Dawson Creek is a city in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. The municipality of had a population of 11,583 in 2011. Dawson Creek derives its name from the creek of the same name that runs through the community. The creek was named after George Mercer Dawson by a member of his land survey team when they passed through the area in August 1879. Once a small farming community, Dawson Creek became a regional centre when the western terminus of the Northern Alberta Railways was extended there in 1932. The community grew rapidly in 1942 as the US Army used the rail terminus as a transshipment point during construction of the Alaska Highway. In the 1950s, the city was connected to the interior of British Columbia via a highway and railway through the Rocky Mountains. Since the 1960s, growth has slowed.
Dawson Creek is located in the dry and windy prairie land of the Peace River Country. As the seat of the Peace River Regional District and a service centre for the rural areas south of the Peace River, the city has been called the "Capital of the Peace". It is also known as the "Mile 0 City", referring to its location at the southern end of the Alaska Highway. It also has a heritage interpretation village, an art gallery, and a museum. Annual events include a fall fair and rodeo.
Dawson Creek is named after the watercourse of the same name, itself named after George Mercer Dawson who led a surveying team through the area in August 1879; a member of the team labelled the creek with Dawson's name. The community that formed by the creek was one of many farming communities established by European-Canadian settlers moving west through the Peace River Country. When the Canadian government began issuing homestead grants to settlers in 1912, the pace of migration increased. With the opening of a few stores and hotels in 1919 and the incorporation of the Dawson Creek Co-operative Union on 28 May 1921, Dawson Creek became a dominant business centre in the area. After much speculation by land owners and investors, the Northern Alberta Railways built its western terminus 3 km (2 mi) from Dawson Creek. The golden spike was driven on 29 December 1930, and the first passenger train arrived on 15 January 1931. The arrival of the railway and the construction of grain elevators attracted more settlers and business to the settlement. The need to provide services for the rapidly growing community led Dawson Creek to incorporate as a village in May 1936. A small wave of refugees from the Sudetenland settled in the area in 1939 as World War II was beginning. The community exceeded 500 people in 1941.
Upon entering the war, the United States decided to build a transportation corridor to connect the US mainland to Alaska. In 1942, thousands of US Army personnel, engineers, and contractors poured into the city – the terminal of rail transport – to construct the Alaska Highway. The highway was completed in less than a year; even after the workers involved in its construction departed, population and economic growth continued. In February 1943, a major fire and explosion in a livery barn, packed with road-building supplies including dynamite, caused serious damage to the center of town; five people were killed and 150 injured.
By 1951, Dawson Creek had more than 3,500 residents. In 1952, the John Hart Highway linked the town to the rest of the British Columbia Interior and Lower Mainland through the Rocky Mountains; a new southbound route, known locally as Tupper Highway, made the town a crossroads with neighbouring Alberta. The next year, western Canada's largest propane gas plant was built and federal government offices were established in town. In 1958, the extension of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway to the Peace from Prince George was completed, and the village was re-incorporated as a city. Between 1951 and 1961, the population of Dawson Creek more than tripled.
Growth slowed in the 1960s, with the population reaching its all-time high in 1966. In the 1970s, the provincial government moved its regional offices from Pouce Coupe to the city, Northern Lights College opened a Dawson Creek campus, and the Dawson Creek Mall was constructed. Several modern grain elevators were built, and the town's five wooden grain elevators, nicknamed "Elevator Row", were taken out of service. Only one of the historic elevators remains, converted to an art gallery. Since the 1970s, with the nearby town of Fort St. John attracting much of the area's industrial development and Grande Prairie becoming a commercial hub, the town's population and economy have not significantly increased.
Since 1992, the city has undergone several boundary expansions. One expansion incorporated undeveloped land in the southeast for an industrial park and a Louisiana-Pacific Canada veneer factory. The city extended sewer and water lines to the location; however, the area was not developed and with the factory only half-built, L-P Canada abandoned its plans. A business making manufactured homes bought the factory and completed its development in 2005. Another expansion incorporated the existing oriented strand board factory in the northwest corner of the city, while further incorporations have included undeveloped land to the south and north.