British Columbia

Search for B.C.'s best small town: Southwest B.C. quarterfinals

Salt Spring Island vs. Gibsons. Bowen vs. Gabriola Island. Sun Peaks vs. Clearwater. And Lillooet vs. Lytton. Which small town will you vote for?

Islands and coastal towns are still in the mix — but so are ski hills and smaller communities

The Sun Peaks resort village has a mix of hotels for tourists and winding roads full of homes accommodating the more than 1,000 people who live in town full-time. (Sun Peaks Resort)

Can a ski hill also be a great small town?

A 45-minute drive north of Kamloops, the mountain resort municipality of Sun Peaks is arguably best known for its visitors in winter months.

But those who know the community say there's plenty of spirit the rest of the year. 

"They are so closely knit and they will rally around any cause," said Jean Strong, the editor of Sun Peaks Independent News from 2018 to 2021, citing a litany of fundraisers done in town. 

"And then the bonus of living in Sun Peaks is that you get the amenities that draw the tourists in. But then when tourists aren't there on the shoulder season, you kind of have that whole playground to yourself."

Sun Peaks has grown rapidly since it was incorporated into a municipality in 2010, going from 371 people in the 2011 Census to more than 1,400 a decade later. 

Strong says the town could use a few more people to help grow the school and be able to push for more non-skiing recreation facilities, although there's only so much more it can take in. 

"There's only so much developable area with the mountains like that and when you're working with a resort," she said. 

A town of 2,400 people north of Kamloops, Clearwater's proximity to one of B.C.'s most iconic provincial parks has long been a big drawing card. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Highway 5 battle

But is it better than Clearwater?

"As far as I'm concerned, [we're] the more rounded community," said Merlin Blackwell, the town 100 kilometres to Sun Peaks' north. 

"I don't necessarily know if everybody wants to live in a Sun Peaks-type place. They want to visit there in the summertime. But Clearwater is the kind of place you can live year-round in."

Clearwater's population isn't exploding like Sun Peaks', but the town has long attracted visitors due to its proximity to Wells Gray Provincial Park. And its location as the only major community on Highway 5 for nearly three hours between Valemount and Kamloops means it serves as both a service centre and tourist pit stop. 

At the same time, Blackwell knows the allure of ski towns in British Columbia these days. 

"People in B.C. and Canada like to root for the underdog, so I'm hoping for the underdog vote in this one."

The two communities face-off today in the Southwest B.C. quarterfinals in the Search for B.C.'s Best Small Town

Each day from Tuesday to Friday, there will be a new series of one-on-one votes in a different region. Each week, we'll narrow the field down — from 128 to 64, 64 to 32, and so on, until we have a champion. 

Voting will take place until 10 p.m. PT each day, with today's votes determining the final four in the Southwest B.C. quadrant of the competition.

(CBC News)

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