The City of Prince George's origins can be traced to a fur trading post founded in 1807 by Simon Fraser on traditional Lheidli T'enneh territory. The agricultural settlement around the trading post - named Fort George - began in the early 1900s when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (later CN Rail) entered the region.
The railway arrived in 1914 and construction started on the town that would eventually become the city of Prince George on March 6, 1915.
There is a long-standing debate over how the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway came to name the community at the junction of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, "Prince George".
Two main competing reasons were given for the choice:
- Grand Trunk Pacific vice president Morley Donaldson claimed it had been named after King George V of the United Kingdom. However, before being crowned, George V was known as Prince Edward and not Prince George.
- In an internal company memo written in December 1911, President Charles Hays suggested Prince George was chosen because it would ensure the company's new town site was "permanently distinguished from the numerous towns now called Fort George, South Fort George, etc., which are in the vicinity" and also make clear none of the other towns carried the company's endorsement.
But a third - and most likely - explanation holds the town was named after Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, who was King George VI's youngest brother, the future Duke of Kent, and uncle to Queen Elizabeth II. Prince George married Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark in 1934 and the couple had three children: Edward, Alexandra, and Michael. He was killed in an air crash in Scotland in August 1942 while serving as a wing commander in the Royal Air Force.
Prince George's downtown site was established as a result of a rivalry between the frontier communities of South Fort George and Central Fort George. Each vied to be the location where a station and town would be constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Developers in both communities, anticipating the railway's arrival, had street plans surveyed in the fall of 1909 and lots were made available for purchase the following year.
However, the Grand Trunk Pacific was not willing to allow other developers to profit from their work. The company set about obtaining its own site even though the flat gravel beds under Central Fort George would have been a better building location. The Grand Trunk Pacific purchased 553 hectares (1,377 acres) of land from the Fort George Indian Reserve in May, 1912 for $125,000 and laid the foundations ground for modern Prince George's downtown area.
The American architectural firm Brett, Hall & Co. was commissioned to design the new town with only a topographic map and a brief, on-site visit in September 1912 to go on. Nevertheless, a plan was drafted in Boston that autumn and transposed onto the building site in spring 1913 by local surveyor Fred Burden. Construction began in early 1914 and although Prince George had most of the trappings of a town by the end of summer, it wasn't chartered and officially named until March, 1915.
The Brett, Hall and Co. plans for Prince George included many aspects of the "City Beautiful" planning movement that was popular in the United States at the turn of the century. Common design elements from the movement like angular roads, civic squares, parks, and plazas that mirrored City Beautiful's strong geometric aspect were incorporated into the frontier town.
The designers dropped the rigid, gridiron street layouts that were common at the time in favour of including curved and diagonal roads. These roadways functioned alongside broad, straight avenues and were often terminated at one or both ends by parks and buildings. The north end of George Street - the town's main commercial thoroughfare - was capped by a small park, the railway station, and a hotel while the south end was terminated by City Hall set within octagon-shaped Princess Square.
Prince George's present-day reputation as a "City in Nature" because of its abundance of parks can also be traced back to the City Beautiful movement. In addition to smaller green spaces, a parkway was also included in the early town's plans. Inspired by American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's use of these broad, landscaped thoroughfares in projects like New York's Central Park, the Patricia Boulevard parkway gently curved past Connaught Hill Park towards the banks of the Fraser River.
One of the more prominent features of Brett, Hall and Co.'s City Beautiful-inspired plans was the Crescents neighbourhood. The Crescents was intended to form a prestigious area where streets curved along with natural topographic benches that added views and variety to residences. It was designed as four concentric, semi-circular streets that symmetrically surrounded Duchess Park on the west and neatly terminated along the straight portions of 3rd to 11th Avenues.
In spite of the fact Prince George was founded as a Canadian settlement with a distinct, British flavour - many of its streets and parks had (and still have) decidedly British names - the town emerged from the imagination of American designers. Brett, Hall and Co. sought to create a manifestation of the City Beautiful movement north of the 49th parallel and left a legacy that stands out even today on a map of the downtown area.
History of City Hall
Prince George's first City Hall was constructed in 1918 at a cost of approximately $8,500 (nearly $121,000 today). The building's approach featured a wooden footbridge and had long steps that occasionally served as a staging area for bands and entertainment. A gully also ran in front of the old City Hall (where the Cenotaph now stands) that separated it from George Street. The first City Hall served the community for nearly five decades before it was demolished in 1966 to make room for its replacement.
The current City Hall opened in January 1967 in the same location and still features a public plaza, which was marked out in the Grand Trunk Railway's original town plan in 1913. The total cost for the then-two-storey building was $725,000 (almost $5.2 million today) and was designed with future expansion in mind (the main tower was, in fact, expanded by three stories in 1975).
City Hall is presently 4,152 square metres in size and is fully wheelchair accessible.
Mayors of Prince George
Prince George witnessed more than a century of events that not only shaped British Columbia but also Canada and the world. The town's - and later, city's - mayors shepherded PG through times of great strife like the First and Second World Wars and helped shape the city into what it is today during calmer moments.
The following biographies of Prince George's mayors were written by Kerri Reid, who was funded by the Prince George Public Library and the Young Canada Works in Heritage Institutions program.
William George Gillett - 1915 to 1916
W. G. Gillett became the first mayor of Prince George on May 20, 1915. Gillett served as mayor in 1915 and 1916. W. G. Gillett was the only mayor in the history of British Columbia to have personally signed a bank note for a loan necessary to successfully run the City. Coinciding with his election, a plebiscite was held to decide the name of the city: "Prince George" gathered a total of 153 votes, with "Fort George" attracting only 13 votes.
Mayor Gillett dealt with several arguments concerning the location of the railway station during his year as the mayor of Prince George. Apparently, Gillett threatened to resign several times if the issue could not be successfully resolved, but realized he could not resign, as the bank loan he signed would be immediately cancelled. Gillett built the City's first permanent City Hall and Gillett Street is named after him.
Harry G. Perry - 1917 to 1918 and 1920
Harry George Perry came to Prince George on the BX Sternwheeler in May of 1912. In 1914, when the first Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Train came to Prince George, Perry became president of the board of trade. He was a skilled orator who also chaired the Prince George incorporation committee. Perry founded the local faction of the Liberal Party and was elected to represent Fort George in the provincial election of 1920.
Perry served numerous years as speaker of the legislature, becoming Speaker of the House in 1933 and was eventually given the position of Minister of Education in 1940. Perry convinced John Hart to construct a highway north from Prince George through the Pine Pass (connecting the Peace River Block with the remainder of British Columbia). Perry played an instrumental role in the extension of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway from Quesnel. Perry published and owned the Prince George Citizen, the Prince Rupert Daily News, and the Nechako Chronicle for a number of years following his time in office.
Harry George Perry died in December of 1959. Perry's son Frank practiced law in Prince George for a number of years. Perry's other son, Sydney, became a pharmacist and ran local drugstores such as PG Drugs. Perry Subdivision is named for Harry George Perry.
Hiram Carney - 1919
Hiram Carney was born in Ottawa and was raised in Calgary and the Kootenays. In his youth, Carney learned to shoot grouse, play hockey, handle a gun, and cruise timber. In 1911, when asked to travel to Moose Lake east of Prince George, Carney made the journey by canoe and on foot. In 1915, he was elected to the first school board of Prince George.
During 1917 and 1918, Carney worked as a city clerk. He also worked in and ran our city's first telephone company, the Fort George Telephone Company. Telephone operators had many unique duties, including delivering customers' grocery orders, providing weary train travellers with wake-up calls in the middle of the night, and even helping citizens with crossword puzzles. For many years, Carney worked with the Provincial Government. In 1953, Carney worked as the secretary of the Victoria branch of the BC Government Employees' Association. Prince George's popular landmark Carney Hill is named in honour of Hiram Carney.
Henry Wilson - 1921
Originally from England, Wilson arrived in Prince George with his family in 1913. Henry Wilson was a skilled architect, successfully designing Prince George's first permanent City Hall, the City's original hospital, and Knox United Church.
Following his time as mayor, Wilson worked in real estate and sold insurance. Wilson and his family left Prince George in 1935 and moved to Saanichton, BC. In later years, he moved to Kelowna. Wilson Crescent is named after Henry Wilson.
J.H. Johnson - 1922 to 1923
The fifth Mayor of Prince George was J. H. Johnson. He was a prominent hotel owner prior to his days at city hall. Johnson owned the Fort George Hotel, rebuilding the elaborate McDonald Hotel when the former was destroyed by fire.
The years Johnson was mayor were difficult with high taxes and a noticeable lack of economic growth. During these years, city snow removal was executed by a horse-drawn plow.
Roy Alward - 1924 to 1925
Dr. Roy W. Alward was born in New Brunswick, and as a teenager, ran away from home. Alward became a Boston street car conductor, studied teaching, and finally studied dentistry. In 1913, Dr. Alward started practicing dentistry in Prince George. In 1914, Dr. Alward left Prince George and fought overseas in World War One. He was the first president of Branch #43 of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Dr. Alward was often seen smoking a cigar, carrying a cane, and wearing a tailored suit complete with a bowler hat. After retiring, Dr. Alward resided in Vancouver.
Fred D. Taylor - 1926
Prior to becoming mayor, Fred D. Taylor was the owner of Fred Taylor's Pool Room. Taylor was originally from England and was said to enjoy the concept of a quiet existence in Prince George. His interests included curling, fishing, and hunting.
Alex M. Patterson - 1927 to 1944
No one has served as mayor of Prince George longer than Alex M. Patterson. Patterson was originally from Ontario, and prior to his time as mayor, owned a men's clothing store in Prince George which later became Wendt & Phillips clothing store on 3rd Avenue. Patterson was an alderman from 1921 to 1926. While holding the position of mayor, Patterson was also chairman of the School Board.
Patterson was known to be very concerned with overspending and his economic policies were supported by many business owners. Also, to Patterson's credit, Prince George was one of the only cities in Canada that remained debt-free directly following the Depression. Patterson married Sarah Elizabeth Williams in January of 1919. Following their marriage, the couple lived at 1477 Hemlock Street. Patterson Street is named for Alex M. Patterson.
Jack Nicholson - 1945 to 1949
Jack Nicholson was originally from England and came to Prince George in 1934. Upon arriving, Nicholson opened the City's first Overwaitea grocery store. According to the book "Street names of Prince George: Our History," local children in 1934 were told: "If you go to the store with the big tea-pot on the front, you will get a piece of watermelon." Once he became mayor, Nicholson planned to oversee the creation of a city-owned Hydro Dam, replacing the Prince George Diesel Electric Generating Plant. Nicholson wanted the new dam to be at Willow Canyon. Unfortunately, this plan was rejected and deemed too costly.
During the years Nicholson was mayor of Prince George, CKPG Radio started broadcasting, and the early stages of an intricate 1st Avenue sewer system were in progress. The 1953 Wood Workers' Strike was extremely costly for Jack Nicholson, resulting in the loss of his store (The Crystal Market). Rather than resigning himself to bankruptcy, Nicholson worked as a parking meter attendant and was able to regain financial stability. Nicholson was a Scout Leader for 35 years and a member of the School Board for sixteen years. Nicholson Street is named for Jack Nicholson.
Garvin Dezell - 1950 to 1953 and 1960 to 1969
Garvin Dezell was the mayor of Prince George at various times over two decades. Dezell was born in Ottawa and was proudly Irish-Canadian. Dezell arrived in Prince George with his wife and two children in 1946. During the latter years, Dezell was mayor of Prince George (1960-1969), and the population of Prince George rose from 4,000 to 30,000 people. During this time, three pulp mills were constructed, the Four Seasons Pool was built, and the current location of City Hall was officially opened.
Dezell introduced a crucial land policy which prevented excessive land control speculation. Dezell believed in working very closely with his council and considered council members' opinions on issues in great detail. In 1970, Dezell was made a Freeman of Prince George at a banquet attended by Premier W.A.C. Bennett. Harold Moffat is quoted as saying that "No man was more dedicated...and he's the reason Prince George is one of the best-planned cities anywhere". Dezell died on Friday, February 4, 1972, at the age of 63.
Gordon D. Bryant - 1954 to 1955
Gordon D. Bryant was born in Nanaimo and arrived in Prince George from Prince Rupert in 1945. Upon his arrival, Bryant opened a car dealership downtown. While mayor, Bryant started the process of selling the locally owned Electrical Utility Company to the BC Power Commission (now BC Hydro). Bryant also created a new city manager system, gave local firefighters uniforms, and oversaw the paving of city sidewalks with concrete instead of wood.
Bryant successfully secured Crown Land to the west of the Downtown from then-Premier W.A.C. Bennett and then-Lands minister Ray Williston for the Nechako subdivision, the city's first fully serviced and integrated subdivision. After his time as mayor, Bryant opened a Real Estate company. Bryant and his wife, Trudy, were critical influences involved in numerous popular shopping and residential areas: Plaza 400, the Highland Park Development, the Downtown Parkade, Pine Centre, Parkwood, and the Hudson's Bay Company Store.
John Morrison - 1956 to 1957
Prior to his time as mayor, John Morrison was the owner of Morrison's Men's Wear and was described as a very well-dressed man. During Morrison's time as mayor, he oversaw the construction of the Prince George Coliseum. Morrison also concluded the sale of the locally owned Electrical Utility Company to B.C. Hydro.
During his years as mayor, Morrison was faced with a considerable obstacle: The Gas War. During this conflict, the issue of contention was the franchise to supply Prince George with natural gas. Despite the obstacles, Morrison was able to successfully pave the way for considerable future local economic growth.
Carrie Jane Gray - 1958 to 1959
Carrie Jane Gray was the first female mayor of Prince George and only the second female mayor in all of BC. She was also the City's first female alderman (Councillor). Gray was born in Oklahoma and arrived in Prince George in 1932. During her time as mayor of Prince George, Carrie Jane Gray witnessed the opening of Fort George Park and Connaught Hill Park.
After her time as mayor, Gray was again elected as an alderman in 1965 and held the position for a number of years. Carrie Jane Gray died in 1984. Carrie Jane Gray Park was named after her in 1966.
Harold Moffat - 1970 to 1979
Harold Moffat was born in 1915 in South Fort George, and later owned a hardware store on 3rd and Brunswick. As mayor, Moffat was very concerned our city would fall victim to overspending, causing high taxes and preventing people from investing and living in the city. Moffat added The Oil Refinery and Canfor Pulp Mill to our city's tax base.
During Moffat's time as mayor, a referendum passed to expand the City, adding the Hart Highway, College Heights, Haldi Road, Blackburn, Western Acres, Van Bow, North Nechako, and South Fort George to the City. Moffat was a driving force in the development of the downtown and the City's first downtown parkade was built while he was mayor.
Elmer Mercier - 1980 to 1986
Elmer Mercier was the mayor of Prince George during a lengthy recession in the City. Though construction and development remained relatively stagnant, Mercier was a critical force in helping the residents of Prince George to fully accept the process of amalgamation (which took place in 1975) and work towards expansion. Mercier wanted to see an Art Gallery/Theatre complex located near the public library's new Main Branch which opened in 1981.
Unfortunately, the concept of the Art Gallery/Theatre was defeated in a referendum, as the costs of creating this new building were deemed too high, and the public favoured the expansion of sports facilities. Mercier was a highly skilled ambassador and extensive traveller who promoted Prince George at many important events such as Expo 86.
John Backhouse - 1987 to 1996
John Backhouse was born in Liverpool England and acquired his higher education in England at the Newcastle School of Librarianship and in the United States at the University of Oklahoma. Backhouse worked as a professional librarian extensively and gained experience in public and academic libraries. In 1980, Backhouse began his political career as a member of the Prince George City Council and was an alderman for six years.
Also during this time, Backhouse served as Chairman of the Senior Citizens' Building Committee. Backhouse was instrumental in the development of the current Senior Citizens' Activity Centre at Fourth Avenue and Brunswick Street. During Backhouse's time as mayor, Prince George saw the opening of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), a new shopping centre at Parkwood, a new Civic Centre, and a new Multiplex arena at the Exhibition Grounds. In fact, both the University and the new Civic Centre were opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on August 17, 1994.
Backhouse served as a Director on the Board of BC Transit and sat on the BC Forest Sector Strategy Committee, the Minister's Advisory Council on Housing, and the UNBC Campus Committee. Following his time as Mayor, Backhouse was appointed by the Government of BC to be the Northern Commissioner of British Columbia.
Colin Kinsley - 1997 to 2008
Prior to life in public office, Colin Kinsley worked in the natural gas industry. Kinsley served as an alderman from 1984 to 1993, which included four years as Chairman of the Regional District Board. Mayor Kinsley had been politically involved in important Provincial and National organizations, having served as a Director of the Union of BC Municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
It was his appointment to a national rural health committee that contributed to local efforts to establish a medical program at UNBC, which opened in 2004. In fact, his contributions to UNBC also included his advocacy for the Northern Sports Centre and Kinsley served on the Board of UNBC after his time as mayor ended. He is a Life Member and Past President of the North Central Municipal Association.
Dan Rogers - 2009 to 2011
Dan Rogers was a well-known local TV broadcaster when he first ran for Council in 1993 and subsequently won the Mayor's seat in 2009. He co-chaired the bid committee that led to Prince George being awarded the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Rogers was involved with the committees that oversaw the construction of the Aquatic Centre and the Multiplex and served as Director of both the Regional District of Fraser Fort George and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
He was a champion of community-based, renewable energy which led to him co-chairing the BC Community Energy Association and spearheading a downtown renewable energy system in Prince George using sawmill residue to provide heat. Rogers was a Past President of the North Central Local Government Association and Director of the Union of BC Municipalities.
Shari Green - 2011 to 2014
Born and raised in Prince George, Shari Green was a fourth-generation downtown business owner. She is a former president of the Downtown Prince George Business Association and a founder of the Downtown Partnership. She brought this business perspective to City Hall and aimed to ensure that the City's fiscal future would be sustainable and focused on customer service. She co-chaired the Prince George Torch Celebration for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games and served as director of athlete and village services for the 2015 Canada Winter Games bid. She was one of the founders of the BC Mayors' Caucus.
Lyn Hall - 2014 to Present
Lyn Hall presided over the Canada Winter Games and the City's centennial celebrations, both of which occurred in 2015. He grew up in Dawson Creek and had a long political career before becoming mayor, including 10 years on the Board of Trustees for School District #57 – including a time as Chair – and one term on Prince George City Council. As Mayor, he has brought a renewed commitment to reconnecting with citizens, stimulating the economy, adding diverse housing options, and fostering the development of the college and university as key infrastructure for the community.
He brought the City's arms-length economic development agency into the City and chairs the City's select committee on economic development. He also initiated an annual series of community open houses – called Talktober – in neighbourhoods around the city for residents to meet the Council and staff.