Dawson Creek was incorporated as a city in 1958 and is the capital of the Peace Region. The City of Dawson Creek in the northeast of the province is one of seven municipalities that also include Chetwynd, Fort St. John, Hudson’s Hope, the village of Pouce Coupe, Taylor and Tumbler Ridge.
In the early 1930s, small northern communities in British Columbia, Canada were called home by farmers and homesteaders. That all changed with the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. This major transportation infrastructure between the United States and Canadian governments was built by thousands of America’s military to create a land route to Alaska after the Pearl Harbor bombings.
These small northern communities grew from a few hundred to thousands with subsequent economic development and settlement. With a population of six hundred people at the time the highway was constructed, the town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia gained fame as the southernmost point of the Alaska Highway – Mile 0. Today, the City of Dawson Creek has a growing population of 13,000 and so much to offer.
The city serves as a transportation hub to northern British Columbia, Alberta and beyond with highways, rail service and a regional airport, all important considerations for a thriving economy. “The development of the economy in the region continues to change and transform,” says Mayor Dale Bumstead. “It’s putting more and more emphasis on how important transportation – both road [and] highway network as well as the rail transportation sector – is for our community.”
City of Dawson Creek and the Peace Region also have agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, mining and tourism. And British Columbia’s energy sector is presenting many opportunities to the region in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.
The City of Dawson Creek and surrounding areas rests on the Montney gas field which presents an enormous economic and social prosperity to be realized now and in the future. Liquefied natural gas has a huge potential to be exported to Asian markets where LNG prices have been steadily rising.
“It’s really being pushed all across the world,” Mayor Bumstead explains of the LNG sector. He notes that in British Columbia there are two or three LNG facilities being proposed on the western north and south coast of the province. Dawson Creek is, “sitting on top of the natural gas fields that would develop those natural gas supplies to feed the liquefied natural gas industry on the west coast of British Columbia.”
The city lies in the upstream area where gas is being produced. Gas will then be shipped to the west coast, “where it will be liquefied and sent to the global market.” This potential presents huge economic development, “not only for our city and our region but the province and the country,” he says.
One of the proposed LNG facilities in Kitimat, British Columbia will be with LNG Canada, a fossil fuel company that ranks among one of the world’s largest. LNG Canada will be partnering with Shell – with a fifty percent stake – and the Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS), Mitsubishi and PetroChina making up the remainder. The LNG facility, “is projected to produce about twenty-four million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas,” says Mayor Bumstead. “That equates into potentially five or six billion dollars in gross domestic product to the country.”
This development represents an industry that will be an important economic driver for forty, fifty or one hundred years. “The ability to send huge, huge quantities of natural gas around the world is very, very promising for our community and the region.”
With respect to the coal mining industry, although the city is not directly affected, it acts as a service centre to coal mining in Tumbler Ridge, located approximately 120 kilometres to Dawson Creek’s south. Mayor Bumstead notes that Conuma Coal Resources is a mine that has been underway for the past eighteen months, and HD Mining International Limited has proposed an underground mine for development. “We’re certainly the closest community that is a large community that helps. We feel the effects of the service sector for that mining industry in our community.”
Forestry is also very much an active part of Dawson Creek’s economic landscape. Louisiana Pacific has had a prominent presence in the city for thirty years, producing oriented strand board (OSB). “They’re investing $130 million into that facility,” says Mayor Bumstead of a 2017 announcement made by the company. The facility will be transforming from an OSB panel plant to a residential siding plant and is expected to be fully operational in manufacturing this new product in February 2019.
“The plant today employs about 160 people directly. This new plant is going to employ an additional fifty to sixty people. So it’s very exciting for us to see them make that kind of investment in the facility,” says Mayor Bumstead. “The long-term benefits to us as a community certainly diversifies our economy and adds to the overall health of our community as a strong economic driver.”
For the young entrepreneur or businesses interested in investing in Dawson Creek, the health of the various sectors stimulates further consideration. “It creates such strong economic opportunities for the entrepreneur or the business people,” says Mayor Bumstead. “It creates great jobs in the skilled trades… It’s just such a strong economy with the diversity of the natural gas and the energy sector. That brings people into your community.”
There are plenty of opportunities for great jobs and careers, and an average household income of approximately $100,000 enables a great quality of life.
Northern Lights Community College is proving instrumental in providing the skilled, educated workforce that the region’s natural gas and energy sector wants and needs. In fact, the college is in the process of a $35 million renovation for, “a new trades training centre to accommodate that training of those skilled tradespeople that we need for all sectors,” says Mayor Bumstead, adding that the energy sector is, “really tailored for those young skilled tradespeople that are building their careers.”
With such opportunities for employment in numerous sectors, housing becomes crucial. Although there was a slight downturn in the past which slowed the city’s economic ventures, the real estate market picked up again last year and is “still very affordable in Dawson Creek,” Mayor Bumstead says.
He explains that the city has just completed its official community plan for the next five years. “We’ve done a lot of work in building core infrastructure and enhancing our water and sewer infrastructure. We have land available for development when that need occurs. We have the ability and capacity to grow.”
A real focus has been made in making Dawson Creek, “an attractive community for development both from the investment sector for residential development for apartments, duplexes and rental accommodations, as well as for the neighbourhoods of single-family homes.”
The Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway has made Dawson Creek a place where tourists begin their trip to, “trek up the Alaska Highway to tour that engineering marvel,” Mayor Bumstead says. Close to 150,000 tourists venture to the city annually and contribute close to $55 million to the economy which means the city sees, “the benefits of having events and sports tourism as a big component of our tourism strategy.”
Because of this, in the past two years, the city has hosted the World Under-17 Men’s Hockey Challenge. “We see the benefits of bringing people in for those sport tourism events.” The world-class 4,200-seat Encana Event Centre also hosts concerts by some big-name artists, “which is such an anomaly for a community of our size,” says Mayor Bumstead.
Other events include the annual Fall Fair, Rodeo and Exhibition considered ‘the Greatest Show in the Peace’, with British Columbia’s only professional chuckwagon racing. There are swimming pools, curling rinks, indoor equestrian centres and an art centre, along with the expanse of the great outdoors for year-round sporting activities. “You can’t be bored in Dawson Creek,” says Mayor Bumstead.
As a lifelong resident of Dawson Creek, Mayor Bumstead has seen many changes in his city. “You still have that small town feel of a community where people still know each other and are still willing to help their neighbours. It’s such a dynamic community now with the amazing economic opportunities created by the resource sector that we live upon and live amongst.”