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Nelson, British Columbia

Coordinates: 49°30′0″N 117°17′0″W / 49.50000°N 117.28333°W / 49.50000; -117.28333
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The Corporation of the City of Nelson
Historic Baker Street
Historic Baker Street
Coat of arms of Nelson
Official logo of Nelson
The Queen City
"Forge Ahead"
Nelson is located in British Columbia
Location of City of Nelson within British Columbia, Canada
Coordinates: 49°30′0″N 117°17′0″W / 49.50000°N 117.28333°W / 49.50000; -117.28333
ProvinceBritish Columbia
Regional districtCentral Kootenay
 • TypeElected city council
 • MayorJanice Morrison
 • Governing bodyNelson City Council
 • MPRob Morrison (CPC)
 • MLABrittny Anderson (BC NDP)
 • Land11.93 km2 (4.61 sq mi)
535 m (1,755 ft)
 • Total10,664
 • Density1,552.3/km2 (4,020/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC−8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
Forward sortation area
Area code(s)250, 778, 236, 672
Highways Hwy 6
Hwy 3A
Websitenelson.ca Edit this at Wikidata

Nelson is a city located in the Selkirk Mountains on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada. Known as "The Queen City" and acknowledged for its impressive collection of restored heritage buildings from its glory days in a regional silver rush, Nelson is one of the three cities forming the commercial and population core of the West Kootenay region, the others being Castlegar and Trail. The city is the seat of the Regional District of Central Kootenay. It is represented in the provincial legislature by the riding of Nelson-Creston, and in the Parliament of Canada by the riding of Kootenay—Columbia.



The western Kootenay region of British Columbia, where the city of Nelson is situated, is part of the traditional territories of the Sinixt (or Lakes) and Ktunaxa (Kutenai) peoples.

Gold and silver were found in the area in 1867. Following the discovery of silver at nearby Toad Mountain in 1886, the town's population grew quickly, leading to incorporation in 1897. Two railways were built to pass through Nelson. Due to its location near transportation corridors, Nelson grew to supply the local mining activity and soon became a transportation and distribution centre for the region.

Nelson was named in 1888 after Hugh Nelson, then Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.[2]

Early 20th century[edit]

Nelson, 1900

Francis Rattenbury, an architect most noted in British Columbia for the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, the Vancouver Provincial Courthouse, and the second Hotel Vancouver, designed chateau-style civic buildings made of granite, which stand today. By the 1900s, Nelson boasted several fine hotels, a Hudson's Bay Company store and an electric streetcar system. The local forestry and mining industries were well established.

The town built its own hydroelectric generating system.[3] English immigrants planted lakeside orchards, and Doukhobors from Russia, sponsored by Tolstoy and the Quakers, tilled the valley benchlands. The Doukhobor museum is located nearby, close to the neighbouring town of Castlegar.

Nelson 1917-1920 used Single transferable vote (STV), a form of proportional representation, to elect its councillors. Councillors were elected in one at-large district. Each voter casts just a single vote using a ranked transferable ballot.

During the Vietnam War, many American draft evaders settled in Nelson and the surrounding area. This influx of liberal, mostly educated young people had a significant impact on the area's cultural and political demographics.

Nelson's mountainous geography kept growth confined to the narrow valley bottom, except for certain hillside structures such as the local High School and the former Notre Dame University College (NDU) campus. Throughout the '60s and '70s, when more prosperous cities were tearing down and rebuilding their downtowns to the design of the time, Nelson merchants 'modernized' their buildings with aluminum siding.

Baker Street[edit]

In the early 1980s, Nelson suffered a devastating economic downturn when the local Kootenay Forest Products sawmill was closed. Downtown merchants were already suffering from the opening of a large, regional shopping centre on Nelson's central waterfront, the Chahko Mika Mall. At the time, Victoria and Vancouver were experimenting with historical restorations of their oldest areas, with some success.[citation needed] To save downtown and Baker Street from blight, Nelson quickly followed suit, stripping aluminum facades and restoring the buildings to their original brilliance. Local designer Bob Inwood, one of Nelson's many American immigrants, played a significant role as a consultant. By 1985, Baker Street was completely transformed. Affirmation of the street's success came in 1986 when Steve Martin chose to produce his feature film Roxanne primarily in Nelson, using the local fire hall as a primary set and many historic locations for others. More broadly, the transformation marked the beginning of Nelson's ongoing transition from a resource-based town to an arts and tourism town. A walk down Baker Street through the Historic District is now one of Nelson's promoted visitor activities.



Nelson has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb) with four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and snowy, while summers are warm and drier with cool temperatures during the night.

Climate data for South Slocan (~20km West of Nelson)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 10.0
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) −0.2
Daily mean °C (°F) −3.7
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) −7.1
Record low °C (°F) −31.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 94.0
Average rainfall mm (inches) 39.0
Average snowfall cm (inches) 55.1
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm) 14.1 12.7 13.3 12.5 13.7 13.2 10.0 8.8 8.6 11.3 15.1 14.6 147.8
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 6.8 8.9 12.4 12.5 13.7 13.2 10.0 8.8 8.6 11.2 12.2 5.7 123.9
Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm) 9.2 4.8 1.8 0.24 0 0 0 0 0 0.38 4.9 10.2 31.5
Source: Environment Canada[4]


In the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Nelson had a population of 11,106 living in 4,948 of its 5,314 total private dwellings, a change of 5.1% from its 2016 population of 10,572. With a land area of 11.93 km2 (4.61 sq mi), it had a population density of 930.9/km2 (2,411.1/sq mi) in 2021.[5]

Nelson's poverty rate has been ascertained to be more than twice the provincial and national averages.[6]


Panethnic groups in the City of Nelson (2001−2021)
2021[7] 2016[8] 2011[9] 2006[10] 2001[11]
Pop. % Pop. % Pop. % Pop. % Pop. %
European[a] 9,135 85.17% 9,160 89.32% 9,270 92.89% 8,440 92.9% 8,690 94.82%
Indigenous 585 5.45% 560 5.46% 425 4.26% 300 3.3% 175 1.91%
East Asian[b] 275 2.56% 210 2.05% 165 1.65% 165 1.82% 165 1.8%
South Asian 245 2.28% 85 0.83% 55 0.55% 90 0.99% 35 0.38%
Southeast Asian[c] 215 2% 70 0.68% 0 0% 10 0.11% 10 0.11%
Latin American 90 0.84% 60 0.59% 25 0.25% 30 0.33% 10 0.11%
African 80 0.75% 60 0.59% 15 0.15% 30 0.33% 25 0.27%
Middle Eastern[d] 10 0.09% 10 0.1% 0 0% 0 0% 35 0.38%
Other/Multiracial[e] 75 0.7% 55 0.54% 0 0% 25 0.28% 30 0.33%
Total responses 10,725 96.57% 10,255 97% 9,980 97.56% 9,085 98.13% 9,165 98.57%
Total population 11,106 100% 10,572 100% 10,230 100% 9,258 100% 9,298 100%
Note: Totals greater than 100% due to multiple origin responses


According to the 2021 census, religious groups in Nelson included:[7]


Traditionally, the economy of Nelson and the surrounding area has been primarily resource-based (forestry, in particular). This sector still represents a component of the area’s employment. Nelson is also a provincial administrative center for the Kootenays, and a number of regional and district offices of the provincial government have been centralized in Nelson, as well as some Federal offices. Tourism has been of growing importance to the city.[12]

There are many fine craftspeople living in the Nelson region, and the city’s retail sector includes outlets for the sales of their creations.

In recent decades, Nelson and its region had been noted for illegal marijuana production, with The Guardian reporting in 2010 that:

Nelson was able to make the transition from a typical rural lumber town into a thriving arts and mountain sports hotbed, due in part to the wealth generated by marijuana growers. If one were to have spent the last three years in this idyllic mountain hamlet, the economic crisis would have been barely noticeable.[13]

Nelson has several retail outlets for natural foods, including a year-round market specializing in these products. A local news source claimed the Kootenay Country Co-op is "the largest independent member-owned natural food store in Canada and a respected player nationally in organic retail circles."[14] The Save-On-Foods in Nelson is that company's leading store for organic and natural foods.[15]

The Nelson Brewing Company is a microbrewery in Nelson.

Arts and culture[edit]

Nelson is noted as a cultural centre.[16][17]

Nelson has benefited from art education opportunities for many decades. While high-school-level art classes had always existed, in 1960, art instruction became more centralized when the post-secondary Nelson School of Fine Art opened. After this closed in 1977, it was succeeded in 1979 by offerings from the University of Victoria-sponsored David Thompson University Centre, located in the buildings of Nelson’s former Notre Dame University. In 1991, the Kootenay School of the Arts opened. It was an independent institution featuring fine crafts. In 2006, it was absorbed by Selkirk College and renamed Kootenay Studio Arts. In addition, Selkirk College offers another respected department, its School of Music & Media, in the former Notre Dame buildings.

The independent artists-run Oxygen Art Centre developed out of the Nelson Fine Art Centre Society (founded in 2002) by former writing and visual art faculty from the Kootenay School of the Arts. In 2005, the Society opened the Oxygen Art Centre in downtown Nelson, offering classes, exhibitions, and residencies.


In 1998, Nelson was highlighted as the "Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada" by the publisher of The 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America,[18] and is home to a large and diverse artisan community.[18]

The annual Artwalk, a display of artwork at various venues around town, features local talent where trippers and artwalkers (as the locals call them) can get an up close and personal look at the studios and creative processes of local artisans. July, August and September mark three months of exhibitions throughout the downtown core in a variety of galleries and local businesses. Each month has a separate grand opening, (usually the first Friday evening of the month), which includes refreshments, musicians, pan-handlers and artwork for locals and visitors to enjoy as they stroll through downtown Nelson.

Nelson Marketfest

The Nelson Farmers Market located at Cottonwood Falls Park takes place every Saturday from May through October. The Downtown Farmers Market happens on Baker Street every Wednesday from June through September. Market Night, a lively nighttime street market in the heart of Nelson's downtown, happens twice each summer. The markets all offer regional farm produce, delicious foods, and a variety of locally hand-crafted products.[citation needed]

Two local hiking trails are popular. The Pulpit Rock Trail offers a short but somewhat challenging hike that ends with a view of the city. After Pulpit Rock the trail continues up the spine of Elephant Mountain (as the locals call it) to more postcard views, and eventually to the radio towers visible everywhere in the city. Hikers venturing beyond Pulpit Rock should have basic wilderness gear and exercise common sense. Public access to the Pulpit Rock trail has been restored with the opening, in the spring of 2009, of a new access point several hundred metres west of the old trailhead, which was on private land.[citation needed]

In the winter, skiing and snowboarding are Nelson's primary outdoor activities. Thirty minutes south of town is the Whitewater Ski Resort, which provides access, (via one triple chairlift, one double chairlift, one quad chairlift, and a handle tow), to 396 vertical metres (1,299 ft) of beginner to advanced terrain. The resort also provides access to hundreds of kilometres of off-piste skiing and back-country touring. In 2012, Nelson and Rossland, a small city southwest of Nelson, were jointly voted the best ski locales in North America by the readers of California-based Powder magazine.

Mountain biking is part of the local culture, and Nelson offers a wide variety of MTB-oriented trails for all experience levels.

Rock climbing is also a popular summer activity. Kootenay Crag, Hall Siding, Grohman Narrows and CIC Bluffs are popular city crags. Slocan Bluffs and Kinnaird are in nearby Slocan City and Castlegar. 2003 saw bouldering take off in Nelson, with extensive new development of bouldering areas in Grohman Narrows and nearby Robson.

Nelson is also located close to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

On January 13, 2007, Nelson was the broadcast location for the annual Hockey Day in Canada special.


Club League Sport Venue Established Championships
Nelson Leafs KIJHL Ice Hockey Nelson Community Complex 1968 5



The "Big Orange Bridge" carries Highway 3A over the Kootenay Lake (West Arm) just north of downtown.

Highways 3A and 6 pass through Nelson, while a scheduled commercial airline service is available at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar, approximately 43 kilometres (27 mi) southwest of the city. Trail Airport is another airport which is also nearby, while Nelson Airport is several blocks away from downtown Nelson. Public transit in Nelson is provided by the West Kootenay Transit System, which runs several routes within the city and to neighbouring communities.

Both Level 2 and Level 3 (DC fast-charging) electric vehicle charging stations have been installed in the city. A carsharing service is available in the city through the Kootenay Carshare Co-operative

Nelson is served by the freight-only Kootenay Valley Railway, an internal business unit of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Nelson is the historic headquarters of the CPR Kootenay Division, serving as the meeting point of the CPR Boundary subdivision running towards Castlegar, BC, and the CPR Nelson subdivision running towards Cranbrook.


School District 8 Kootenay Lake operates public schools in Nelson and surrounding communities.

Nelson Christian Community School. NCCS. K-Gr.8

St. Joseph's Catholic School

The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique operates one French-language school: école des Sentiers-alpins.[19]

Nelson is home to the Tenth Street, and Silver King campuses of Selkirk College, which absorbed Kootenay School of the Arts as a department, and was renamed Kootenay Studio Arts.

Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health Sciences has three campus locations on Baker Street in Nelson.




The Nelson Daily News was a local newspaper which began publishing in 1902. In 2010, it was announced the paper would shut down following a final edition to be published on July 16, 2010.[20] The closure occurred shortly after the Nelson Daily News' acquisition by Black Press, which purchased the paper from Glacier Media Inc.[21][22]

Black Press owns the Nelson Star, which is now published weekly.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statistic includes all persons that did not makeup part of a visible minority or an indigenous identity.
  2. ^ Statistic includes total responses of "Chinese", "Korean", and "Japanese" under visible minority section on census.
  3. ^ Statistic includes total responses of "Filipino" and "Southeast Asian" under visible minority section on the census.
  4. ^ Statistic includes total responses of "West Asian" and "Arab" under visible minority section on the census.
  5. ^ Statistic includes total responses of "Visible minority, n.i.e." and "Multiple visible minorities" under visible minority section on census.


  1. ^ Census Profile, 2016 Census - Nelson Population centre, British Columbia and British Columbia
  2. ^ Hamilton, William (1978). The Macmillan Book of Canadian Place Names. Toronto: Macmillan. p. 46. ISBN 0-7715-9754-1.
  3. ^ "A History of Hydro-Electric Power in Nelson". City of Nelson. Retrieved 2022-06-18.
  4. ^ "South Slocan, British Columbia". Canadian Climate Normals 1971–2000 (in English and French). Environment Canada. Retrieved January 26, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Population and dwelling counts: Canada, provinces and territories, and census subdivisions (municipalities), British Columbia". Statistics Canada. February 9, 2022. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  6. ^ "Nelson’s Poverty Rate Nearly Double" Nelson Star, 2021/08/06
  7. ^ a b Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2022-10-26). "Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2022-11-09.
  8. ^ Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2021-10-27). "Census Profile, 2016 Census". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  9. ^ Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2015-11-27). "NHS Profile". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  10. ^ Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2019-08-20). "2006 Community Profiles". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  11. ^ Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2019-07-02). "2001 Community Profiles". www12.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  12. ^ "Nelson Statistics - Seasonal Temperatures - Investment Opportunities & Location".
  13. ^ Haddow, Douglas (5 August 2010). "Marijuana may cause Canada's economic comedown". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  14. ^ Metcalfe, Bill "Local Food Co-p Becomes Big Time Developer" The Tyee, 2013/07/31.
  15. ^ Johnson, Will January 4, 2017 Nelson Star, vol. 9, issue 51, pp. A2-A3
  16. ^ "Visual and Public Art". Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  17. ^ Milner, Marie (16 June 2017). "Attracted by Nelson's art". Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  18. ^ a b Villani, John 1998 100 Best Small Art Towns In America. Emeryville, Calif: Avalon Travel Publishers.
  19. ^ "Carte des écoles Archived 2015-08-17 at the Wayback Machine." Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britanique. Retrieved on 22 January 2015.
  20. ^ Payne, Colin (12 July 2010). "Final Edition". Nelson Daily News. Retrieved 12 July 2010. [dead link]
  21. ^ "B.C. newspapers closing". The Vancouver Sun. 6 July 2010. Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  22. ^ Davidson, Darren (6 July 2010). "After 109 years, NDN's run over". Nelson Daily News. Archived from the original on July 10, 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010.

External links[edit]