The room is swaying. It’s a pleasant room, and I have to say, for a campground ladies’ shower area, it passes the test. But it won’t stop moving…but that’s not its fault. It’s the 17 year old motor home shocks that make us “float” around highway corners, rather than “grip” the asphalt. And that shower, with all the nice water pressure, felt so good. So I can ignore the ship-deck feeling the last day of driving in the RV along BC highway 3A has induced. If I try really hard.
We are in Nelson (population 10,532), which fans up from the banks of the West Arm of Kootenay lake along the mountainsides in the heart of the Selkirk mountains. The streets are literally carved along the hillsides, and the 100+ year old homes have substantial foundational work to keep them upright. The street side of the house might be one story, but the backside down the hill is most likely three stories. I have to say there is a certain “creative” flair to Nelson’s building code. Very charming, character, turn-of-the-century homes have rusted bicycles attached to rooflines, with vines growing over them. Or verandas have up to three ancient upholstered couches on them, spilling over to the lawn area where some table/chair combos from a fast food chain may be plonked.
But they are somehow artfully displayed, with well-tended landscaping that is pleasing to the eye. If not chaotic to the psyche. One has to appreciate the creativity that made this happen. Every alternative therapy one can think of seems to be housed in many of the homes that share the periphery of the historic “Baker Street” downtown corridor. And more than one medical doctor has his/her practice linked with at least half a dozen of these therapy professionals, presumably to offer clients a “one stop” experience.
Nelson was founded on the discovery of silver at nearby Toad Mountain, which lead to the city’s incorporation in 1897. It became a transportation hub with the construction of two railways which supplied the local mining activity and developed the city as a transportation and distribution hub for the new province of British Columbia.
Downtown’s chateau-style civic buildings of granite were designed by Francis Rattenbury, who is more famously known as the architect of Victoria’s provincial Legislature, and the Hotel Vancouver and the Provincial Courthouse in Vancouver. Many of Nelson’s prominent buildings, which proclaim their date of construction on their cornerstones date to the early 1900’s, by which time Nelson boasted several fine hotels, a Hudson’s Bay store and an electric streetcar system.
The town’s immigrant history is still evident…English immigrants planted lakeside orchards, and Doukhobors from Russia tilled the valley bench lands. During the Vietnam War, many American draft dodgers settled around Nelson. This influx of liberal, mostly educated young people had a lasting impact on the area’s cultural and political demographics.
It all works. And I like it. There’s not a chain store to be seen…barely a neon sign. There are at least ten independent, good coffee shops and nary a Starbuck’s to be seen (yay).
Independent breweries galore and my husband pronounced the Nelson Brewing Company’s “Wild Honey Organic Ale” flashback-inducing “10 out of 10” to his tavern-dwelling youth in Quebec. We will go home with a case. 🙂
Perhaps there were one or two along the highway, but in Nelson I didn’t see one restaurant that qualified as “fast food”. I have never been in a small city that was so oriented to quality food. Each food shop had really interesting, good food, and none of them competed with the other. The range of good ingredients to cook with in Nelson for the home chef is absolutely amazing.
Nelson is very “chill”. I am a self-confessed foodie, and one of my current favourite cookbook authors hails from the kitchens of Nelson’s local ski hill, Whitewater. I had held off buying her (Shelley Adams) latest cookbook, because I wanted to buy it in Nelson. I was expecting a bit of a Shelley Adams mecca…maybe even a bit of the local grocery store having a “Shelley Adams” corner where I could buy her newly mass-produced salad dressings. Oh no…her presence in Nelson is very unassuming and I think she’s a bigger deal in my ‘hood in a large Canadian urban centre than she is in her home town. I kind of had to hunt for her book. And I like that too.
And that makes me appreciate Nelson even more. To me, that’s what part of being Canadian is. We know who we are. We’re comfortable with how we’re awesome. We don’t need to broadcast it, and if you choose to discover it for yourself, well, that’s great. And if you choose to think otherwise, we don’t really care, and we don’t hang our national identity on being top dog or you appreciating what we know is good. But all the same, we are awesome….but you have to go looking for it. You have to bring a bit of yourself to the table. Because we don’t expect to be “the best”, to be the “most beautiful”, and so we don’t force it.
But parts of Canada are “the best” and “the most beautiful”…just like other nations have parts of them that are the best and beautiful. We don’t ask you to notice the natural beauty of Nelson’s lake and the mountains.
You have to hunt for a company that will take you on an awesome ride down the Slocan River…they’re not advertising in your face in the tourist areas.
We had three days in Nelson, so that isn’t enough to do it justice. But it was long enough to appreciate that if you cruised through it quickly you could put it in a box and label it. There are ways in which you could describe Nelson has “hippie-dippie”…too alternative, too granola. But that does the city such a disservice. I think the people of Nelson have a unique BC city…in many ways it has the best of two worlds…a LOT of amenities and services of a large urban centre with the outdoor recreation and natural setting of a beautiful interior small town. And neither has spoiled the other. They coexist in wonderful harmony.
Just like our campground…it’s the only place in my research for this trip where a City operated a very decent campground right in the heart of a urban place where we could walk to absolutely everything we wanted to see, eat or do. No navigating a 33 foot motor home on curvy, narrow streets to cause more fingernails to be chewed, breath to be sucked in involuntarily, or eyes closed because I just couldn’t stand to see what was around that corner…phew. I might be in love with Nelson just because of that.
One response to “Nelson: “Big City” in a Scenic Small Town Atmosphere”
Hi Carmen (& family) – we’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading about your adventures (and gasping along with you as you describe the gripping moments!) cruising around in that monster “ARRRR VEEEE”! It looks like you are getting into the grove of RV life:-) Glad to hear you are getting some good chill time in Nelson. Have a safe journey home.