Flowers in the Thompson Okanagan, Photo Allen Jones
The gem of the Nicola Valley, Merritt carries the title of “Country Music Capital of Canada” for good reason. The Rockin’ River Country Music Festival in July/August, the Merritt Walk of Stars, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo are just some of the reasons to visit.
Located in Gold Country in the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia, the Nicola Valley is hiking country, with its rolling hills, mountain meadows, endless trails, and breathtaking beauty. Walk the Harmon Lake Interpretive Trail and spot many bird varieties. The area also boasts over 200 fishing lakes and streams. Drop a line in nearby Nicola Valley, Paradise and Chataway Lakes. Visit Quilchena Hotel situated on Nicola Lake. This was the site of the first local Post Office and government buildings and many original buildings remain. Discover the beauty of Nicola Lake as you head to Quilchena. Tour the ranch, rent a boat for a float on the lake, enjoy a round of golf or just stop for a historic lunch. Kentucky-Alleyne Provincial Park is nearby and right in the heart of cattle country with rolling grasslands and dry open forest surrounding the sparkling turquoise waters of Kentucky Lake and Alleyne Lake.
The Nicola Valley has long been home to a number of First Nations who continue to call the area home. European pioneers searching for a trading route between the Coast and the Interior reached the area in the mid-1800s.
Right from the beginning, early settlers were attracted to the area because of its rich grasslands ideally suited for livestock (ranching remains an important part of Merritt’s economy!).
In 1865, William Henry Voght, the father of Merritt, entered the valley and returned in 1872 to take up land at the forks, where the Nicola and Coldwater Rivers meet. This was the start of the development of Merritt. In 1906, the town was renamed Merritt, in honour of William Hamilton Merritt, a mining engineer and railway promoter.
Merritt was incorporated as a City in 1911, and by this time the community’s economy had diversified to include coal mining, which would continue to be a major industry up until the 1930s. In the 1930s the failure of a local mill precipitated the receivership of the City.
Following the end of WWII, several mills opened in the city and forestry became the new backbone of the economy. In 1961 the nearby Craigmont copper mine opened, followed by several others in the Highland Valley. Copper mining would continue to be a major player to the present day, although its importance declined following the closure of Craigmont in the 1980s.
In 1986, following years of lobbying, the Coquihalla Highway was completed, providing a freeway link between Merritt and the Lower Mainland, and subsequently, Kamloops and Kelowna. The completion of this interior highway network placed Merritt at the hub of transportation and communications in the southern interior and precipitated economic changes that continue to the present.