The wild wild… north?

My job promised travel around the province. It’s been true to form so far. Today it has over-delivered.

The first flight of the week to Fort St John was rammed. A quick peek at the logos on shirts and caps confirmed why. Take the gold, logging and mining rushes; multiply by a big number and you’ll get some idea of how big energy is up in the north right now – and the big gas projects haven’t even got started yet. And whatever your views on energy developments, the fascinating social effects are undeniable.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of this is from the sky. My colleague, who grew up in the snappily-self-titled FSJ, saw instantly that the place has grown quickly in just a few years.

Down on the chilly ground the fast-paced energy and the growing pains of a town bursting at the seams were immediately obvious. A line of 20 people waited for no cabs to show up.

When one did finally show, the deiver was clearly new in town. After overtaking down a residential street and sliding the car round a few corners a fellow passenger asked if he had driven in the snow much before. “It snowed two days ago,” came the cheery response. He’s only lived here 6 days… and not been in the country much longer.

In downtown there’s more evidence of a city where an economic and population boom are outpacing infrastructure growth. If you have a doctor, an appointment can take six weeks.

In the schools, teachers are getting used to balancing the needs of kids who come and go with their parents’ short contracts and the ‘townies’. At the modest local Canadian Tire store, there’s an advert outside looking for 15 (yes, fifTEEN) new staff in the one store.

Fort St John is a fascinating modern take on gold-rush-ism. As a recent arrival from Europe, seeing the contrast with the likes of struggling economies like Spain is incredible. The fact that it is also the antithesis of other struggling (sometimes former gold rush) communities right here in BC is even more fascinating.

But, like all towns mid-rush, this place clearly offers opportunities, and it may just be a way in many would-be immigrants can make it into Canada. Think of the taxi driver, and I’m sure there was an Aussie twang in the barman’s accent tonight…


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