Fort Nelson, the community of roughly 3000 people just pulled of the largest winter festival northern British Columbia has ever seen.
The event began March 9th, and ran for a fun-filled two week period before the fire was put out on March 23rd, signifying the close of the inaugural Northern Lights Festival.
Lets circle back to the beginning.
Located at historic mile 300 on the Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson is the largest community in the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality.
Talk to a local, and you’ll find the reason most love living here is because of the people and its advantageous location within some of the most abundant and vast wilderness in the province.
You also won’t find a better place to view the northern lights(aurora borealis) anywhere else in British Columbia.
Indeed, these characteristics make it appealing to a new generation of travellers who want to venture further and further north to find out what Canada is really about.
Natural beauty aside, the community was recently ravished by a depressed natural resource sector that supported the economy and its people for decades.
A lot of residents had to leave to find purpose elsewhere.
In the summer, tourism remains steady with travellers coming and going from destinations further north. The Alaska Highway is at its peak.
Historically, winter is a different story where life along the highway and tourism slows down to a crawl.
In the eyes of the dreamers and the visionaries, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.
Knowing the marketability of the areas natural abundance and the growing thirst for a northern experience, the building blocks were already there.
Plus, it is no secret that music is a catalyst for bringing people together.
So an idea was born and the stage was set.
A bevy of Canada’s brightest new talent was on the way including; wiL, Diyet and the Love Soldiers, Lauren Mayell, JP Hoe, Ryan McMahon, Leeroy Stager, Lion Bear Fox, and The Sheepdogs.
The performers would delight and wow audiences with showmanship and stage presence unlike anything seen in Fort Nelson before.
The Northern Lights Festival also absorbed some of Fort Nelson’s beloved legacy events that have brought joy to residents for decades now.
The Trapper’s Rendezvous took over main-street and ran events throughout town for an extended period of good times. The Canadian Open Sled Dog Championship literally sprinted across Fort Nelson where people lined the streets to take it all in. A traditional Dene hand games tournament brought the communities hub alive, with the beat of the drum reverberating throughout the Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre.
Culture and canadiana at its finest.
All of this did not come without challenges. Pursing a goal this lofty is sure to face its adversity and that is to be expected.
Take for instance the now infamous snowman ‘Puddles’. A major component to the festival from day one, Puddles was meant to dethrone the world’s largest snowman currently held by a community in Norway.
Without much hesitation, many of Fort Nelson’s finest and most experienced hands banded together to attempt this record breaking feat.
The group worked tirelessly, feeling out the process as they pushed skyward.
Until the unthinkable happened, causing a different sort of record to be broken. A record stretch of warm weather that gobbled up snow quicker than it came.
The effort was cut short, but not all was lost. Fort Nelson was now home to Canada’s largest snowman, peaking at 100ft(hat included).
Although the original goal was not achieved, they got it done and that is something to be proud of.
Perhaps Puddles is more than just a massive heap of snow. The jolly fellow smiling down on the south side of town became a source of joy for locals and visitors alike.
Happiness is exactly what Fort Nelson needed after a string of bad news. This was ultimately the goal of the people who put this event together. To see people smile and feel good about their community again.
Once the curtain closed, it is apparent that the Northern Lights Festival was so much more than a two week music festival for Fort Nelson. It is a seed for new avenues of growth and prosperity.
Many are already looking forward to next year, and that is a nice change from so many years of uncertainty for this little town that always could.
-The Alaska Highway