Poco Trail
Credit: Province of British Columbia

widgetHistoric PoCo will appeal to anyone looking for small-town life within reach of major urban centres

Port Coquitlam, with its close-knit charm, may be the Lower Mainland’s best-kept secret. Outsiders often ask locals, “How do you like it in Coquitlam?” But PoCo is not its much bigger, namesake neighbour.

Take a walk along tree-lined Shaughnessy Street to sample life in this cosy community. Neighbours swap small talk at family-run barbershops and cafés, or run errands at the produce market and dry cleaner. There’s a park where you can sit on a bench and read a book or feed the birds with friends. This is the downtown centre of a Vancouver suburb with a population of 60,000, yet it’s like strolling through a village. That’s Port Coquitlam’s appeal: small-town spirit with big-city connections.

Port Coquitlam began its life for more pragmatic reasons: the Canadian Pacific Railway was looking for raw land and lower taxes than in Vancouver. The company relocated its main marshalling yard here in 1912, prompting a building boom around it. A year later, the new city became incorporated. The rail yard, which remains B.C.’s largest more than a century later, is still one of the city’s top employers. Port Coquitlam is no longer much of a working port, despite the logs being pulled ashore from booms in the Pitt River. Robust road and commuter rail infrastructure have long surpassed the water as modes of transportation. That’s a good thing for businesses like food suppliers Sysco Corp. and Lilydale Inc., which need to move perishable goods to customers quickly.

Raw, affordable, accessible land continues to spur development in PoCo, especially in recent years. Ten years ago, the Dominion Triangle area near Lougheed Highway was mostly swampy dirt and scraggly brush. Today it’s a rapidly growing forest of big-box stores, anchored by brands like Costco, Home Depot and Canadian Tire. And just like when the rail yard was built, a diverse array of other buildings is springing up in its shadow—restaurants, grocery stores, churches and townhouse complexes.

Big strip malls may be somewhat stripped of local character, but Port Coquitlam’s historic downtown is also on the rise, and it’s one of the city’s fastest-growing residential neighbourhoods. The shiniest development in the area is a 205,000-square-foot community recreation centre, due to open its first phase in 2019, that will feature three ice rinks, fitness facilities, a library, an amphitheatre and a host of other amenities by its final completion in 2021. This is a city that promotes events that boost community spirit, like free arts and culture shows and children’s camps. The new rec centre promises to further that goal.

Population: 60,366
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 34.4%, 46%, 19.6%
University grads: 22%
Average household income: $108,861
Average household income under 45: $98,069
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 13.7%
Five-year population growth: 6.2%

Average detached home price: $978,500
Average condominium price: $451,700
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,600
Average annual household spending on shelter: $26,257

Key industries: Retail and wholesale trade; manufacturing; construction; health care and social services
Notable employers: Canadian Pacific Railway; City of Port Coquitlam; Lilydale Inc.; School District 43; Sysco Corp.
Regional unemployment: 4% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $218,604,446
Change from 2016: 39.1%
Average processing time for a building permit: 3-12 weeks
Cost of a business licence: Typically $90 for the first 30 sq. m of building area and $17 for each additional 10 sq. m
Business property tax rate: $15.20 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $9
Average retail lease rate: $22-$47

Quality of LifeQUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: None
Major recreational amenities: Hyde Creek Recreation Centre; Port Coquitlam Recreation Complex (two skating rinks); Leigh Square Community Arts Village; indoor pool; two outdoor pools; two wading pools; three spray parks; 16 sand- and soil-based sports fields; artificial turf fields; artificial warm-up field; 23 ball fields; RailSide Outdoor Youth Park; bike skills park
Key annual events: Family Day festivities; May Day Festival; PoCo Grand Prix; Farmers Market; Summer in the City; Port Coquitlam Car Show; Terry Fox Hometown Run; Rivers and Trails Festival; Winter in the City; Christmas in Leigh Square
Average annual household spending on recreation: $5,726
Residents who walk or bike to work: 2.9%