[left]The District of Chetwynd ( /ˈtʃɛtwɪnd/) is a small town located on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Situated on an ancient floodplain, it is the first town travellers encounter after emerging from the Rockies along Highway 97 and acts as the gateway to the Peace River Country. The town developed during the construction of infrastructure through the Rocky Mountains in the 1950s, and was used as a transshipment point during the construction of hydroelectric dams in the 1960s and 1970s and the new town of Tumbler Ridge in the early 1980s. Home to approximately 2,600 residents, the population has increased little in the last 25 years but is significantly younger than the provincial average.
From 1918 until the 1930s, the present townsite hosted a trading post on a grassy pasture known to the Sekani and Saulteaux as Little Prairie. In the 1920s, settlers from the Peace River Country began migrating westwards, across the frozen Kiskatinaw and Pine Rivers, to homestead. Little Prairie was homesteaded by Alexander and Lillan Windrem in 1930 and cleared the land by 1935 for hay, oats and gardens. Oil and coal discoveries, west of Little Prairie, near Commotion Creek, led to the construction of area roads. As the area's natural resource potential became more apparent, a highway was planned in the late 1940s from the British Columbia Interior to the northern side of the Rocky and Omineca Mountains. The John Hart Highway, named after former B.C. Premier John Hart, was completed in 1952; designated Highway 97S it stretches from Prince George to Dawson Creek, with an intersection at Little Prairie. This was northeastern BC's first connection with the rest of the province; previously a trip through the neighboring province of Alberta was required. Following the opening of the highway, businesses such as restaurants and service stations were opened in Little Prairie to accommodate incoming workers and settlers; the first school was built in 1951.
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