How 12 B.C. communities are revitalizing their waterfronts and reimaging residential neighbourhoods, business districts and public spaces to serve an influx of new residents.
By Matt O’Grady
From Vancouver Island to the Kootenays to the North, B.C. residents are looking for more space to live, work and play at home, driving real estate sales to record highs. In February 2021 an increase of 89.1 per cent in unit sales over February 2020 broke the record (from 2016), according to the BC Real Estate Association.
Among the hottest areas are the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack, the Interior and Vancouver Island–each of which offer space advantages over the cramped Lower Mainland, as well as significantly lower prices. And, as the following dozen communities prove, a commitment to investing in your community’s top assets doesn’t hurt either.
2020 POPULATION 161,581
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON Abbotsford‘s Official Community Plan framework will allow the city to grow to 200,000 residents–and central to that is the creation of brand-new neighbourhoods, such as The McKee Neighbourhood Plan, which will account for 25 per cent of future growth.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR The current widening of Highway 1 to Langley is expected to continue onward to Abbotsford by 2026, according to an NDP promise during the last election, alleviating one of the major concerns of Fraser Valley residents.
FAST FACT In 2020, Abby broke its annual record for film industry activity with 63 film permits issued, 237 filming days recorded, and 180 filming locations booked throughout the day.
2020 POPULATION 36,167
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.5%
WHAT’S GOING ON Campbell River, with various attractions including its world-famous salmon fishing, was already popular with urban relocators pre-pandemic. Between 2018 and 2021, over 500 multi-family units (the majority rental housing) were completed or are under construction, with another 500 units proposed for 2021.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR Vancouver Island has always been “green,” Campbell River included. Electric Vehicle (EV) stations are currently being installed as part of a BC Hydro project that aims for 28 Level-2 EV chargers in 11 Vancouver Island communities; there are now six EV charging sites across Campbell River.
FAST FACT Local angel investing firm the Campbell River Area Angel Group (CRAAG) has funded nearly $900,000 worth of projects to strengthen Campbell River’s economy.
2020 POPULATION 21,502
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 0.5%
WHAT’S GOING ON Over the last five years, Cranbrook City Council approved multiple rezoning amendments to expand housing options for all. According to business development officer Darren Brewer, nearly 300 new units are expected in 2021, with almost $100 million in building permits issued last year.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR One of the Kootenay’s top educational institutions, the College of the Rockies, is spending $20 million to expand its residences and enhance its course offerings, all in the aim of building a skilled regional workforce.
FAST FACT 2020 marked the return of junior hockey to Cranbrook, with the Cranbrook Bucks awarded the newest BCHL franchise. Once the pandemic is over, the Bucks hope to welcome 4,000 fans back to Western Financial Place.
FORT ST. JOHN
2020 POPULATION 22,283
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.3%
WHAT’S GOING ON With a median age of 31.4, Fort St. John is one of the youngest municipalities in Canada. To keep pace with a recent influx, the city is making $70 million in capital investments in 2021 alone: more than $21 million for roads and infrastructure and almost $48 million in facilities, buildings and parks.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR In March, Fort St. John launched a new digital service, MyCityHall, so citizens can pay property taxes, utility bills or even for dog licenses via a mobile app or website, with plans to expand digital service to other city-related activities in the future.
FAST FACT 170 residential properties worth $60.2 million were sold during the first quarter of 2021 in Fort St. John, according to the BC Northern Real Estate Board (almost double Q1 sales in 2020).
2020 POPULATION 101,198
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON “Kamloops is poised to become the major growth centre in the Interior,” says Jim Anderson, executive director at Venture Kamloops. To keep pace, the city is upgrading its Tranquille corridor, connecting downtown Kamloops Airport, and finishing a new Patient Care Tower at Royal Inland Hospital.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR A major multifamily development called City Gardens promises to add between 700 and 1,000 new residents to the downtown core, making it the largest multifamily development in Kamloops‘ history. It’s expected to take about a decade to complete.
FAST FACT Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University has more than 25,000 students enrolled in over 25 disciplines, delivering 140-plus on-campus programs and 50-plus open learning programs.
2020 POPULATION 9,036
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH -0.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON One of the Island’s hidden gems is reimagining its waterfront. According to communications and engagement specialist Mike Gregory, the Waterfront Area Plan focus is on upgrading the historic Machine Shop complex (housing the art gallery, Ladysmith Maritime Society and artist studios) into a new Arts and Heritage Hub. “The plan,” he notes, “is very much a shared vision between the town and Stz’uminus First Nation.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR At the end of March, the town received over $700,000 in provincial tourism funding, which will allow Ladysmith to enhance community amenities such as Transfer Beach Park.
FAST FACT According to the town, the majority of people moving to Ladysmith (74 per cent) moved from within British Columbia, while 22 per cent moved from elsewhere in Canada.
2020 POPULATION 15,654
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 2.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON In the booming Okanagan region, Lake Country’s population grew more than 50 per cent between 2010 and 2020. To keep up, the district has invested in its community amenities, including the addition of a new multi-generational activity centre.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR A new firehall is currently under construction to more immediately serve the needs of Lake Country. At a cost of $9 million, it’s expected to be completed by March 2022.
FAST FACT Lake Country ArtWalk, the Interior’s largest art festival, expects to return this September after a pandemic hiatus. The two-day festival attracts more than 7,000 attendees and 200-plus Okanagan artists annually.
2020 POPULATION 7,805
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON Merritt‘s vibrancy can, in part, be attributed to its relative youth, with about 30 per cent of residents under the age of 25. City council started a Merritt Youth Entrepreneurship Program, offering start-up funding and resources for Nicola Valley entrepreneurs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR The city released its new Active Transportation Plan this past March, which promises more “human-powered” transportation options around town. There are 120 items listed in the ATP implementation plan, with work expected to roll out over the next decade.
FAST FACT There are some 600 hectares of agricultural land in and around Merritt, which city council hopes to leverage as it updates its Official Community Plan with an eye to food security.
2020 POPULATION 42,855
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 2%
WHAT’S GOING ON The need for comprehensive planning in hot growth areas like Mission is being met. A massive planning process is underway in Silverdale (also known as Southwest Mission), which will divide into three distinct neighbourhoods: Central, West and East. Work on the Central plan, covering 733 hectares, is currently underway.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR Last fall, the district began work on a Waterfront Revitalization Masterplan. The goal is to connect disparate parts of about 296 acres into one walkable, livable community, supporting a variety of activities along the underutilized Fraser River shores.
FAST FACT In a sign of the times and of an increasingly young population, a facility for seniors next to the Mission Leisure Centre was given $105,000 by city council in April to convert its space into youth programming.
2020 POPULATION 19,060
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.4%
WHAT’S GOING ON Two urban trail systems will form new north-south and east-west pathways, making amenities (which could soon include a proposed aquatic centre), neighbourhoods, schools, shopping and workplaces more walkable than ever. The most affordable Island community with a hospital, it’s attracting as many millennials as downsizers.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR From bakeries to brewpubs to a proposed craft distillery, it’s booming. New rental apartments and seniors’ units, a small-footprint “net-zero” residential development and new public waterfront space are all planned.
FAST FACT Facilities like a new seaweed-processing venue, the Port Authority’s Dock+ seafood-processing hub and food incubator, the San Group’s waste-saving wood fibre-processing facility and Canadian Maritime Engineering’s floating drydock are local examples of what an innovative and green new economy in B.C. could look like.
2020 POPULATION 8,744
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 3.2%
WHAT’S GOING ON The mountain charm of Revelstoke is undeniable–which is manifest in local housing prices: according to BC Assessment, assessed property values increased seven per cent last year, to an average of $546,000. Since 2017, values have increased 53 per cent.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR Jamie Mayes, Revelstoke’s economic development officer expects the Idea Factory to open this summer: a fabrication lab and hub for Revelstoke’s growing tech sector. The Factory will have two 3D printers, a 3D scanner, a laser cutter and design-ready laptops.
FAST FACT According to the Revelstoke Tech Workers Survey from December 2020, the number of tech workers in the community has increased 16 per cent over the previous two years, with 34 per cent working remotely with companies outside of Revelstoke.
2020 POPULATION 21,273
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 0.9%
WHAT’S GOING ON Tourism has long been a driver of economic activity in Squamish (the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” typically drew more than 600,000 visitors annually pre-pandemic), accounting for just under $100 million in direct spending. Single-family home values topped $1 million in March 2021, up 134 per cent over the last decade.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR In March, the District launched an interactive Climate Action website, exploring the six pillars of the District’s Community Climate Action Plan. This year, the district plans to construct 200 metres of new sea dike in downtown Squamish, anticipating a future one-metre sea-level rise.
FAST FACT 68.5 per cent of residents in Squamish have a post-secondary certificate, degree or diploma, 6.5 per cent higher than the rest of B.C.
2020 POPULATION 36,496
2019-2020 POPULATION GROWTH 1.5%
WHAT’S GOING ON What sets the Okanagan’s fourth-largest city apart is its strong business focus. With a diverse economy that includes everything from agriculture to retail, light industry to wineries, West Kelowna issues more than 2,200 business licenses each year. And it invests back into the community: in 2021, capital improvements were valued at $24 million.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR This year, the city will launch the design and build process for a new City Hall complex on a 1.5-acre site and with a planned array of services, including a new library.
FAST FACT Maintenance matters: the city and its contractors clean, clear, maintain and upgrade 262 kilometres of roads, 65 kilometres of sidewalks and paved paths, and eight kilometres of bike lanes in well-groomed West Kelowna.