BCBusiness in partnership with BCEDA
The Hub for Northern Expansion
Prince George and the Cariboo are adapting to a changing economy in the North
TOURISM PRINCE GEORGE/Michael Stanyer
The Cariboo was the site of the 1858 gold rush that brought large numbers of settlers to British Columbia for the first time. Today the region is still the working heart of the province, its economy strongly influenced by the cycles of commodity prices and new infrastructure investment.
The largest city not just in the Cariboo region but in all of northern B.C., Prince George serves as a logistical and service hub for the entire North. As such, it is expected to benefit from the large capital investments slated to take place in neighbouring regions. Area companies and tradespeople have already seen some incremental activity from BC Hydro’s Site C hydroelectric dam in the northeast of the province. Still in the pre-construction phase are the Coastal GasLink natural gas line (part of which would cross the northern part of the Cariboo region from east to west), the LNG Canada gas liquefaction plant at its terminus in Kitimat and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would include a segment in the North Thompson River valley, in the eastern part of the region.
These private-sector projects have spurred new investments in public infrastructure too. The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Highways is in the midst of a multi-year upgrade of Highway 97, the Cariboo’s major north-south artery. This “Cariboo Connector” will see the entire 460-kilometre stretch from Cache Creek to Prince George expanded to four lanes.
There was a net gain of 2,300 jobs throughout the Cariboo in 2017, evidence of a moderate recovery from the 2014-16 commodity slump.
Last year saw demand for forest products grow, with the value of manufactured wood and paper from northern B.C. up 10.5 percent and 25 percent, respectively, in spite of headwinds including the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute and reductions in the timber supply due to the mountain pine beetle infestation and bad forest fire seasons in recent years. Initiatives such as the City of Quesnel’s Forestry Think Tank are working to find ways to better manage the forests to be more resilient in the face of such ecological challenges and to develop new products and markets derived from the available wood fibre.
TOURISM PRINCE GEORGE
The Cariboo is home to three operating mines. The Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine north of Williams Lake, with 625 workers, is the largest private-sector employer in the region. The Mount Milligan copper-gold mine northwest of Prince George, opened by Thompson Creek Metals Co. Inc. in 2013, was taken over by Canadian-based Centerra Gold Corp. last year.
Other mines could open if conditions prove favourable. East of Quesnel, Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd.’s Bonanza Ledge test mine could proceed to full operation following the release of a feasibility study expected in 2019. New Gold’s Blackwater project, west of Quesnel, is in final permitting stages. And Spanish Mountain Gold is seeking a permit under the Environmental Assessment Act to build a $756-million open-pit gold and copper mine 70 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake.
The Cariboo also has several renewable energy projects in development, whether run-of-river hydroelectric, wind, biomass or geothermal. Kruger Energy Inc. is preparing designs for the 100-megawatt Isle Pierre Wind Farm west of Prince George. Holmes Hydro Inc. is in the consultation and approvals stage for its Robson Valley Hydroelectric Project, which would involve 10 run-of-river power plants near McBride collectively producing 76.5 megawatts. In the same community, ecoTECH Energy Group Inc. is proposing to build a biomass electrical plant producing in excess of 31 megawatts. Borealis GeoPower Inc. is investigating the feasibility of a 23-megawatt geothermal plant at Canoe Reach, south of Valemount.
Another eagerly awaited project is the $800-million Valemount Glacier Destination Resort, in the Rocky Mountains near Jasper National Park. This project promises lift-accessed glacier viewing for summer tourists as well as some of the longest continuous ski runs in the world. The proponents, Pheidias Project Management Corp. and Oberti Resort Design, have until March 2022 to open for business under the terms of a master development agreement with the provincial government.
|▷ 100 Mile House
||▷ McBride||▷ Valemont|
|▷ Barkerville||▷ Prince George
|▷ Mackenzie||▷ Quesnel||▷ Williams Lake|