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Nelson, British Columbia


Nelson, British Columbia

The Corporation of the City of Nelson
Historic Baker Street
Historic Baker Street
Coat of arms of Nelson
Coat of arms
Official logo of Nelson
Nickname(s): The Queen City
Motto: "Forge Ahead"
Nelson is located in British Columbia
Location of City of Nelson within British Columbia, Canada
Country Canada
Province British Columbia
Regional District Central Kootenay
Incorporated 1897
 • Type Elected city council
 • Mayor Deb Kozak
 • Governing body Nelson City Council
 • MP Alex Atamanenko (NDP)
 • MLA Michelle Mungall (BC NDP)
 • Land 11.93 km2 (4.61 sq mi)
Elevation 535 m (1,755 ft)
Population (2011[1])
 • Total 10,230
 • Density 857.7/km2 (2,221/sq mi)
Time zone PST (UTC−8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC−7)
Postal code span V1L
Area code(s) 250, 778

Nelson (Sinixt: k'iya'lmup,[2] Ktunaxa: ʔaqyamǂup[3]) 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.


  • History 1
    • Baker Street 1.1
  • Demographics 2
  • Climate 3
  • Culture 4
    • Media 4.1
      • Radio 4.1.1
      • Print 4.1.2
  • Transportation 5
  • Activities 6
  • Education 7
  • Sports 8
  • Notable residents 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


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. 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. 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 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 covers of aluminum siding.

Baker Street

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.


Canada 2014 Census Population % of Total Population
Visible minority group
Chinese 140 1.4%
South Asian 90 0.6%
Black 30 0.2%
Filipino 14 0%
Latin American 25 0.3%
Southeast Asian 0 0%
Arab 0 0%
West Asian 0 0%
Korean 0 0%
Japanese 25 0.3%
Other visible minority 30 0.3%
Mixed visible minority 0 0%
Total visible minority population 290 2.9%
Aboriginal group
First Nations 245 2.5%
Métis 265 2.7%
Inuit 0 0%
Total Aboriginal population 510 5.1%
White 9,180 92%
Total population 9,980 100%


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
Average high °C (°F) −0.2
Daily mean °C (°F) −3.7
Average low °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[6]


Nelson has earned a reputation as a cultural centre.[7] The downtown area is packed with good restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, local shops, small art galleries, the restored Capitol Theatre (a regional hub for the performing arts) 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 and the Nelson Brewing Company (a regional microbrewery).

As with many communities in British Columbia, Nelson experienced a real-estate boom. In the early 2000s, real-estate prices skyrocketed, putting ownership out of reach for less affluent residents.[7]

Nelson has remained relatively free of the chain stores, franchises and strip-mall developments that are common in other towns of similar size, which lends to a distinct townscape.

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."[8] Hemp clothes and cannabis-related products are sold in local stores.




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.[9] The closure occurred shortly after the Nelson Daily News' acquisition by Black Press, which purchased the paper from Glacier Media Inc.[10][11]

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


Highways 3A and 6 pass through Nelson, while a scheduled commercial airline service is available at the West Kootenay Regional Airport, approximately 43 kilometres south-west of the city. Nelson Airport is several blocks away from downtown Nelson.


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,[12] and is home to a large and diverse artisan community.[12] The annual Artwalk, a display of artwork at various venues around town features local talent. 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.

Nelson Marketfest

Nelson features several regular outdoor markets where artisans and farmers can be found selling everything from local produce, poultry and farm-fresh eggs to handcrafted jewelry, pottery and clothes. These markets are all run by the West Kootenay EcoSociety. The Cottonwood Community Market, located at Cottonwood Falls Park, takes place every Saturday from May through October. The Downtown Local Market happens on Baker Street every Wednesday from June through September. Marketfest, a lively nighttime street market in the heart of Nelson's downtown, happens on the last Friday of the month in June, July, and August. The markets all offer regional farm produce, delicious foods, and a stunning variety of locally hand-crafted products.

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. 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.

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. In 2012 Nelson and Rossland, a small city south-west of Nelson, were jointly voted best ski locales in North America by 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 levels of experience. Excellent trail maps are available at local bike shops.

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. The Mulvey Basin, Cougar Creek[13] and Nemo Creek areas have routes ranging in grade from 5.4 to 5.12.

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.


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

The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique operates one French-language school: école des Sentiers-alpins.[14]

Nelson is home to the Tenth Street and Silver King campuses of Selkirk College.


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

Notable residents

See also


  1. ^ "(Code 5903015) Census Profile".   Retrieved 2012-06-22
  2. ^ Pryce, Paula, 'Keeping the lakes Way, quoting Verne Ray, p155
  3. ^ "FirstVoices: Nature / Environment - place names: words. Ktunaxa.". Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  4. ^ "Community Profiles from the 2011 Census, Statistics Canada - Census Subdivision". 2013-07-09. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  5. ^ "Aboriginal Peoples - Data table". 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  6. ^ "South Slocan, British Columbia". Canadian Climate Normals 1971–2000 (in English and French). Environment Canada. Retrieved January 26, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Nelson British Columbia". Retrieved April 8, 2012. 
  8. ^ Haddow, Douglas (5 August 2010). "Marijuana may cause Canada's economic comedown".  
  9. ^ Payne, Colin (12 July 2010). "Final Edition". Nelson Daily News. Retrieved 12 July 2010. 
  10. ^ "B.C. newspapers closing".  
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b Villani, John 1998 100 Best Small Art Towns In America. Emeryville, Calif: Avalon Travel Publishers.
  13. ^ Cougar Creek,
  14. ^ "Carte des écoles." Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britanique. Retrieved on 22 January 2015.

External links

  • City of Nelson
  • Bonnington Falls Dam - City of Nelson powerhouse
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