Fort Nelson, BC Information by Rough Guides
One of the highway's key stopoffs, FORT NELSON greets you with a large poster proclaiming "Jail is only the beginning – don't drink and drive", a sobering sign that hints at the sort of extremes to which people hereabouts might go to relieve the tedium of winter's long semi-twilight. Everything in town, except a small museum devoted to the highway's construction, speaks of a frontier supplies depot, the latest in a long line of trading posts attracted to a site that is fed by four major rivers and stands in the lee of the Rockies. Dour buildings stand in a battered sprawl around a windswept grid, only a single notch up civilization's ladder from the time in the late 1950s when this was still a community without power, phones, running water or doctors. Life's clearly too tough here to be geared to anything but pragmatic survival and exploitation of its huge natural-gas deposits – the town has the world's second-largest gas-processing plant and the huge storage tanks to prove it. Aboriginal and white trappers live as they have for centuries, hunting beaver, wolf, wolverine, fox, lynx and mink, as well as the ubiquitous moose, which is still an important food source for many aboriginal people.
The town does, however, have an extraordinary claim to fame, namely that it's home to the world's largest chopstick factory, located south of the town off the highway behind the weigh scales at Industrial Park Chopstick Road (tel 774-4448 for details of tours). This has nothing to do with gargantuan demand for Chinese food in Fort Nelson – at last count there were only three Chinese restaurants in town – but more to do with the region's high-quality aspen, a wood apparently perfectly suited to producing the dream chopstick. The Canadian Chopstick Manufacturing Company produces an incredible 7.5 million pairs of chopsticks a day, or 1.95 billion a year.
The town's motels are all much the same and you'll be paying the inflated rates – about $70 for doubles worth half that – which characterize the north. On the town's southern approaches the Bluebell Inn, 3907 50th Ave S (tel 774-6961 or 1-800/663-5267, www.pris.bc.ca/bluebell; $80–100), is better looking than many of the run-of-the-mill places. The infocentre is at Mile 300.5 of the Alaska Hwy (tel 774-6868; rest of the year for information, call 774-2541; mid-May to Aug Mon–Sat 9am–5pm).
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