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)
 • Total3,902
 • 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, representing 70% of the NRRM's total population of 5,578.[1]

The majority of Fort Nelson's economic activity has historically been concentrated in the energy and tourism industries, and until recently, forestry.[7] 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.


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.[8] 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.[9]

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 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.[10]

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, oil, and gas) to larger markets in the south.


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.[11]

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.[11]

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: [12]


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.[13] Fort Nelson is the home to a very diverse group of residents with approximately 14% of the community's residents being of Aboriginal identity.[13] 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.[13] 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.[13]

Historical populations


Due to major increases and improvements to the oil and gas industry in the Horn River Basin, Fort Nelson has experienced substantial growth in recent years. Natural gas, forestry, tourism and agriculture make up the majority of local industry.

Natural gas[edit]

Unconventional gas exploration is 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 are operating in the region, including EnCana, Nexen, Apache, Imperial Oil, and several more. 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 and social effects of the industry on the surrounding area. Large amounts of water are being extracted, most of which is withdrawn from nearby lakes and rivers, which continues to be a hot topic in the region and within the oil and gas industry.


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 oil and gas industry is responsible for the majority of forestry operations currently in progress in the region, based on its need for service roads 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.[14] 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.


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.[16]


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.

Greyhound Canada operates a bus depot in the community.


The Fort Nelson Regional Airport (YYE) is located about 8 km northeast of Fort Nelson. The airport is one of the fastest growing regional airport facilities in Canada. Fully serviced by Central Mountain Air, 7 days a week and up to 5 flights a day, passengers are able to connect to international markets through Edmonton (YEG), Calgary (YYC) and Vancouver (YVR) international airports.


CN Rail operates a former BC Rail line that has its northern terminus in Fort Nelson. It runs one train weekly.[citation needed]


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.
  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.
  7. ^ "Canfor closes Tackama plywood plant indefinitely". October 8, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved June 27, 2009.
  8. ^ Destination British Columbia Retrieved 26 August 2016. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "Fort Nelson History". Fort Nelson Museum. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  10. ^ "History of Northeastern British Columbia". Fort Nelson Public Library. Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
  11. ^ a b "Official Community Plan Bylaw". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  12. ^ "Calculation Information for 1981 to 2010 Canadian Normals Data". Environment Canada. Archived from the original on June 13, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Tourism". Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Fort Nelson Heritage Museum". 2009-01-17. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  16. ^ "40000 water balloons tossed in B.C. fight". CBC News. June 20, 2005. Retrieved 2015-10-07.

External links[edit]