BC City Guide 2018: Williams Lake

Halfway between the Kamloops sun and the Prince George snow lies Williams Lake. Incorporated as a city in 1929, it takes its name from a nearby lake that in turn was named in honour of Chief William of the Sugar Lake Indian Reserve. For many years, Williams Lake's economy leaned...

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Welcome to cowboy country, where enjoying the outdoors is more than just a lifestyle, it’s a necessity

Halfway between the Kamloops sun and the Prince George snow lies Williams Lake. Incorporated as a city in 1929, it takes its name from a nearby lake that in turn was named in honour of Chief William of the Sugar Cane Indian Reserve. For many years, Williams Lake’s economy leaned heavily on agriculture, thanks to numerous local cattle ranches. But the city’s location has proven strategic in other ways: Highway 20 runs west to Bella Coola near the coast, making it the easiest way to drive to towns along the route.

In recent decades, forestry has overtaken ranching as the top employer. Mining, tourism and government services help give the community of more than 10,000 a diverse economic base. Taseko Mines Ltd. has both office workers and blue-collar types on the payroll, with the company’s Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine a short drive from its downtown office. Tourism relies on painting Williams Lake a different colour than neighbouring communities: for example, the city calls itself both the “Mural Capital of the Cariboo” and a “Bird Watcher’s Paradise.”

But it also hangs onto its history, and though the ranching influence has dimmed somewhat, horses, cattle and cowboys still roam the open fields. You can see for yourself by visiting its biggest and most popular event, the Williams Lake Stampede. Besides a four-day rodeo, the summer gathering features two days of stock car racing and a day of Crash to Pass, a racing style where drivers bump the car in front of them before passing.

Williams Lake is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with an extensive trail network ideal for mountain biking, hiking, ATVing, snowmobiling and dirt biking. And besides its namesake, boaters will find more than a dozen other lakes close by.

It’s a sports hub, too, proudly promoting itself as the hometown of Man in Motion Rick Hansen and the training ground of Montreal Canadiens star goaltender Carey Price, who would fly in from nearby Anahim Lake to play minor hockey. There’s a healthy rugby culture (Olympic bronze medalist Kayla Moleschi grew up here), including a tournament during the Stampede.

Is it all cowboys and sports stars and mountain bikes? Not quite. The city used to be notorious for its high crime levels, and that distinction remains relevant: Williams Lake was the top B.C. name on Maclean’s 2018 list of Canada’s most dangerous places. It was also unsafe for a different reason last summer, when wildfires raged through the area. At one point, three blazes surrounded the town, meaning that most of the town was evacuated. This is Canada though, so the Tim Hortons stayed opened to serve the firefighters. 

Population: 17,958
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 32.5%, 42.9%, 24.6%
University grads: 13.2%
Average household income: $92,298
Average household income under 45: $84,679
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 17.3%
Five-year population growth: –3.7%

Average detached home price: $220,000
Average condominium price: $140,000
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $900
Average annual household spending on shelter: $15,692

Key industries: Forestry; mining; construction; health services; education; hospitality and tourism
Notable employers: Atlantic Power Corp.Taseko Mines Ltd.Tolko Industries Ltd.West Fraser Timber Co.
Regional unemployment: 7.3% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $20,573,845
Change from 2016: 19.8%
Cost of a business licence: $50-$1,000
Average processing time for a building permit: 3 weeks
Business property tax rate: $13.03 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: n/a
Average retail lease rate: n/a

Major post-secondary institutions: Thompson Rivers University (TRU)
Major recreational amenities: Five parks; community centre; skating rink; indoor pool; hiking and mountain-biking trails
Key annual events: Williams Lake Stampede; Williams Lake Indoor Rodeo
Average annual household spending on recreation: $4,460
Residents who walk or bike to work: 3.5%