A Place to Call Home

City of Dawson Creek

Mayor Dale Bumstead loves the place he calls home. He comes from a long line of Peace River Country homesteaders – his grandparents came to the town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia in the 1940s.

Mayor Bumstead was born and raised in Dawson Creek, located in northeastern British Columbia, and elected mayor in September 2013. He enthusiastically shares with us the passion he feels toward Dawson Creek, his voice resonating with an affinity for a sense of place and a vision of its future. And the future looks very promising indeed for this city of 13,000.

The creek flowing through the city was named after George Mercer Dawson, a surveyor who led a team discovering the area in 1879. Back then, Dawson Creek was a small farming community, established by European-Canadian settlers seeking out homesteads in Peace Country, the expansive prairie land between northwestern Alberta and the Rocky Mountains in northeastern British Columbia.

Dawson Creek became a bustling business community in the 1920s and the population grew with the arrival of the Northern Alberta Railway in 1931. It was 11 years later, in 1942, that construction began on the 2400 kilometre Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway was an initiative of the Americans who sent 6000 of their military for the construction. The Americans, concerned about homeland security, were seeking an overland route into Alaska after the Pearl Harbor bombings. Amazingly, the highway was completed within a year.

Dawson Creek became known as “Mile 0 City” of the Alaska Highway because the town was the starting point of construction. It was later, in 1958, that Dawson Creek was reincorporated as a city. As the service area for communities south of the Peace River, Dawson Creek also became known as “Capital of the Peace.”

Dawson Creek’s efficient transportation infrastructure includes not only the Alaska Highway, but the city is also the junction of three other major highways which allow access to B.C.’s interior and Alberta. Minutes from downtown, Dawson Creek Regional Airport offers a 5000 foot runway, accommodating both passenger and freight airlines, for efficient transportation whether across the country or overseas. The Canadian National Railway also offers connections to B.C. – north to Fort Nelson, west to Prince Rupert and south to Vancouver. “Our transportation is a component of our economy because it’s the hub of where you enter the northern part of B.C.,” says Dale.

Dawson Creek remains strong in its traditional agricultural sector, serving as the sales and service centre for the Peace River Country. The Peace is Canada’s most northern farming region, producing quality grass seeds and crops including wheat, barley, and canola. Ninety percent of B.C.’s grain and 95 percent of the province’s canola is produced in the Peace region. “Last year was a huge year for the grain farmers. We had great production,” says Dale. “That’s just another benefit to the community in terms of having that strong agricultural foundation for our economy.”

Of the area’s forestry sector, Dale acknowledges that, “The forestry industry faced the downturn of lumber when the U.S. economy crashed in 2007-2008. That affected the lumber industry all across the province of B.C.” Louisiana Pacific’s oriented strand board (OSB) plant in Dawson Creek, which employed over 100 people, was closed for a couple of years but reopened last winter. “They’re back in; they’re logging and producing OSB again. That’s another commodity for the community with good paying jobs,” continues Dale. “We’re just so pleased with the diversification of our economy and the community.”

Revelling in a rich resource

Other sectors include livestock (Canada’s largest bison herd is located in the Peace River area), mining, and manufacturing. Dale shares that although these sectors are still strong, sustainable drivers of Dawson Creek’s economy, “We’re now feeling the effects of the development of the natural gas industry in our community and area with a huge shale gas formation called the Montney gas field – a world class gas field.”

The Montney shale gas formation, one of the largest natural gas resources in the world, is primarily found in northeastern British Columbia’s Peace region and extends into Alberta. One of the main extraction areas is near Dawson Creek in the South Peace region. Encana Corporation, a Calgary based energy producer, has facilities near Dawson Creek for natural gas extraction from the Montney field. “The B.C. economy and the province is pinning its hopes on producing this gas and shipping it to the west coast of B.C. What they hope to build is liquefied gas plants to feed the international market,” explains Dale. “The development of this gas resource is so enormous, it’s almost hard for us to believe… what is coming.”

He shares that the proposed liquefied natural gas plants to be built on British Columbia’s west coast will represent approximately $7 billion each in capital costs. The gas industry indicates that for every dollar invested in new plants, $7 will be invested in getting the gas to the surface, processing and then shipping it via pipeline to the west coast. “So the potential investment for our community and region in the next 50 years is upwards of $150 billion,” says Dale. “The economic opportunities for businesses and employment for jobs – truck drivers, welders, pipefitters, electricians, etc., will be in huge demand… We’re transforming into an energy community. Everything that will drive our economy will be driven by the demands of the energy sector and developing this huge resource.”

Meeting the needs of a skilled workforce

Northern Lights College is considered to be B.C.’s Energy College. Opened in 1975, Northern Lights College, with a campus in Dawson Creek, is a member of British Columbia’s Colleges. This membership enables the College to work in collaboration with communities, employers, and industries to graduate highly skilled workers who integrate in to the economic landscape of their communities securing better lives for themselves and their families.

Both degree and certification programs in skilled trades are offered at the College. In a recent federal budget it was announced that, “They’re going to have zero interest loans for people who want to apply for and take skilled trades training programs,” shares Dale. “We’re really looking at that as an opportunity to try to engage people to come and get your trade certification and come to the community. The demand for [skilled trades] employment is going to be here for a long time.”

Dale notes that to meet the demand for housing for members of the skilled workforce who see the abundance of opportunities in Dawson Creek, the city has taken initiatives for housing development and construction. “But following behind that we’re going to have the permanent jobs,” Dale says. “We have a good inventory in the community, and it is building. The investment community from Vancouver and Kelowna are coming into our community, investing here and building infrastructure. They see the opportunities.”

Committed to green energy

The Mayor relates that Dawson Creek’s western skyline and the distant Bear Mountain wind park exemplify the city’s commitment to green energy. With 34 German made Enercon wind turbines generating 102 megawatts of energy, Bear Mountain’s wind farm produces more than enough energy for the city’s population. The wind farm was the first wind project in B.C. and had the support of both residents and city officials.

Most of Dawson Creek’s public buildings have solar thermal hot water systems; speed signs are also solar powered. It is this commitment that allowed Dawson Creek to be recognized as one of B.C.’s most innovative green cities by the Union of B.C. municipalities. “The leadership of the community in the last 10 to 15 years has really taken a view that we need to be a sustainable community in the long term,” shares Dale. “We’ve looked at every opportunity we could to engage in sustainable long term investments that would help reduce the footprint we leave behind as we look forward.”

Content with this place that he calls home, Dale wants others to know that Dawson Creek is a family friendly community that shares an offering of wide open spaces with all the amenities required to live a healthy, vibrant and secure lifestyle. “In 2013, we didn’t have a single unsolved major crime,” for example.

Dawson Creek is on the cusp of monumental economic opportunities and there’s no doubt that the city is open for business. “When you have a resource of the magnitude that we’re sitting on with this natural gas and the investment required, there’s going to be huge economic activity in this region,” concludes Dale. “You have a community that offers an amazing quality of life for you and your family.” No surprise that the Mayor himself is here to stay.

For more information about City of Dawson Creek, please visit http://www.dawsoncreek.ca

August 17, 2017, 11:39 AM EDT

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