Smithers

Nearly 6,000 people call Smithers home and nearly 20,000 live in the surrounding valley and rural communities.  As a service centre, Smithers offers many more amenities than you might expect for a town its size. The Bulkley River borders Smithers and lends its name to the valley. Smithers is a mountain town, set against the backdrop of the Hudson Bay Mountain and with vistas of the Babine and Telkwa Mountain Ranges. 

The Town of Smithers is situated northwestern British Columbia directly on the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway (Route 16), approximately half way between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George.

Smithers offers outstanding outdoor recreational pursuits during all phases of the year. This includes fishing and hunting, downhill and cross-country skiing, golfing, snowmobiling, canoeing and kayaking and many more. Coupled with a lively music scene, Art Gallery, Museum, theatrical performances and an energetic sporting community, Smithers has something for everyone.

To see a listing of non-profit and community service organizations, check out the Smithers Community Directory.

STATS

Population - 6 000; regional service center for approximately 20,000;

Latitude - N 54* 49' 29" Longitude - W127* 10' 58";

Situated in northwestern British Columbia 370 km (222 miles) west of Prince George; and, 350 km (218 miles) east of Prince Rupert on the Pacific Ocean. Smithers is 1150 km (690 miles) north of Vancouver BC;

Located directly on the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway (Route 16);

Elevation 494 meters/1 621 ft;

Relatively warmer and drier than mountainous areas to the west; July average temperature is 14 C/59 F; January is -10 C/14 F; average annual precipitation 325 mm/13 inches;

Smithers sits in the Bulkley River valley between the Hudson Bay Mountain range to the west and the Babine Mountain range to the east;

Because of its alpine environment, the town has adopted an ‘alpine theme'. Main Street was reconstructed in 1979 with red brick sidewalks and alpine style rooflines on buildings and shops;

The surrounding mountains and valleys are dominated by coniferous forests of lodgepole pine, spruce and sub-arctic balsam fir. Deciduous trees include aspen, birch and cottonwood.


FIRST NATIONS

The Name Witsuwit’en (or Witsuwit'en) can be roughly translated as "People of the lower hills". The Witsuwit’en Nation are from the linguistic Athapaskan family. Their territory surrounds the Bulkley River in the northern interior of British Columbia. The Witsuwit’en Nation 's territory extends from the village of Hagwilget in the New Hazelton area in the west to Burns Lake in the east. From Moricetown in the north it stretches to Ootsa Lake area in the South. Within this expansive territory there six Witsuwit’en communities--Hagwilget, Moricetown, Broman Lake, Burns Lake, Skin Tyee and Nee Tahi Buhn.  Witsuwit’en people also live within the communities of Smithers, Telkwa, Houston and Burns Lake. 

Central to the Witsuwit’en culture is their traditional system of governance based upon our five clans; Gitdumden (Wolf), Laksamishyu (Fireweed), Tsayu (Beaver), Gilseyhyu (Big Frog) and Laksilyu (Small Frog). Every clan is divided into houses, each comprising of a sort of extended family. There are thirteen Witsuwit’en houses. Each house has a hereditary chief (the Chief's name is passed on in the line for perpetuity). Usually there are Wing Chiefs (Sub Chiefs) for each House as well.

Every Witsuwit’en individual is born in a Clan and a House base on matrilineal descent (i.e. through the mother's heritage). The entire Witsuwit’en system is based upon mutual support and long-term relationships. There are currently 5000 Witsuwit’en members throughout the territory and away from home. For information visit the Office of the Witsuwit’en.


HISTORY

When Smithers first sprouted up in 1913 as a divisional point on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, Hudson Bay Mountain was a quiet and impressive sentinel over the growing railroad community. But more than just a picturesque backdrop, the mountain has in many ways shaped this town into what it is today-a thriving community that values outdoor recreation, mountain culture and community life.

The community took its name from Sir Alfred Smithers, the chairman of the board of directors of the railway.

The first non-aboriginal settlers to the Bulkley Valley were fur traders and missionaries in the 1860's. Best known of the missionaries was Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice who arrived in 1892, into the Witsuwit’en village of Kyah Wiget, meaning Old Town. Father Morice studied the native language and translated prayer books into Carrier.  Later the village later became known as Moricetown after Father Morice. 

In 1866, the exploration team for the Collins Overland Telegraph line came through, attempting to construct an overland telegraph line connecting North American to Europe and Asia. Through their efforts failed, the trail served as an access route to gold miners heading north. The Bulkley Valley is named for Colonel Charles Bulkley, the Engineer-in-Charge of the survey team.

Little exploration was carried out in this area until 1892 when a provincial government surveying team noted the potential resources of the valley, by then, the old telegraph tail was known as the Dominion Telegraph line, and was being extended to the Yukon.

Gabriel Lacroix became the first non-aboriginal man into what is now the Smithers area, arriving about 1900 to farm on the east side of the Bulkley River. Then, in 1903, the Fred Heal family settled on the east side of Tyhee Lake. In a few years, settlement began in earnest. The now-vanished village of Aldermere was staked in 1904, followed by Telkwa two years later. 

The community of Smithers was founded in 1913 as the divisional headquarters of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The community took its name from Sir Alfred Smithers, the chairman of the board of directors of the railway. Alfred Avenue is also named after him.  In 1921, Smithers was designated the first incorporated village in British Columbia. Development of local mineral and agricultural resources were encouraged and a steady economic growth was realized. In 1967, Smithers moved from the status of village to incorporated town.

Pioneer settlers made Smithers their home because of the fertile valley soil, its abundant mineral riches and imposing coniferous forests. Later, tourism played an important part of the economic foundation of the area. Following World War Two, many Europeans immigrated to Smithers, notably Dutch and Swiss families.

Smithers today is a vibrant community comprised of First Nations, second and third generation descendents of European settlers, along with new residents from many parts of the globe.  Smithers celebrated its Centennial in 2013, with a weeklong Homecoming and the creation of Bovill Square, a new civic park on Main Street. The name Bovill, honours a long-time family of the community.

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