Prince George, with a population of 71,973 (census agglomeration of 88,043), is the largest city in northern British Columbia, Canada, and is the "Northern Capital" of BC despite being located in the geographical southern half of the province at only 54 degrees latitude. Situated at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, and the crossroads of Highway 16 and Highway 97, the city is the service and supply hub for one of the fastest-growing regions in Canada and plays an important role in the province's economy and culture.
The origins of Prince George can be traced to the North West Company fur trading post of Fort George, which was established in 1807 by Simon Fraser and named in honour of King George III. The post was centred in the centuries-old homeland of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, whose very name means "people of the confluence of the two rivers".
Throughout the 19th century Fort George remained unchanged, while Fort St. James reigned as the main trading post and capital of the New Caledonia area. Even during the Cariboo Gold Rush, Fort George was isolated, although Quesnel prospered as the Cariboo Road was built to its doorstep, making it the main staging area for the miners going to the goldfields at Barkerville. Then, when the Collins Overland Telegraph Trail was built in 1865–67, it bypassed Fort George, following the Blackwater Trail from Quesnel and continuing northwest towards Hazelton.
Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
Finally in 1903, Fort George's fortune began to change when it was announced that the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (later part of CN Rail) would pass near the fur post. In 1906, agricultural settlement began around Fort George and then in 1909, development of the town began as two rival land speculation companies built the communities of South Fort George and Central Fort George. South Fort George was built on the Fraser River near the Hudson's Bay Company’s trading post and Central Fort George was built two miles (3 km) to the northwest on the Nechako River. Both communities flourished due to the marketing strategies of the land promoter for Central Fort George, George Hammond, who advertised the community all over Canada and Britain, describing Fort George in glowing terms as being the future hub of British Columbia, having mild winters and being suitable for any agricultural endeavor (except for the growing of peaches). Ten paddle steamer sternwheelers serviced the area, coming up on the Fraser River from Soda Creek.
With the onset of the Great War in 1914, the local economy was devastated as many local men enlisted and the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway was halted, creating a massive drop in population, a problem that was exacerbated by the ensuing Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Prince George persevered through the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s and did not experience any significant growth until World War II when an army camp was built at the foot of Cranbrook Hill, bringing new life to the struggling businesses and service industries.
Army Camp Prince George was opened during WWII and once housed 6000 soldiers. From March 1942 - October 1943, divisional troops and units of the 16th Infantry Brigade (8th Canadian Infantry Division) were housed there. The camp was located in the area of 1st Street, Central Street,15th Ave, to the bottom of Cranbrook Hill. Barracks were built to house the soldiers, dining halls constructed to feed them, and wet canteens for their leisure and entertainment. There were rifle ranges, mortar ranges and artillery ranges. The camp closed at the end of the war. Most of the buildings were either demolished or moved to new locations, although some remain in their original locations, such as the former transportation building on 15th Avenue, that was used by the British Columbia Forestry Service from the late 1940s to 1963. It is now owned by the City of Prince George for use by the Community Arts Council. The Nechako Bottle Depot on First Avenue is also another former camp building. Others include the first Overwaitea store, at Victoria and Third, formerly a barracks and the original civic centre, which was the old drill shed, was removed and rebuilt on Seventh Avenue.
After the war, as the ravaged European cities rebuilt, the demand for lumber skyrocketed and Prince George, with its abundance of sawmills and spruce trees, prospered. Finally, in 1952, after 40 years of construction, the Pacific Great Eastern was completed and joined with the CN line at Prince George, and with the completion of Highways 16 and 97, Prince George finally fulfilled George Hammond’s long ago promise of being the hub of British Columbia.
Canadian Forces Station CFS Baldy Hughes (ADC ID: C-20) was constructed in 1952 as a closed General Surveillance Radar station. It was located 22.3 miles (35.9 km) south-southwest of Prince George, and was closed in 1988. It was operated as part of the Pinetree Line network controlled by NORAD. Today the former station is The Baldy Hughes Addiction Treatment Centre.
On June 25, 1956, at just after 7 o'clock a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane built in 1943 (Serial Number 8300, bearing Canadian Registration CF-HSC) flown by Frank Samuel Pynn, out of the Prince George Airport, was observed flying in an unsafe manner, it went into a half roll, seemed to fall over on its back and nosed into a deep ravine in the cut-banks on the north side of town approximately one kilometer from the city center. Pilot Frank Pynn, a former Royal Air Force Transport Command pilot, and his passenger, 15 year old Jimmy Clarke died on impact. Alcohol consumption was believed to be a factor in the crash and the Coroners inquest found that Pynn died "through his own neglect and complete disregard for the Aeronautical Regulations of Canada." The wreckage is still there, however most pieces are less than two meters in length.
In 1964 the first pulp mill, Prince George Pulp and Paper was built, followed by two more in 1966, Northwood Pulp and Intercontinental Pulp. New schools and more housing were needed and the new subdivisions of Spruceland, Lakewood, Perry and Highglen were built. Then, in 1975, Prince George amalgamated and extended its borders to include the Hart area to the north, Pineview to the south and the old town of South Fort George to the east. In 1981, Prince George was the second largest city in British Columbia with a population of 67,559, narrowly edging Victoria out of the honour, whose population was then 64,379.
Low-lying areas adjacent to the confluence of the rivers, which can freeze, mean that those areas suffer recurring flooding. In late 2007 an ice jam formed on the Nechako River and soon grew to a length of more than 6 kilometres, causing widespread flooding in the city. Faster runoff due to devastation of nearby lodgepole pine forests by the mountain pine beetle was identified as a contributing factor. A state of emergency was declared on December 11. On January 14, 2008, with the ice jam still present, the Provincial Emergency Program approved an unprecedented plan to melt the ice by piping water from a pulp mill steam plant 2.7 km to the jam area where it would be mixed with well water and poured into the river at a temperature of 15 °C. In the interim an amphibious excavator was used for 10 days to move some of the ice. Costing C$400,000 to build and C$3,000 per day to run, the "Warm Water System" was completed on January 29, by which time the ice jam had grown to 25 km long.
As a result of long-term lobbying from local groups (championed by local advocate Sheldon Clare, and members of 396 Air Cadet Squadron, 2618 Army Cadet Corps, 158 Sea Cadet Corps, 142 Navy League Corps, Branch 43 Royal Canadian Legion, and the Peacekeepers Association) in February 2011, Canadian Forces 39 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters announced that a detachment of the Rocky Mountain Rangers Army Reserve unit was to be formed in Prince George. The Rocky Mountain Rangers are currently increasing recruiting efforts in the community to reach platoon and then company size.
Prince George hosts the 2015 Canada Winter Games.