BC City Guide 2018: Nelson

Ask anyone from Nelson, and they'll tell you the same thing: what makes the city great are its people. There are nearly 11,000 of them, and to say that they're all on a first-name basis is just slightly stretching the truth. Nelson runs on Kootenay time (no one is ever...

Credit: Destination BC

In this picturesque alpine town where everybody knows your name, you’ll find a strong economy, great skiing and no shortage of dining choices

Ask anyone from Nelson, and they’ll tell you the same thing: what makes the city great are its people. There are nearly 11,000 of them, and to say that they’re all on a first-name basis is just slightly stretching the truth. Nelson runs on Kootenay time (no one is ever in a rush), so it’s a good thing the locals are generally fun and interesting, because that stroll to the store can mean a dozen five-minute conversations. After all, nearly one in five residents walk or bike to work, so you’re bound to run into someone on the street. There’s always a new cast of seasonal characters as well, thanks to the booms that occur during the winter months for skiing and in the summer for biking and water sports. But don’t worry—you’ll get to know them, too.

A city that is bridging the gap from small town to hipster metropolis, Nelson has more restaurants per capita than Manhattan and San Francisco. Indeed, downtown is littered with dining rooms, breweries and cafés. Nelson has been a landing spot for coffee shops ever since Oso Negro burst onto the scene in 1993. Housed in premises that look more like a cosy ski lodge than your typical coffee roaster, it’s become a community meeting place.

Likewise, Nelson has embraced craft beer. In contrast to many other B.C. municipalities, though, it’s been building its brewing game since Nelson Brewing Co. (NBC) re-emerged in 1991. (That business took over the brewery once operated by a company of the same name but closed in the 1950s.) NBC sits five blocks up the hill from downtown, literally and figuratively looking down at the trend it had a hand in creating.

Nelson is located in the Selkirk Mountains, and its natural beauty shines through in every season. You can be in the woods in 10 minutes, and it doesn’t take much longer to reach Ymir Mountain, which helped the city win Powder magazine’s 2018 award for Best Ski Town in North America.

Nelson’s visual appeal might also have something to do with the fact that it has more restored heritage buildings per capita than anywhere else in the province. Apparently its economic troubles in the 1970s kept it safe from the architectural excesses of next two decades. With some 350 heritage structures and an economy that has seen a real bounce-back—thanks to emerging industries like high-tech, with automotive components innovator Pacific Insight Electronics Corp. leading the way with 250 employees—residents are probably fine with how it all turned out.

Population: 10,793
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 37.8%, 36.5%, 25.7%
University grads: 24%
Average household income: $78,456
Average household income under 45: $76,629
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 19%
Five-year population growth: 2.9%

Average detached home price: $404,520
Average condominium price: $322,747
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,340
Average annual household spending on shelter: $18,262

Key industries: Education; health care and social services; science and technology; hospitality and tourism; retail
Notable employers: Kootenay Lake HospitalPacific Insight Electronics Corp.School District 8Selkirk CollegeWhitewater Ski Resort
Regional unemployment: 6.7% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $18,531,160
Change from 2016: 21.4%
Cost of a business licence: $135-$1,040
Average processing time for a building permit: 5 weeks
Business property tax rate: $9.54 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $12
Average retail lease rate: $11-$15

Major post-secondary institutions: Kootenay Columbia College of Integrative Health SciencesKutenai Art Therapy Institute; Selkirk College; West Kootenay Rural Teacher Education Program
Major recreational amenities: Five parks; three skating rinks; two curling rinks; aquatic centre; indoor climbing club; downhill and cross-country skiing
Key annual events: Coldsmoke Powder Festival; Kootenay Festival of the Arts; Shambhala Music Festival; Nelson Culture Days
Average annual household spending on recreation: $3,490
Residents who walk or bike to work: 16.9%