The onetime gold-panning hotbed has settled into a quieter but equally industrious existence
A city between two rivers (the Quesnel and Fraser), Quesnel first made it onto the map as Gold Pan City, thanks to its status as a gateway to gold-mining centre Barkerville. It quickly became the commercial axis of the Cariboo gold rush, which lasted from 1860 to 1863. Four years after that fever died down, the Hudson’s Bay Co. store opened in Quesnel; the remodelled building still stands. Across the street is a replica of a Cornish waterwheel, once used to keep mines dry as prospectors dug. More than 30 other heritage sites pay homage to Quesnel’s gold-panning past.
Today, industries like forestry, mining and agriculture, the last one mostly ranching, are the city’s main job spinners. The top three wood producers in Quesnel seem to have reached a truce: C&C Wood Products Ltd., Tolko Industries Ltd. and West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. are a five-minute drive apart. Each has also carved out its own niche in the market, and in the province at large. Many local mining jobs involve support services, with residents keeping the Mount Polley mine humming while owner Imperial Metals Corp. scours the hills for gold and copper.
Quesnel has a large Indigenous population—at 15 percent, according to the 2016 census, it almost triples the provincial average. In a city of just over 21,000, First Nations residents play a visible and vocal role in civic decisions. In 2010, one of those moves was to install programmable lighting on the footbridge that citizens use to cross the Fraser. Besides showcasing a landmark, the lights brighten holidays and special events. The city also promotes a bylaw of the week every seven days, encouraging residents to remember the rules around, say, composting or dog licensing.
But residents know how to have fun, too. The Cariboo Hotel’s pub is a popular haunt for the region’s beer drinkers and billiards enthusiasts. Evenings out often call for a visit to the Occidental, the main nightclub, which hosts live music of all kinds. Quesnel’s first espresso shop, Granville’s Coffee, with its old-timey posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, is there for shaking off those nights with baked goods and artisan blends. It’s also one of the town’s main gathering spots. There might not be much gold in these parts anymore, but things have panned out for Quesnel.
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 29%, 41%, 30%
University grads: 11%
Average household income: $95,057
Average household income under 45: $92,138
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 17.3%
Five-year population growth: –2.1%
Average detached home price: $287,115
Average condominium price: $94,700
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $666
Average annual household spending on shelter: $15,264
Key industries: Forestry; mining; agriculture; hospitality and tourism
Notable employers: C&C Wood Products Ltd.; City of Quesnel; Imperial Metals Corp.; Northern Health; School District 28; Tolko Industries Ltd.; West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd.
Regional unemployment: 7.3% (February)
Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $94,334
Change from 2016: 35.5%
Cost of a business licence: $50-$1,750; typically $75
Average processing time for a building permit: n/a
Business property tax rate: $25 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: n/a
Average retail lease rate: n/a
QUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: College of New Caledonia; University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC)
Major recreational amenities: Two skating rinks; arts and recreation centre; indoor sports complex; trail network
Key annual events: Quesnel Farmers’ Market; Billy Barker Days; Skyfest; Winter Carnival
Average annual household spending on recreation: $4,606
Residents who walk or bike to work: 3.5%