Sunday, July 2, 2017

The City of Nelson

We've spent the last five days in Nelson and kind of fell in love with this small city tucked into the Selkirk Mountains on the shores of Kootenay Lake.  Here are some of the things we liked....

1.   It has 350 heritage buildings and a thriving downtown.

This photo is from the City of Nelson's website and shows the dozens of lovely old buildings climbing up the hill from the lake. Like many of the places we've been visiting, Nelson boomed in the late 1800s with the discovery of silver. Its location on the west arm of Kootenay lake enabled it to become a supply and distribution centre for the area. The town council decreed that downtown buildings must not be built from wood because of the danger of fire and so many fine granite buildings were constructed, including some by Francis Rattenbury, designer of Victoria's Parliament Buildings. The town prospered and never succumbed to fire as so many other towns in the area did.

2.   It's right on the lake.

From many of the streets and buildings you can look down to the lake. And the city has developed a big recreational area with sports fields and a beach. We saw kayakers, people on paddle boards and in canoes as well as lots of boats  on this beautiful afternoon.

And this area is served by a restored street car that runs back and forth from the downtown to the beach area.

3. There are lots of trees and gardens.

And because it's hilly you get to see a lot of flowers in people's front yards.

The main streets are lined with full-grown trees and even the parking meters are surrounded with flowers in spots.

4.  It has really great restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

We only went to few of them but it seems there's a big choice for a town of 10,000 people.

This is Oso Negro, maybe the nicest coffee ship we've ever experienced, with a gorgeous garden with outdoor seating.

Here are a few others we sampled....

This one had live music on a platform built out over the sidewalk. Lots of places had outdoor patios, which were fabulous in the warm days and evenings.

5. There are lots of old wooden houses built up the hillsides.

Some are large like this one, which used to belong to the CPR, but most are modest and some even tiny, and I think affordable.

The little house below is just three blocks above Nelson's main street.

This is the house we stayed in on a home exchange. It is within walking distance of downtown and has a view of the lake from the porch.

6.  There are many, many young people living here and most of them seem to be employed or in business and active in the community.

We saw a lot of people in their thirties, many with babies or young children walking by the house we stayed in. And it seems that it's possible for people to create their own jobs or start businesses here. I think affordability of rentals is a big factor.

This young woman has a little store on the main street selling special paints for crafts. There are at least four bookstores downtown, each with a different vibe. 

There are craft stores, antique/junk stores, T-shirt stores, home decor stores, and clothing stores, health food stores, a co-op store, plus of course coffee shops and eateries. There is no McDonalds and no Costco. And it has a friendly, small-town feeling. People stop and chat in a relaxed way in the neighbourhood and downtown. 

Some of the vibrancy and youthfulness may come from Nelson's legacy from the 60s and 70s when American draft dodgers and the back-to-the-land folk arrived and settled here. There's still a hip feeling here that's quite different from other small cities we've passed through.

You can see that we are enamoured of Nelson. And of course we considered what it would be like to sell our house and move here. But there are a few negatives for us, aside from the fact that we don't really want to leave our friends and family.  The hills are extremely steep and it would be brutal walking up and down in the heat of summer or in the snows of winter.  And it's really quite isolated. It's an eight hour drive from Vancouver over mountain roads. So, once again we've decided that it's not in the cards for us to move away from Victoria.  But we really, really liked Nelson.


  1. Maybe you can plan to visit often for some getaway time ?
    As always you take the best photos.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish


I really appreciate your comments.