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If you read a travel article about northern British Columbia over the past six years, chances are Blaine Estby had a hand in it. Estby, a tall man with one of those voices that just carrieswas a mainstay in the Canadian writing community as a media relations representative for Tourism Northern British Columbia.
From cuisine in Prince George to surfing in Haida Gwaii, he helped content creators get what they needed.
So it was quite a shock among travel media when, in earlyBlaine sent out his goodbye s and departed a dream job. However, his new gig seemed even Is my new best friend smithersbritish columbia this co-owning a brewery in the northern mountain town of Smithers, BC. BC is rife with mountain towns seeing waves of lifestyle migration; city-dwelling refugees who outgrow the rat race in favour of prioritizing recreational pleasures. Is my new best friend smithersbritish columbia this saw it in Squamish in the s and throughout the Kootenay Rockies in the early 21st century.
Lately, Cumberland, on Vancouver island, has made the leap from end-of-the-road pass-by to a craft-beer and coffee-house mountain bike mecca. So what makes Smithers different from the classic gentrified mountain town? It starts with something as simple as latitude. But not even the main thoroughfare north. As such, the town enjoys modest tourism, as part of a circle for travellers looping the twin northern routes, as well as the BC Ferries circle route that takes you through the Inside Passage by boat, then back by car.
Perched along the Bulkley River, Smithers is home to fewer than 6, people and services about 14, more in the rural region. To embrace its alpine surroundings, 41 years ago the town standardized much of the architecture on Main Street: red brick sidewalks, exposed wood and alpine-style roofs adorning eateries and storefronts.
This setting crafts a unique vibe, a lower cost of living and a cooperative community steadfast in The North. While working at Tourism Northern British Columbia, Estby was based in Prince George—the hub of the region—but the call to Smithers led him to begin working remotely from his hometown, four hours west of the tourism offices.
Inch by inch, he separated from government work. It was a natural fit. Estby had experience within the booze industry, as well as having worked with breweries in Prince George and other northern towns during his tourism days.
For brewing the actual beer, they hired a relative newcomer, Cameron McKeigan, who came from Wheelhouse Brewing in Prince George, offering him the chance to leapfrog ahead in the industry at the helm of a new brewery. People can bring food in. For the custom timber-frame taproom—all beams were milled within 50 kilometres of town, all contractors were local.
To combat the high costs of distribution from their northern locale, they partner with other northern brewers to deliver their cans around the region in one collective wagon. Smithers Brewing Company opened in June of and Estby left his government cheques in January of the following year. And they were on trend—a block away, Bulkley Valley Brewery, a taproom and growlerly, opened at just about the same time. Smithers finally had all the pieces in place. Originally from the UK, Michaela had a tree-planting business in the area—but dreamed of being a restaurateur—and constantly lured her sister across the pond to visit their mountain paradise.
Finally, it was time to make the dream a reality. Moe explains that in a short amount of time, Smithers Brewing Company opened, Bulkley Valley Brewing opened, then Roadhouse and a couple other restaurants all opened. And also like Estby, the business community and local support is just one piece to the Smithers pie. Amazing fishing. Lakes all over. Cottage industries all over.
Miller explains that being in business in Smithers requires more than just opening your doors—owners are expected to support community events and programs. In turn, community members support local operators rather than shopping on Amazon. And when local businesses have seen hard times, Miller explains that other owners often rally support. Plus, the community at-large, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and local politicians, understand that the pillars of housing and food-security and childcare prop up economic development—and these are ongoing priorities.
The ? The more things change, the more things stay the same. Over the course of 35 years, the population of Smithers proper has increased by only about 1, people. Tourism, for example, is still fledgling. Estby, who keeps one toe in the tourism pond via seats on a couple of boards, explains they have a devil of a time trying to explain to potential travellers from Prince George—population ,—that Smithers is the same distance away as Jasper National Park, offering similar mountain recreation with a fraction of the crowds and half the price-tag.
As such, businesses look inward. We have Bulkley River, a world-class steelhead fishery. Mountain bike trails lead right into town. The Roadhouseon Alfred Avenue, serves upscale comfort food and classy cocktails. Alpenhorn Bistro and Bar is a Smithers staple and historical site—offering an urban chic dining experience with a northern flare.
Smithers Brewing Company offers four mainstays and four rotating taps as well as cider and kombucha. Bulkley Valley Brewery is another lively spot in town, serving a selection of proprietary brews in their taproom on First Avenue. The Aspen Inn and Suites awaits on the Yellowhead Highway at the west end of town—rooms for singles up to a family.
Stay on the ski hill at Hudson Bay Mountain Chalet —sleeps plus and offers access to year-round outdoor recreation. Sport fishing has long been a mainstay of Smithers—thanks to the legendary Bulkley River, home to chinook, coho, sockeye and pink salmon, as well as steelhead.
Local lakes also produce. Hudson Bay Mountain is a rustic ski hill, with just four lifts, but has earned its reputation for big dumps of dry powder and a welcoming vibe. Hike the gentle walking of the kilometre linear park around town, or the snow-free summer trails of Hudson Bay Mountain, or the 31,hectare Babine Mountains Provincial Parkwhich offers marked day-hikes ranging from 1. Most businesses are open at time of press, but are operating under COVID regulations, including reduced services and reduced capacities.
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