Happy Canada Day. Having told you were I am this week, I might as well show you around Fort Nelson. It's raison d'être is its position on the Alaska Highway, 400 km north of Ft. St. John, and its being an base camp for oil and gas exploration. The full time population is probably close to half and half native/non-native. The transient population is a combination of young white males driving pick up trucks, and retirement age white couples driving motorhomes with American licence plates.
The highway runs right through the middle of town, paved, with a paved service road each side. There's are a couple of traffic lights with pedestrian crossings down by the plaza where city hall is, but in front of the hotel to cross over to the restaurant there's just a sign indicating a pedestrian crossing. Drivers are pretty watchful, usually stopping to let me go across. It's a hard road to drive. We've met two couples so far who are stuck here because of problems with their vehicles. One had so much rock damage to the windshield from the highway that they have to wait for a windshield replacement to be delivered from down south. Another couple were coming out of a gas station and were hit by a crazy local driving on the wrong side of the road. Both are injured and their vehicle damaged.
There are about six cross streets, two converge half way to the airport and the others I think just peter out at the top of the hill as they run out of trailers parked beside them. There's a hospital, halfway up the hill, and for some weird reason the street behind the hospital is littered with condoms. Who goes to "park" behind a hospital? The other side of that street is a normal residential street like any other in town, so it's not like it affords any privacy. There are plenty of more cloistered areas to park within a few blocks. There's even a the "Community Forest" a once-logged area on the northwest of town with marked walking trails through the regrowth. Maybe the hospital gives out free condoms and people just can't wait? Who knows. Another mystery.
There are two grocery stores, a post office, an RCMP station and some mini strip malls, but few chain stores like a Subway (sandwich place) and a Northern Store, with dreary lighting and merchandise, but very friendly service. The little stores are mostly independent, many of them with hand-lettered signs. They contain a mixture of what you need living up here and what people can sell to the Americans passing through to Alaska, like snacks, small toys, car games, and magnetic ribbons. Businesses tend to be pretty versatile. One store is a combination Rock Shop (i.e. cigarette lighters and t-shirts with heavy metal band logos on them) and used bookstore (mostly Harlequin romances and blockbuster spy novels). There's a guy with a trailer full of freezers selling various kinds of fish, including "N.L. COD." The intended audience knows what that is. Check out the products and services offered by the store pictured. There are quite a few places like that. "And you also sell WHAT?"
Although a lot more of Canada is "North" than of the US, I think far more Americans go to see their north over the course of their lives. Firstly it's a dream or a goal for a lot of people. They know where to go: Alaska! You can drive up one road and see the highlights. A Canadian who wanted to see the "North" wouldn't know where to start. And the Americans have a road. The Canadian arctic requires aircraft and a big budget. Check out this amazing national park. be sure to click on the "How to Get There" link. There's no roads, no boats, no trails. It's a $15,000 charter flight. Each way. And that's from Resolute Bay. It's probably another $2000 to get to Resolute Bay from somewhere in the south. That's not something that you can load up the kids and dogs and go do one summer instead of Disneyland. It also requires advanced camping and wilderness skills. Of course a Canadian could always go to Iqaluit or Churchill, or take a tour, and many do, but it's a specialty thing, not a cultural icon. Canadians don't make a tourist pilgrimage to explore as far north as they can drive, because they just get to smaller and smaller places with poorer and poorer services until the road ends at some place most people haven't even heard of. Or maybe they end up some place in the oilfields that isn't exactly a tourist destination.
Or they could get this place. The next place along the highway as big or bigger than this is Whitehorse. That's worth seeing, and a worthy destination. After a few more small places you're into Alaska. Best of luck to everyone driving up there. I bet there's a lot of stories of people who didn't make it all the way.