'The Bright Lights of the City': Intra-Regional Migration and the Challenge for Resource-Dependent Towns

  • Greg Halseth University of Northern British Columbia
  • Lana Sullivan British Columbia Center of Excellence for Women's Health
Keywords: Small Towns, Resource Dependent, Intra-Regional Migration, Employment Commuting


The migration of households from rural and small town places to larger urban centers has been a dominant migration theme in North America since the start of the twentieth century. Even at a regional scale, rural and small town population loss was closely connected to the movement of households to urban service centers. Accompanying this population loss was a concomitant loss of service and functions that threatened the viability of these rural and small town places. The settlement pattern in northern British Columbia is one of dispersed resource towns together with a few regional urban centers. Just as resource industries have been experiencing a restructuring of production, so too have resource town migration patterns been undergoing a restructuring. An emerging phenomenon has workers moving to regional urban centers while commuting back to small resource towns for work. The purpose of this research was to examine the scale of intra-regional migration and extra-community commuting in a forestry dependent small town near a large regional center. Using a survey of mill employees with the three major forest products firms in Mackenzie, BC, 'mover' and 'at-risk' populations were identified. At present, the scale of extra-community commuting is approximately 10 percent for our sample. While this may not seem particularly high, it foreshadows a problem, as the 'at-risk' population is a significant component of our respondents. A number of reasons are identified in the literature as to why resource industry employees may leave their town. Some of the common push factors are stress over economic uncertainty and instability in resource industries, the vulnerability of local employment, and concern over a lack of services. Many respondents identified these issues as important in their own dissatisfaction with living or working in Mackenzie. The paper argues that a better understanding of shifting migration behaviors will inform the literature on rural and small town restructuring.


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