BC City Guide 2018: Campbell River

Like many resource towns, Vancouver Island's northernmost city has seen tough times: layoffs in the coal industry, the closure of the pulp mill in 2010 and declines in wild stocks that haven't done any favours for commercial fishermen in the "salmon capital of B.C." But Campbell River has found opportunity...

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The conveniently located oceanfront city is reaping the rewards of its efforts to attract new residents and businesses

Like many resource towns, Vancouver Island’s northernmost city has seen tough times: layoffs in the coal industry, the closure of the pulp mill in 2010 and declines in wild stocks that haven’t done any favours for commercial fishermen in the “salmon capital of B.C.” But Campbell River has found opportunity in the affordability squeeze roiling Vancouver and Victoria, catching the eye of retirees wanting to cash out and young families ready to quit the big city.

A lengthwise layout along the shore of the scenic Discovery Passage means it’s hard to find a neighbourhood without a striking channel view—and despite its industrial roots, the city has preserved its extensive waterfront for public access. That, a new $274-million hospital and the surrounding ocean, woods and alpine trails have been selling points for the 65-and-over set, who now make up about a quarter of households.

Meanwhile, Campbell River has been making investments to diversify its economy and attract young entrepreneurs. The CR Advantage, launched last year, is a first-on-the-Island municipal broadband network that provides businesses with cheap, enterprise-level connectivity; facade-improvement grants aim to boost the streetscape of the downtown core; new coworking spaces are combining with affordable real estate to lure over telecommuters; and the establishment of a Creative Industries Council, along with new tech and film courses at local North Island College, are offering support for accelerating digital, media, design and arts ventures. A large deepwater marine terminal and a recently upgraded airport also help ease logistics.

The resource sectors that were the town’s former pillars are seeing some rebound, too: forestry still employs about 6 percent of the labour force, and the recent reopening of Nyrstar Canada’s Myra Falls zinc and copper mine has created new job opportunities. The Wei Wai Kum First Nation has also long been active in the local economy, running two shopping centres, fishery and forestry operations, and B.C.’s largest full-service marina north of Vancouver. And although the wild side of the seafood industry has become more the domain of sports fishers, aquaculture still thrives, with three international outfits headquartered in the city.

Nanaimo and its malls and ferries are about an hour and 20 minutes on the highway, but compared to a commute downtown from Vancouver’s deep suburbs, the water views and relaxed lifestyle of Campbell River offer fair competition. The city’s willingness to support emerging enterprises earned it this year’s Open for Business award from Small Business BC in the Large Community category—a sign that its efforts to re-create itself are paying off.

Population: 38,465
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 31%, 43%, 26%
University grads: 13.5%
Average household income: $89,423
Average household income under 45: $86,451
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 17%
Five-year population growth: 4%

Average detached home price: $407,174
Average condominium price: $225,025
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $850
Average annual household spending on shelter: $21,541

Key industries: Retail; health care and social services; aquaculture; forestry; construction; hospitality and tourism; food services
Notable employers: Cermaq; Marine HarvestReal Canadian SuperstoreSchool District 72Vancouver Island Health AuthorityWestern Forest Products
Regional unemployment: 5.8% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $79,437,684
Change from 2016: 4.1%
Average processing time for a building permit: 4 weeks residential, 6 weeks commercial
Cost of a business licence: Typically $150
Business property tax rate: $12.43 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $7-$32
Average retail lease rate: $7-$32

Major post-secondary institutions: Discovery Community CollegeNorth Island College
Major recreational amenities: Proximity to Mount Washington and Mount Cain ski areas; fishing and hunting; sportsplex; splash park; community centre; Strathcona Gardens skating rink and pool; Beaver Lodge Forest Lands; boating and paddling; waterfront and seafront walkway
Key annual events: Words on the Water; Vancouver Island Fibre Fest; CR Live Streets; SalmonFest; Festival of Trees; Big Truck Parade
Average annual household spending on recreation: $5,054
Residents who walk or bike to work: 3%