Fort Nelson, British Columbia

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Fort Nelson
Mile 300, Fort Nelly
Fort Nelson, British Columbia is located in British Columbia
Fort Nelson, British Columbia
Location of Fort Nelson within the Northern Rockies District in British Columbia, 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
 • Total13.26 km2 (5.12 sq mi)
410 m (1,350 ft)
 • Total3,366
 • Density340.4/km2 (882/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC−7 (Mountain Time Zone[2])
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (not observed)
Postal code span
Area code(s)250 / 778 / 236
Highways Hwy 97
WebsiteNorthern 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 February 6, 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] Fort Nelson is home to 3,902 residents in 2011, representing 70% of the NRRM's total population of 5,578 in 2011.[1] Due to serious economic decline and lack of any major industry, Fort Nelson's population has dropped to 3,366 residents while the whole population of Northern Rockies Municipality has decreased to 4,831 in 2016.[7] Since the last census, vacancy rate for commercial space hovers around 60% while vacancy rate for residential properties is at 50%.[8]

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.[9][10][11] The forests surrounding Fort Nelson are part of Canada's boreal forest. Fort Nelson is on the southwest edge of the Greater Sierra oil & gas field.

Currently, due to a lack of qualified physician, Northern Health advised all pregnant patients that they must travel to other regions (eg Fort St John, Grande Prairie, Kelowna) to give birth to their babies. All expecting mothers are asked to sign a waiver of understanding. The travel fee and accommodation expenses are not reimbursed.[12]


Fort Nelson, named in honour of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, was established by the Northwest Trading Company in 1805 as a fur-trading post.[13] Due to fires, floods and feuds, Fort Nelson is in its fifth location. The Fort Nelson Airport played a key role in developing Fort Nelson as a community. Yukon Southern Air Transport began chartering flights to the regional airport in 1935.

World War II[edit]

The Fort Nelson Airport was also 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 Saint John to Fort Nelson.[14]

Alaska Highway[edit]

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 lengthy and strenuous months, the highway was finally completed, making Fort Nelson a bustling service-center along the famous 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.[15]

Post-World War II[edit]

In the years following World War II, the construction of the Alaska Highway, and the construction of the Fort Nelson Airport, Fort Nelson grew considerably as a community.[citation needed] 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. The 1960s also had Fort Nelson's education system offer grades 1-12 education. After the completion of BC Hydro's natural-gas power plant to provide electricity to the region, Fort Nelson experienced true[citation needed] growth. A railway was built by the Pacific Great Eastern 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. Unfortunately, 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 this efficient channel to ship commodity to vital markets, hindering any possible revival in the local economy.

Post Millenium[edit]

Despite early optimism, the twenty-first century spells great misfortune for this small town. Population significantly reduced from a peak of over 5500 residents to the present day estimate of 2,500. 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.[16] 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. [17] Many businesses have closed down, including the only lawyer in town, [18] and residents have left en mass due to foreclosures and job losses. The boreal protection initiative, with strong support of local first nations and the quiescence of newly elected mayor Gary Foster have further curtailed the potential logging quota and possible area for new gas well development. [19]

Lack of access to maternal care has deterred many young professionals to relocate for work. [20] Recently, frequent outage in electrical power [21],telephone service [22] and internet access [23][24] have put the municipality's basic infrastructure in serious question. Lack of basic infrastructure, including user-friendly facilities, have deterred many tourists from enjoying local attractions. [25] The triple homicide in the summer of 2019 has attracted international media attention from as far as Australia and has hampered the local tourism industry.[26] Local residents tell the national broadcaster CBC that they are feeling unsafe to live in the region. [27] Aside from triple homicide, other incidences of increasing gun violence have disrupted the education system. [28]


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.[29]

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.[29]

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 snow depth of only 0.5 metres (19.7 in) typical owing to the dryness of the 1.77-metre (69.69 in) snowfall, while summers are warm and occasionally rainy, though spells of hot weather are rare.

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
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: [30]


In the 2011 Census, the dissolved Town of Fort Nelson had a population of 3,902 living in 1,585 of its 1,804 total dwellings, a -13.6% change from its 2006 population of 4,514. With a land area of 13.26 km2 (5.12 sq mi), it had a population density of 294.27/km2 (762.2/sq mi) in 2011.[1]

In 2005, Fort Nelson's median household income was $83,188, which is above the British Columbian provincial average of $52,709.[31] Fort Nelson is the home to a very diverse group of residents with approximately 14% of the community's residents being of Aboriginal identity.[31] Fort Nelson has also seen a large increase in the number of foreigners coming to the community, with substantial increases in number of residents from the Philippines.[citation needed] Fort Nelson is a fairly young community in comparison to the rest of the province, with 30.7% of the population being under the age of 19.[31] Approximately 44% of Fort Nelson residents over the age of 15 have attained an education beyond a high school certificate or equivalent in the forms of trades, colleges, or universities.[31]

Historical populations


Due to major decrease in oil price in 2014[32] and lack of pipeline access to the lucrative Asian market, the abundant natural gas in the Horn River Basin remains untapped.[33][34] 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.[35][36] Before 2014, Natural gas, forestry, tourism and agriculture made up the majority of local industry. Nowadays,the town heavily relies upon the government sector.

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 centers 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.[37] 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 caribou protection initiative also significantly curtailed the area allowed for gas extraction, further dampening investor interest.[38]


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. 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 Hot Springs, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, and the Alaska Highway. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, bird watching and hiking are all popular outdoor recreational activities that draw thousands of tourists to the region every year. However, the recent triple homicide has forced the RCMP to issue travel warning to the region. Locals have reported to the national broadcaster CBC that they are "living in fear". [40]


Fort Nelson Heritage Museum located on the Alaska Highway

On 18 June 2005, people in Fort Nelson held a water balloon fight with over 40000 water balloons being tossed in less than three minutes. At the time, it was a world record.[42]


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.



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

(SYD) Sierra Yoyo Desan Road. Was the main Oilfield road in the area starting in Fort Nelson and ending 188 km east north east. With numerous PDRs and (winter ice roads entering Alberta through Rainbow lake or Zama City.

In a recent petition to apply for maternity care coverage in Fort Nelson, the director of the local literacy director has characterized the road condition as "dangerous" to the national broadcaster CBC.[43][44]

Greyhound Canada ceased to operate a bus depot in the community in 2018.[45][46] Locals have reported that the ridership have decreased dramatically by 51% after the 2014 crash in oil price.


The Fort Nelson Regional Airport (YYE) is located about 8 km northeast of Fort Nelson. The airport is a Tier-2 regional airport facility in Canada. The only airline company serving the airport is Central Mountain Air, which has since reduced its service from 7 days a week to 6 days a week and from 5 daily flights to only 1 daily trip. Passengers are only able to connect to the outside world via Prince George Airport (YXS) because currently, the Northern Rockies Regional Airport is currently designated as a non-secure airport and does not offer passenger screening.[47] A business case was proposed since 2015, but unfortunately, due to the lack of demand, the federal government did not approve the provision of CBSA agents.[48]


CN Rail previously operated a former BC Rail line that had its northern terminus in Fort Nelson, but it had ceased service since the closure of the Canfor mill.


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.


  1. ^ a b c d "Census Profile - Fort Nelson, Town, British Columbia (Dissolved census subdivision) and Northern Rockies, RD, British Columbia (Census division)". Statistics Canada. November 2, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  2. ^ Reaburn, Adam (February 21, 2015). "Fort Nelson to change time one last time this March". Fort St. John. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Fort Nelson". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ "Statistics Relating to Regional and Municipal Governments in BC 2011" (PDF). Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. p. 21 of 30. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
  5. ^ "Fort Nelson becomes B.C.'s first Regional Municipality". Brent Hodson. February 10, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-27.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Northern Rockies". Northern Rockies. Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved 2012-06-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
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  9. ^ "Fort Nelson mayor on gas plant scale back: "We're at wit's end with jobs here"". 2017-05-31.
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  11. ^ "Canfor closes Tackama plywood plant indefinitely". October 8, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved June 27, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Destination British Columbia Retrieved 26 August 2016. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ "Fort Nelson History". Fort Nelson Museum. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  15. ^ "History of Northeastern British Columbia". Fort Nelson Public Library. Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2012-06-11. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
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  21. ^
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  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b "Official Community Plan Bylaw". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  30. ^ "Calculation Information for 1981 to 2010 Canadian Normals Data". Environment Canada. Archived from the original on June 13, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  31. ^ a b c d "2006 Community Profiles: Fort Nelson, British Columbia (Town) and British Columbia (Province)". Statistics Canada. December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 6, 2012.
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  39. ^ "Tourism". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  40. ^
  41. ^ "Fort Nelson Heritage Museum". 2009-01-17. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  42. ^ "40000 water balloons tossed in B.C. fight". CBC News. June 20, 2005. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
  43. ^
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  47. ^
  48. ^"screening airport"

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