Northern BC: Not yet hostel country

🕔Jun 13, 2011

Warm, eclectic and social, hostels tend to be as varied and unique as the travellers they attract. They provide a social environment where solitary journeyers can meet, compare notes on their travels and maybe catch a ride to the next destination. They also allow visitors to spend more of their money on sightseeing instead of fancy accommodations.

In many ways, they seem a great fit for the adventurous souls who venture to the North. However, despite a selection of quaint backpacker accommodations clustered on the northwest coast, the region has a dearth of hostels.

“I would love to see more youth hostels here,” agrees Northern BC Tourism CEO Anthony Everett, who met with Hostelling International representatives two years ago. While the organization is interested in opening a hostel in the North, it has no immediate plans to do so.

Pioneer Backpackers Inn, Prince Rupert
In the meantime, northerners have a small—but quality—selection of hostels to choose from. Pioneer Backpackers Inn in Prince Rupert isn’t a Hostelling International facility, but it meets its standards, says owner Christy Allen.

Allen, it could be said, is a pioneer of northern BC’s hostelling industry. Raised at her parents’ Eagle Bluff Bed and Breakfast in Rupert’s trendy Cow Bay, Allen was first exposed to hostel culture while travelling through England and Scotland with her grandmother.

“I realized that was pretty cool,” she says about the wide age-range the travelling companions shared—a growing trend in hostel culture as the average age of hostel-goers steadily rises.

When she returned home, “I just basically finished my business degree and bought myself a job,” Allen says, undeniably downplaying the efforts that went into making Pioneer Backpackers Inn what it is today.

Built as a housing facility for workers in the early 1900s, the rooming house traditionally known as Pioneer Rooms gradually degenerated into a “flophouse” until Allen bought the building in 2001 and began extensive renovations.

“It was pretty run-down,” says Allen, who removed layers of wallpaper, put up drywall, installed new flooring, painted walls and re-clad the exterior with a false front reflective of its original era. Today, the colourful Pioneer fits beautifully into Prince Rupert’s sloping streets.

Recently, Pioneer got a new 1,680-square-foot addition that includes four new en-suites, one of which is wheelchair accessible. The hostel marked its 10-year anniversary in January.

“It’s meant to be family-oriented. It’s not a party hostel,” Allen says. “We get anywhere from teenagers up to people in their 60s and 70s.”

Along with its four new en-suites, the hostel has shared bedrooms and dorm rooms with shared bathrooms. “During the summer it’s way more affordable than a hotel room, but you’re basically getting a hotel room.”

Black Rooster Guesthouse, Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert is lucky enough to have two of the region’s finest hostels. Owner Bozena Sliwa and her husband bought the Black Rooster Guesthouse’s pre-WWII building in 2004 when the avid travellers recognized a great business opportunity.

“The building gave us the idea,” says Sliwa, who is originally from Europe.

Previously run as a grocery store and, most recently, as Salvation Army housing, the building was under renovation for a year before opening in 2005. The guesthouse has everything from private rooms to dorm beds.

Premier Creek Hostel, 
Village of Queen Charlotte
Premier Creek on Haida Gwaii offers backpackers budget accommodation that’s as out-of-the-ordinary as it is out-of-the-way. The shared accommodation is run by Premier Creek Lodging, an historic hotel built in 1910 and currently owned by Lenore Lawrence and her husband Peter Cook.

“I think it’s a nice experience for people because I don’t crowd them,” says Lawrence. “They’ll come for one night and pretty soon they’re here for three or four days.”

A small outbuilding, an old work-shed now converted to hostel-style accommodation, lodges three to four backpackers at any given time in three rooms with bunk-beds made from logs from the nearby beach. The facility also has two bathrooms and a shared kitchen. With its wood stove and wooden floors, this unique building overlooks Skidegate Inlet.

“Because they don’t have to pay a lot for accommodation, visitors have extra money to pay for tours and that kind of thing,” Lawrence says, adding about her Haida Gwaii lifestyle: “I feel very lucky.”

College of New Caledonia student residences, Prince George
When heading east from the coast, many travellers look to Prince George as the next stopping point. However, accommodation options for backpackers between Rupert and Jasper are limited. That’s why the College of New Caledonia student residences, which have been operating as budget accommodation since the college opened in 1993, are popular with budget travellers.

“We have everybody from tree-planters to international travellers pass through, as well as people on bicycle trips to Alaska,” says student residence manager Nancie Krushelnicki. “We get sports teams, family reunions, weddings—you name it.”

Out of 92 rooms, between 30 and 35 are available at any given time, with group bookings also available. There are also roughly four private rooms with queen futons available for couples. Rooms have a microwave, fridge, air conditioning, Internet and cable—although the facilities are BYO-TV.

“We can get quite busy, so people are encouraged to make a reservation,” Krushelnicki says. “There are no other hostels in Prince George. It amazes me. It is very unfortunate because it could be very beneficial.”

The lack of hostel accommodation in the North’s biggest town is something Alistair McLean says he’d like to fix. Hostelling International’s Pacific Mountain Region CEO met with groups in the Nass Valley, Terrace and Prince George to discuss potential partnerships in the region.

“Are we looking for something up there? For sure,” McLean says. “But some of these things take several years to come to fruition.”
Hostelling International is a not-for-profit organization with 30 properties in Alberta, BC and the Yukon and 57 others across the country. Of the 30 in Western Canada, 22 are owned by the organization and eight are run by privately owned affiliates—but none exist north of Yoho National Park.

Northern BC backpackers’ accommodation: Quality, not quantity

Pioneer Backpackers Inn, 
Prince Rupert
Rates for dormitory beds are $26 or $22 (depending on the season), private rooms with shared bathrooms are $60 or $52 and private en-suites are $80 or $65, with discounts for regional residents. There is a free shuttle to the hostel from the railway station and ferry terminal between 9 am and 10:30 pm.
Phone: (888) 794-9998 or (250) 624-2334

Black Rooster Guesthouse, 
Prince Rupert
The Black Rooster has everything from furnished apartments to dorm beds. Dorm beds are $25 per person. Internet and computer access as well as an equipped kitchen are available. The facility is small-dog-friendly ($10 charge) and has ping pong and a barbecue.
Phone: (866) 371-5337

College of New Caledonia student residences, Prince George
The residences are located near highways 16 and 97 and amenities include a lounge, barbecue and laundry on each floor. There are daily, weekly and monthly rates starting at $25 per night without linens (bring a sleeping bag and towel).
Phone: 250-561-5849 

Premier Creek Hostel, 
Village of Queen Charlotte
Centrally located, this small hostel has cooking facilities with a refrigerator, common area, showers and laundry facilities. The cost for a dorm bed is $25 per night.
Phone: (250) 559-8415 or (888) 322-3388