Nelson, British Columbia

Nelson, British Columbia
This page is about the city of Nelson, British Columbia. For the provincial electoral districts Nelson (electoral district), Nelson City (provincial electoral district), Nelson-Creston and other ridings in the West Kootenay area, please see Kootenay (electoral districts).
Nelson, British Columbia

Nickname(s): The Queen City
Motto: "Forge Ahead"
Location of City of Nelson within the Central Kootenay in British Columbia, Canada
Country Canada
Province British Columbia
Regional District Central Kootenay
Incorporated 1897
 – Mayor John Dooley
 – Governing body Nelson City Council
 – MP Alex Atamanenko (NDP)
 – MLA Michelle Mungall (NDP)
 – Land 11.72 km2 (4.5 sq mi)
Elevation 535 m (1,755 ft)
Population (2006[citation needed])
 – Total 9,258
 – Density 789.6/km2 (2,045.1/sq mi)
Time zone PST (UTC−8)
 – Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
Postal code span V1L
Area code(s) 250
Flag of Canada.svg

Nelson is a city located in the Selkirk Mountains on the extreme 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 British Columbia Southern Interior. Highway 3A passes through Nelson, while a scheduled commercial airline service is available at the Castlegar Airport, approximately 43 kilometres south-west of the city.



The West 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 boomed 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.

The town soon matured from a false-fronted boom town to a sophisticated city.[citation needed] Francis Rattenbury, a noted 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. 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.

During the Vietnam War, many American draft dodgers 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 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 covers of aluminum siding.

Baker Street

Baker Street early in the morning

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 great success. 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 major 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 largely 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.


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
Average high °C (°F) −0.2
Average low °C (°F) −7.1
Record low °C (°F) −31.7
Precipitation mm (inches) 94
Snowfall cm (inches) 55.1
Source: Environment Canada[1]

Nelson today

Nelson has earned a reputation as a cultural centre.[citation needed] The downtown area is packed with good restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, local shops, small art galleries, the restored Capitol Theatre and impromptu theatre venues. The city is about forty-five minutes away from the site of the annual Shambhala Music Festival, an internationally known artistic music festival held in August at the Salmo River Ranch. It is also home to the Whitewater Ski Resort, the Nelson Brewing Company (a regional microbrewery), and the restored Capitol Theatre (a regional hub for the performing arts).

As with many communities in British Columbia, Nelson has experienced a real-estate boom.[citation needed] Over the last few years,[when?] real-estate prices have skyrocketed, putting ownership out of reach for less affluent residents.[citation needed] Nelsonites are proud of their community's "small town" feel, which has remained relatively free of the chain stores, franchises and strip-mall developments that are common in other towns of similar size. Despite this, there are a number of US mega-retailers operating in the city, including Wal-Mart, KFC, Quizno's and Subway. However, Nelson does not have a McDonald's.[citation needed] There has been a push[by whom?] for residents to buy from local businesses, as opposed to supporting large corporations.[citation needed]

For its geographic scale, the Central Kootenay region (in which Nelson is situated) has an uncommonly high number of organic farms, market gardens, and home gardens. Many Nelson residents grow decorative or food gardens (or both). The town has several outlets for natural foods, including a year-round co-op market.

Nelson is also an alternative lifestyles hot spot noted for its profitable (albeit unlawful) marijuana production, with The Guardian reporting 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."[2] Hemp clothes and cannabis-related products are sold in local stores.[citation needed]


Nelson is home to the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio, a cooperative community radio station started by local volunteers. It has two commercial stations, 103.5 The Bridge, owned by Vista Radio, and All-Hit KBS, owned by Astral Media.

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 July 16, 2010.[3] The closure occurred shortly after the Nelson Daily News' acquisition by Black Press, which purchased the paper from Glacier Media Inc.[4][5]

Black Press owns the Nelson Star, now published twice weekly.


Cultural activities abound in Nelson. Set in the natural beauty of the Selkirks, many artists and writers make Nelson their home. Nelson is highlighted as the "Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada" by the publisher of The 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America,[citation needed] and is home to a large and diverse artisan community.[citation needed] Artwalk[clarification needed] features local talent.[citation needed] July, August and September mark three months of exhibitions throughout the downtown core in 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 and artwork for locals and visitors to enjoy as they stroll through downtown Nelson.[citation needed] Nelson also has regular farmer's markets where local artisans can be found selling a unique and diverse variety of arts, crafts and imports.[citation needed]

Two local hiking trails are popular. The Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail is a very gently sloped rail trail which runs across Nelson and allows biking.[citation needed]

The Pulpit Rock Trail offers a short but somewhat challenging hike that ends in a beautiful 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 which are visible from 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 trail head, 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, two double chairlifts and a handle tow), to 396 vertical metres of beginner to advanced terrain. The resort also provides access to hundreds of kilometres of off-piste skiing and back country touring. The Nelson area is home to over 20 cat-skiing, heli-skiing and ski-touring operators, and hundreds of kilometres of cross-country trails are available for the Nordic skier.[citation needed]

Mountain biking is part of the local culture, and Nelson offers a wide variety of MTB-oriented trails for all levels of experience. Excellent trail maps are available at local bike shops.[citation needed]

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. Mountaineers and alpine rock climbers head to the Valhalla Provincial Park in the Selkirk Mountains for long alpine routes on unique textured granite.[citation needed] The Mulvey Basin, Cougar Creek[6] and Nemo Creek areas have routes ranging in grade from 5.4 to 5.12.[citation needed]

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.


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

Notable residents


External links

Coordinates: 49°30′0″N 117°17′0″W / 49.5°N 117.283333°W / 49.5; -117.283333

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