 Census Fort Nelson [Population centre], British Columbia and Northern Rockies, Regional municipality [Census subdivision], British Columbia". Statistics Canada. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  2. ^ Reaburn, Adam (21 February 2015). "Fort Nelson to change time one last time this March". Fort St. John. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Fort Nelson". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Archived from the original on 14 August 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  4. ^ "Statistics Relating to Regional and Municipal Governments in BC 2011" (PDF). Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. p. 21 of 30. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  5. ^ "Fort Nelson becomes B.C.'s first Regional Municipality". Brent Hodson. 10 February 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2009.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Northern Rockies". Northern Rockies. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d No maternity ward, unreliable medevac, dangerous roads: why doctors tell pregnant women to leave Fort Nelson
  8. ^ Peace region home values continue to drop as 2020 assessments mailed out
  9. ^ Fort Nelson house values drop nearly one third
  10. ^ Tumbler Ridge sees largest decline as 2016 property assessments released
  11. ^ "Northern Rockies & Alaska Highway". Destination British Columbia. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Fort Nelson History". Fort Nelson Museum. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  13. ^ "History of Northeastern British Columbia". Fort Nelson Public Library. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  14. ^ Northeast B.C. Rig Report - October 17
  15. ^ As forestry dies, a lumber town starts drilling
  16. ^ Gas industry downturn devastating Fort Nelson B.C.
  17. ^ Province’s caribou plan threatens forestry restart in the Northern Rockies
  18. ^ Fort Nelson Community Forest Community Forest Agreement Application and Management Plan No. 1 (v4)
  19. ^ Large power outage in Fort Nelson
  20. ^ Northwestel reporting major network outage for landline customers in Northern BC
  21. ^ Northwestel internet service restored for affected businesses and Whitehorse airport
  22. ^ 'Frustrated' wheelchair user calls for ramp at hot springs after he can no longer access pools
  23. ^ Shuttered Tackama Mill goes up in smoke
  24. ^ a b Sign of the times: Fort Nelson dollar store to close amid economic downturn
  25. ^ a b "Official Community Plan Bylaw". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  26. ^ a b "Canadian Climate Normals 1981-2010 Station Data". Environment Canada. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  27. ^ Northern Rockies Report Card on the shape of the community from census figures
  28. ^ LNG in an era of lower oil prices
  29. ^ a b As LNG promise fades, property assessments decline in B.C.'s north
  30. ^ a b Oil & gas crash makes enrolment projection difficult for Fort Nelson schools
  31. ^ Fort Nelson struggles to rebuild ‘devastated’ forestry sector
  32. ^ "Fort Nelson mayor on gas plant scale back: "We're at wit's end with jobs here"". 31 May 2017.
  33. ^ "Canfor closes Tackama plywood plant indefinitely". October 8, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved June 27, 2009.
  34. ^ Endurance will use more manpower than Encana
  35. ^ Caribou conservation, LNG development lock horns
  36. ^ NorthRiver Midstream completes purchase of Enbridge assets in Northeast B.C.
  37. ^ a b NorthRiver Midstream closes Fort Nelson Northern Complex
  38. ^ NorthRiver Midstream announces closure of Fort Nelson North Processing Facility
  39. ^ "Tourism". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  40. ^ "Fort Nelson Heritage Museum". 17 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  41. ^ Poplar Hills Golf & Country Club Club
  42. ^ Phoenix Theatre
  43. ^ Recreation Services
  44. ^ Events
  45. ^ Northern Lights Festival
  46. ^ Trade Show
  47. ^ "40,000 water balloons tossed in B.C. fight". CBC News. 20 June 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  48. ^ "Fort Nelson General Hospital celebrates 50 years". Northeast News. 8 October 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  49. ^ Find a Pharmacy or Registrant
  50. ^ Fort Nelson General Hospital experiencing nursing shortage: Northern Health
  51. ^ British Columbia’s 12 deadliest highways
  52. ^ Greyhound is leaving northern British Columbia: Here's what you need to know
  53. ^ Greyhound to cancel multiple northern B.C. routes
  54. ^ Greyhound's departure leaves 'gaping wound' in northern B.C. one year on
  55. ^ Fly Northern Rockies
  56. ^ Canada Flight Supplement. Effective 0901Z 16 July 2020 to 0901Z 10 September 2020.
  57. ^ Know Before You Go
  58. ^ From the “Bear Pit”
  59. ^ British Columbia School District Revenue and Expenditure Information 2019/2020

External links[edit]