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Cariboo: Northern Crossroads

The central Interior is leading the way to the energy transition.

Credit: Construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline under way near Valemount. | Trans Mountain

The central Interior is leading the way to the energy transition.

A century and a half ago, the Cariboo became a destination for fortune-seekers from around the world after gold was discovered on Williams Creek, near modern-day Quesnel. The Cariboo Gold Rush inspired the construction of the first wagon road to connect the British Columbia interior to the coast.

Today the region remains the hard-working heart of the province. It is not only home to resource industries such as forestry and mining but a staging area for projects throughout northern B.C. With the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George, it is also a hub for innovation in areas as diverse as seniors’ care and environmental remediation.

In contrast to some other regions, the value of major projects proposed or under construction in the Cariboo has continued to creep upward in recent years. Largest among them is the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, about $4.5 billion of whose budget is being dispensed in the region. As the de facto business hub of northern British Columbia, Prince George has also seen an uptick in business from megaprojects in neighbouring regions, including the Coastal Gaslink natural gas pipeline, the LNG Canada liquefaction plant at its western terminus in Kitimat and the Site C dam near Fort St. John.

With this business activity comes the need for workers, who in turn need homes for their families. The 803 housing starts in the Cariboo in 2021, mostly in Prince George and Quesnel, represented a 61% increase over 2020, the Certified Public Accountants of B.C. noted in their 2022 provincial check-up.

In Prince George, building permit values topped $250 million in 2022, up from $220 million in 2020. Among the projects under way are a number of low-carbon fuel production facilities. Tidewater Renewables is building what will be Canada’s largest biodiesel plant at its existing light oil refinery in the city. Expected to commence operations this year, the plant will use renewable feedstock including vegetable oils, animal fat, used cooking oil, canola, soybeans and manure from livestock operations.

Hydra Energy broke ground last September on the world’s largest hydrogen refueling facility, to use green hydrogen produced through electrolysis using emissions-free electricity from BC Hydro. The station, aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of Hydra’s diesel-hydrogen conversion technology for heavy trucks, should be operational in 2024.

And Arbios Biotech is building a chemical plant to produce chemicals used in transportation fuels from woody biomass. The plant has been named Chuntoh Ghuna, meaning “the forest lives” in the dialect of the local Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. There was a surge in business license applications in Prince George in 2022, with more than 1,700 applications processed. Growing industries include transportation and logistics, with a 66,000-square-foot warehouse space under construction and several more proposed.

Credit: Owner Taseko Mines has given the Gibraltar Mine near Williams Lake, one of the region’s largest employers, a new lease on life. | Taseko Mines

Mining Renaissance 

New developments are under way in the hinterland too. Artemis Gold plans to start major construction of its $2.2-billion Blackwater gold mine this year. The mine is located approximately 160 kilometres southwest of Prince George, accessed via Fraser Lake on the Yellowhead Highway. Meanwhile, Osisko Development is weaving its proposed Cariboo Gold mine through the environmental assessment process. The underground project, located close to the site of the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s in the Wells-Barkerville area, is budgeted at $502 million. The developer expects to receive final permits by the end of 2023.

In 2022, majority owner Taseko Mines opted to extend the life of the Gibraltar coppermolybdenum mine near Williams Lake by a further 23 years. The company attributed its decision in part to the buoyant long-term demand outlook for copper, a key element in the global energy transition. With a workforce of nearly 700, Gibraltar  s one of the largest open-pit copper mines in Canada.

In contrast to the often fractious historical relationship between gold miners and settlers and Indigenous peoples of the Cariboo, the trend today is towards reconciliation in action. This is especially evident in Quesnel, where the city is collaborating with the Lhtako Dene First Nation on the creation of a destination park commemorating the area’s history before and after European contact. The two communities are also working together to host the B.C. Winter Games in 2024.

Also in Quesnel, the newly opened Sprout Kitchen Regional Food Hub offers food businesses and community groups throughout the Cariboo access to shared processing and testing equipment, food business advisory services, product development services, analytic services, applied research opportunities and education and training related to food processing and food safety.

There are even signs of revival in the area’s forest industry following timber supply cutbacks in the wake of the mountain pine beetle infestation, which has been linked to climate change. The previously closed C&C Wood Products has been purchased and reopened as Kandola Forest Products, a value-added manufacturer of wood panelling, engineered beams and other contemporary interior design features.

Williams Lake plays a vital role in offering regional services, including health and retail services, to several neighboring communities. The city is pursuing several initiatives, such as expanding community infrastructure and encouraging new residential and commercial developments, as part of an aggressive economic development program.

Similarly, 100 Mile House remains an attractive option for those seeking a rural lifestyle, with housing costs that are 69% lower than the national average. The town is currently experiencing an uptick in new residential and commercial developments, with building permit values doubling in 2022 and the number of new businesses increasing by 13%.

Cariboo: Northern Crossroads

Visit Other Regions of BC:

Lower Mainland-Southwest: Bullish Outlook

Vancouver Island/Coast: Fairer Shores

Thompson-Okanagan: Migrant Haven

Kootenay: Rooted in Community

North Coast-Nechako: Export Driven

Northeast: Energizing BC

Browse Invest in BC:

British Columbia: The Sustainable Advantage

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