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October 27, 2017 11:36 pm

Mackenzie In Party Prep Mode

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 @ 3:56 AM

maxkenzie67mackenzie pioneer2

(at left, intersection of Crysdale and  Pioneer  in 1967  at right,  same intersection in 2012)

Mackenzie, B.C. – It  is the second “planned” community  in B.C.,  and this year,  Mackenzie will celebrate its 50th  birthday.

Mackenzie was officially incorporated  on May 19th, 1966, and this year to celebrate the half century  the long weekend in May will be party-time. “The Instant town”  that’s  how Jim Wiens, a  5 term Councillor for the District and curator of the District of Mackenzie Museum refers to Mackenzie’s beginnings. The town  site was chosen by the Province,  once  a couple  of  forestry companies had set up  operations on the banks of the newly former Williston reservoir.  “They (the government) hired a company out of Vancouver ,  they planned the  whole town, shopping, houses,  everything,  for about ten thousand people.  Right now there’s about 38 thousand  living here.”

He says the first planned town in B.C. was Kitimat  which was also  designed  by the same   people  in Vancouver, “So if you look at a street map of Kitimat and Mackenzie,  they are very  similar”  and chuckles that  the lower mainland designers  forgot the two communities  lie within  significant snow belts, making snow removal  from what he calls “crooked streets, crescents and cul-de-sacs” a major challenge.

But because the town was designed to  support  the  industries,   there were benefits,  “Mackenzie got off to a really  good start” says Wiens, “BC Forest Products and  Finlay Forest  Industries invested in the town.  Our  rec centre  has a pool a curling rink, a library,  a gymnasium,  little restaurant,  it is the centre of town,  it was built by the local companies”.  The  facilities a necessity  if  the companies were to attract  workers  to the new community.  BCFP and FFI   also built  many of the homes.

Wiens says   many  who  first  moved to Mackenzie  didn’t plan to stay long   “It was,  ‘I’m only gong to be there for a couple  of years’  and 40 years later  they are still here, because they love it.”  He  recalls  when Mackenzie was in the running to be named “Hockeyville”  and  the NHL’s  Jeff Courtnall was  fully behind the  towns  effort  “He was up here,  and he  phoned  his mother in L.A. and said ‘Mom  you should see  this town,  I love it,  it’s so beautiful up here’  and she said, ‘you used to live there’, because his dad  helped build some of the houses here in 1966.  He ( Jeff Courtnall) was up here  when he was  2 years old.”

Diane Rossi is one of those folks who only planned on staying  for a couple of years,  that was  47 years  ago. Today,  she is the coordinator for the 50th  anniversary celebration.

Events include a  meet and greet on  Thursday the 19th, the official  anniversary date.  From that point,  there  will be a band Jam, fire works, pancake breakfasts,  a  parade on Saturday,  community Bar-B-q,  presentation from the Mackenzie  Arts Centre,  a  dance , social at the Legion,  quilt show, and  the burial of a time capsule in the Spirit Square.

The whole weekend  has a reunion theme says Rossi “I think  anyone who has left Mackenzie, still thinks of Mackenzie as home.  That’s our whole basis of it, to catch up with  old friends, with people  who have left, and this will bring it back a little bit.”

Rossi  has  just one  wish for the  celebrations “This  is a really  good community,  it’s a caring community.  I just hope people take away  that  they had a good time.”







“Right now there’s about 38 thousand living here.”

I think he meant to say 38 hundred.

The rec center in Mackenzie is one of the nicest layouts I’ve seen in this province. Everything is in one location which is awesome for a family outing!

PS. It’s “Geoff”, not “Jeff”.

“He says the first planned town in B.C. was Kitimat”.

Prince Rupert was actually the first planned town on the northwest coast. It was planned by the Grand Trunk Pacific.

To be a bit more accurate, such towns as Kitimat, Mackenzie, Tumbler Ridge are typically called “new towns”

In fact, most cities in Western Canada, including BC, were planned towns.

Prince George was certainly planned. The railway was built to populate the west of Canada. Along the way, towns were “planned”, as many were in BC at the time.

From the PG City web page: princegeorge.ca/cityhall/aboutourcity/streethistory/Pages/Default.aspx

“In May, 1912, the railway purchased 1366 acres comprising the Fort George Indian Reserve for $125,000. That area was destined to become downtown Prince George.

“A detailed topographic map of the site was compiled from surveys undertaken that summer by James C. Anderson, a civil engineer for the railway. The GTPR commissioned the Boston architectural firm of Brett, Hall & Co. to design a town plan based upon the topographic map and a brief visit to the site by the architects in September, 1912.

“Franklin Brett and George D. Hall also designed Prince Rupert as a model city for the railway’s terminus on the Pacific Ocean. Hall was the son-in-law of the railway’s president.

“The town plan was created in Boston in the fall of 1912 and was transposed onto the site in the spring of 1913 by Fred Burden, a local surveyor. The site was then cleared, lots were sold and buildings began to be erected in early 1914, soon after the arrival of steel. By the end of that summer, Prince George had become a recognizable town although it wasn’t chartered and named until March, 1915.”

And the oldest planned city in BC is?? …. New Westminster, according to the city’s web page.


“As the oldest city in western Canada, New Westminster has a long and rich history. In 1859, the Royal Engineers arrived from England to establish the first capital of the new colony of British Columbia. The chosen site was selected both for its beauty and strategic location on the Fraser River.”

Here is the plan as laid out by the Royal Engineers from 1859.


Mackenzie is such a nice little town. Clean and quiet with affordable housing. All it really needs is another industry to come in and set up shop and it would take off again.

I suppose that could be said for most places….but it would be nice if Mackenzie was one of the survivors.

I think there’s a bit of a difference between a ‘planned town’ such as Prince George, or Prince Rupert, or New Westminster, where streets are laid out and lots platted, and then sold and building takes place, and the type of ‘instant towns’ that Kitimat, and Mackenzie, Tumbler Ridge, Logan Lake, Gold River, and others have been.

These latter examples were an outgrowth of what used to be known as a ‘company town’. The difference being that unlike the company towns of old, places where the mine, or mill, or brick factory, or cannery, etc., built the place and owned all the houses, ‘instant towns’ were built by the company who needed workers in its plants, but the houses and land were to be sold to private owners subsequently ~ the company wasn’t interested in being in the housing business, or running the town, long term.

One of the earliest examples of the instant town succeeding the company town was Longview, Washington State. This city was, like Mackenzie, based on forest products development, and was developed by the Long-Bell Lumber Company in the mid-1920’s. Despite Long-Bell’s major lumber mill, and an later, even larger, investment in more mills by Weyerhaeuser, and others, the population, like Mackenzie’s, never reached the anticipated levels. By all accounts it was, and still is, a pretty nice place to live. As I’m sure Mackenzie is, too.

    Longview may have been a nice place at one time. It is also a planned town as anyone who knows traditional town planning principles can see immediately when they look at an aerial photograph of the city.

    In fact, on can tell what part of the world a city grew in and what time in history a city was originally built just by looking at the street layout.

    Longview is one of those with a central square and roads radiating from it in a star fashion with the square as a focal point.

    I have known the community for some 3 decades. The town, the same as Vancouver, WA, are located in the south of Washington state which is a very depressed region of the state, as are the small coastal communities in that part of the state.

    Commerce Avenue, the main downtown street is worse than PG. There are no new buildings to speak of.

    The crime rate is considerably higher than both the national and state crime rates. The education level is lower than the federal and state, as is the income level and the value of housing and the unemployment rate is higher.

    If anything, it is an excellent example of a single industry city. In the case of cities such as Longview they are too close to larger communities (Portland Or in this case) to be able to support services they would normally have for their population. A 30 minute drive and a full service city is available. The full-service city provides diversity and grows as a result of this diversity.

    BTW, there are more than 50 single enterprise communities in BC, most of which started as “instant” towns in the last century and most of which had some sort of initial “ideal” plan.

    The problem is, none of them were able to overcome the odds of such towns being able to overcome the difficulties of the social environment in which people found themselves. In the early 1970’s the NFB (I believe) presented a program on CBC of interviews of women in Mackenzie who had to battle boredom in such communities – alcohol, drugs, extra-marital affairs, marriage breakups, etc. were the results. No amount of wonderful community centres and recreation facilities could match the unplanned variety that is available in diversified communities of 10 times the size and larger.

    See this government link about single industry towns: cscd.gov.bc.ca/lgd/policy_research/bibliography/book6b.htm


Keep an eye on Fort McMurray.

Once oil sands fade for good, so will Fort McMurray unless they find something which is more sustainable over the decades ahead.

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