Dubbed “the prettiest small town in Canada” by the New York Times, Nelson possesses incredible charm and character. Our designation as the Heritage Capital of BC is well deserved: we have more heritage buildings per capita than any other city in the province. These 350 lovingly restored heritage buildings nestled on tree-lined streets create a warm and welcoming ambiance. The idyllic setting has proven attractive to filmmakers: several movies have been filmed in the city, including Roxanne, Housekeeping, Snow Falling on Cedars and Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain. Nelson also attracts artists and writers, who find much inspiration and material to draw on here. Heritage, along with arts and culture, plays a vital role in our economy, so we are committed to both preserving and promoting it.

In 1979, after five generations had each imposed their own styles on downtown Baker Street, hiding the grand old buildings behind modern facades, local merchants and civic leaders developed a coordinated restoration plan and spent more than $3 million bringing the city's magnificent buildings back to life. A community understanding dawned that these magnificent buildings represent the pioneers' statement of faith in the future of Nelson.

Streetcar Number 23 was also restored, allowing visitors to take a ride back in time along our lovely lakeshore. We are proud of our heritage and invite you to experience it. Take a virtual tour of our city. Come visit us and take a self-guided walking tour. And make sure you visit Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History and the Nelson Sports Museum (PDF) in the Civic Centre for a glimpse into our exciting past.

First People, First Culture, First Land

The following text is excerpted from the permanent museum exhibit at Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History.

In 1972, the City of Nelson funded an archaeological project just west of town to mark the opening of the new museum. Archeologist Diana E French and her team dug eight rectangular pits on a bluff above the beach, uncovering signs of an old hearth, bone fragments, the tooth of a deer, a net-sinker, micro blades and many arrow points and scrapers. The variety of stone material and style suggests occupation of 4,000 to 5,000 years. French surveyed and recorded many more archaeological sites of interest: in Rosemont, at the CPR flats, and on up the West Arm up to Six Mile. All her investigations suggested thousands of years of use by indigenous hunter-gatherers.

Before European contact, local indigenous cultures relied on trade, exchanging not money but only useful items. Local items of high value might have been dried salmon, certain rare plant medicines, bear grease or cedar-root. Items of value received in return might have been seashells, oolichan grease or stone not locally available.

The Sturgeon-Nosed Canoe: A Unique Design for a Complex Geography

The First People of these valleys needed reliable water transportation where often the easiest way to get past a mountain was around it, along a connecting path of rivers and lakes. A canoe had to be stable and also very light, so that it could be lifted and carried during a portage, or quickly repaired when its “nose” struck a rock. Travellers carried a repair kit of rolled bark scraps, hemp “twine” and pine gum for these emergencies.

The First People exhibit features a sturgeon-nosed canoe constructed especially for Touchstones Nelson by members of the Yaqan nu-kiy (Lower Kootenay Indian Band) in Creston, using traditional methods and materials as in former times.