Dawson Creek and The Alaska Highway
By Virginia Carraway Stark
Dawson creek is a unique city and a relatively new one. Built in Northern British Columbia, Canada, there were few resources or incentives to colonize the area. It started off as a very small settlement but was mostly settled by Indigenous People who had made it their home for hundreds of years.
Despite the northerly latitude of the city, it is located in the Peace River District which is unusual for northern cities in that it gets far more hours of sunlight especially in the winter than most regions at the same latitude or even lower. The Peace River wound its way through the region creating fertile soil and many crops that wouldn’t grow so far north anywhere else would grow in the Peace Region due to this confluence of events.
Nevertheless, the region remained unpopulated for many years because it was so difficult to get to and there were no roads or trains going to the area. It wasn’t until World War 2 that Dawson Creek became significant as a strategic outpost for the Pacific theater. The American military used a railroad spur to expand the small settlement and to use it as a base for one of the most difficult and beset engineering projects of the day: Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.
As a result of this, the city is built around several features:
The greenways and parks to keep the creek it is built around removed from construction projects and unhindered in its natural route. This was extended to include a large network of walking trails and parks. Many empty lots were also converted into parks rather than built on.
The Axis’ that it follows that make up both an irregular pattern and then try to establish a more ordered pattern through a grid design.
The new modern area that caters to entertainment, tourism and long term stay hotels for the oil and gas industry.
Additional green spaces and waterways have been highlighted in the maps below. The axis have also been marked out in pink. The city has left the surrounding area to agriculture and to wind farms to increase it’s green spaces. Even the Modern area ensures that trees and areas of grass or field are left to break up the intense building in the Modern Industrial Area.
It follows two axis, one axis is the Alaska Highway itself that forms a unique layout to the city planning since it protrudes in a Northwest direction. The second axis is 8th street, it too is part of a highway that turns into one of the major markers in town. It is along this second axis that a grid for subdivision was laid out and most of the commercial areas are located and is the most modern area of Dawson Creek. Nearly all of the buildings in this zone are new or have been significantly renovated to give them a modern feel. This area includes the Aquatics Center, several large hotel chains, a Walmart, Canadian Tire, a row of fast food restaurants, Northern Lights College, the Encana Center and many more such buildings. The Encana center and the Aquatics and recreational center are very large buildings where thousands of people can gather.
Below shows the exterior and interior of The Encana Center.
One of several hotels, behind the Pomeroy you can see the back end of the Walmart building.
Journey’s performance at the Encana Center shows how exciting this modern aspect of Dawson Creek is.
These modern areas are in stark contrast to the old downtown area of Dawson Creek. This area is enclosed on both sides by the arms of 8th street and the Alaska Highway. The place where the two roads interconnect is a roundabout that is the actual location of Mile Zero.
One of the things that was easy to observe was how the city of Dawson Creek had worked to re-purpose old buildings to create not only a still vibrant downtown that seems to leap out of the 1950s, but to create centers for artists and tributes to history in what was the ‘old downtown’.
Located near the Mile Zero round about, this last grain elevator from the days when agriculture was the sole industry in the area was preserved and turned into an utterly unique and beautiful art gallery. Visitors follow a circular walkway that leads up to the top of the grainery that is now regularly covered in artwork from local and visiting artists.
In another example of repurposing and preservation the former railroad station was converted into a museum that preserves much of the past of Dawson Creek and the building of the highway.
Much of Dawson Creek is devoted to green spaces including the windfarm that tops nearby Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain and the surrounding areas are dedicated to agriculture so the entire area is surrounded by green and yellow fields of canola.
Field of Canola blowing in the wind shows how Dawson Creek borders on the prairies. It is juxtaposed between prairies and mountains resulting in the ability to establish the windfarm in addition to the massive amounts of agriculture still being practiced in the area. These fields contribute to the greenspaces available to the people of Dawson Creek and keep the area’s air clean.
The Bear Mountain windfarm as seen from the edge of the city.
Dawson Creek has made a point of making access to green areas a priority. In addition to preserving the natural waterways the city has also made a man made lake and park called Rotary Park. This offers a free place for residents and tourists to swim and picnic. It borders a campground and a second historical area that has preserved settlers homes, churches, general stores and other buildings.
The man-made lake and surrounding park known as Rotary Park. Not pictured are acres of land that consist of play ground space, biking and walking trails and areas for cook-outs.
Among the re-purposed buildings was the original post office. A brick structure with marble interior, the building was a long term landmark and no one wanted to see it torn down but it cost too much for a private company to purchase and maintain it. As a result it was completely renovated as a complete center for the arts including a performance theater, cafe as well as studios for artists and room for the Potter’s Guild and the Quilter’s Guild amongst others.
The post office boxes were partially left intact and were used as plaques to dedicate to patrons of the arts.
Not all buildings were successfully renovated. The old swimming pool building was filled with toxic waste and was a difficult issue for many years. It was recently torn down and the waste removed. The area is now a green space and park adjacent to the ice arenas.
An unusual building, the swimming pool served the people of Dawson Creek for many years. It is now a memory in a photograph.