History of Northern Lights College

Northern Lights College can trace its beginning to the time when the Canadian government built the Mid Canada Line, an electronic defence against airborne attack over the north.

The line’s western-most Sector Control Station was constructed in Dawson Creek, and was operational from 1956-64. When this military station closed, it was purchased by the provincial government and converted into a vocational school.

The BC Vocational School-Dawson Creek opened in September 1966, serving primarily the Peace River region. The curriculum for the new school was divided into two areas: pre-employment and pre-apprenticeship.

In 1974, a Regional Advisory Committee was formed by the provincial government to investigate creating a community college in the north. The college would serve the areas of Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Chetwynd, and the Stikine/ Cassiar region (that area was serviced by the Alaska Highway, and by air from Fort Nelson).

In May 1975, a new “Northeastern Community College” was created through an Order-in-Council. The legislation authorized School Districts 59, 81, and 87 to participate in establishing a college that would be based in Dawson Creek and would serve the northern third of the province.

The name “Northern Lights College” was selected from entries in a name the college contest, and was announced on June 3, 1975.

Northern Lights College opened officially in September 1975.

The first president of the College was Dr. Barry Moore (1975-1979), who had been a senior administrator at Grande Prairie Regional College.

Dawson Creek was the College’s main centre, due to the existing facilities from the vocational school. Dawson Creek offered academic, vocational, career and continuing education courses. As programs and staff expanded, it was determined that a separation was needed between the Dawson Creek centre and regional administration.

Fort Nelson was the first location outside of Dawson Creek to offer courses. The Fort Nelson centre (which also administered the Stikine region) started in the SD 81 board office, and there were 115 people enrolled in the first year of programs. Over the ensuing three years, enrollment went up to 800.

In Fort St. John, the College originally rented space in the basement of city hall, and then eventually moved to other temporary facilities.

In Cassiar, the first term started in November 1975, with 94 people enrolled in continuing education courses.

A College Chronicle


  • Programs started at the Chetwynd centre, which also served Hudson’s Hope. Office space was rented in the Chetwynd Motor Hotel, and programs were conducted in the Native Friendship Centre and the high school.
  • School District 60 voted to join the College, effective April 1, 1977.
  • The Fort Nelson centre started education work with Prophet River First Nations.
  • The Atlin facility opened, administered by the Fort Nelson centre.


  • With the addition of SD 60, the College undertook a regional plan for 1978-82, identifying pressing needs, including establishing permanent facilities in each centre.
  • The Colleges and Provincial Institutes Act was passed, declaring the College a Crown Corporation. The College could now own land and have borrowing power.


  • Chetwynd expanded to a new location in the Professional Building.


  • Chetwynd moved again, this time to a former store, tripling the amount of available space.


  • Jim Kassen started what would be a 25-year tenure as President of the College.


  • In Fort Nelson, a new 14,000 square foot building was constructed.
  • The Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and Early Childhood Education programs opened at the Dawson Creek campus.


  • In Fort St. John, a new 50,000 square foot centre opened.


  • Title to the Dawson Creek centre land was formally transferred to the College, including the Mile Zero Farm property.
  • Dawson Creek’s Campus Centre was completed.
  • A separate budget, run by the Chetwynd centre, was created for a Tumbler Ridge facility.


  • A mobile learning unit was purchased for the Stikine, and a new position created to administer the Stikine region.
  • Regional Administration took over the former Business Careers building in Dawson Creek, after the Campus Centre opened.


  • The Dease Lake centre opened in portables owned by SD 87.
  • A new Chetwynd centre opened on SD 59 property, in portables that had been in Dawson Creek.


  • The Cassiar facility moved into the town’s administration building.
  • Daycare facilities opened at the Dawson Creek centre.


  • The College leased space in the Atlin courthouse.
  • The Tumbler Ridge centre opened in leased space in the Rescan Building.


  • An assistant principal position was created at the Tumbler Ridge centre.


  • Hudson’s Hope opened a main street location, offering office administration and adult basic education.
  • The Cassiar mine closed, and as a result the town and the college centre eventually closed as well. The College buildings were moved to Dease Lake to create a new centre.


  • In Fort Nelson, a 3,500 square foot addition was opened.


  • In Fort St. John, an 8,750 square foot addition opened. As well, the College entered into a sharing arrangement with the University of Northern British Columbia.


  • A new centre in Chetwynd was opened.


  • Renowned performer Ben Heppner was awarded the College’s first honorary degree, after a homecoming performance organized by the College’s Music Department.


  • The College launched a mobile learning centre to serve remote communities.


  • The new residence at the Dawson Creek campus opened.
  • Paul Dampier’s “Highways of Learning: The Northern Lights College Story”, was published.
  • A temporary drilling rig was erected at the Fort St. John campus as a training and demonstration facility.
  • The Community Garden opened on the Dawson Creek campus.


  • The Roy Cunningham Aboriginal Student Resource Centre opened on the Fort St. John campus.




  • The Tumbler Ridge campus moved into joint facilities with Tumbler Ridge Secondary School.
  • The Fort St. John campus expanded to space at Immaculata School.
  • Nabors Production Services donated a service rig outfitted for training purposes to the Fort St. John campus.


  • The new Regional Administration building was opened in Dawson Creek.


  • The Fort St. John campus added temporary space at the Totem Mall, while awaiting the completion of the Industry Training Centre.
  • Construction to double the size of the Aircraft Maintenance Engineering hangar was completed.
  • D. Jean Valgardson was hired as only the third president in the 30-year history of the College, following the retirement of Jim Kassen.


  • New housing facilities opened at the Fort St. John campus.
  • The Atlin campus moved from its courthouse location to a School District 87 facility.


  • The Totem Mall location closed in Fort St. John, as Continuing Education programs were moved back to the main campus.
  • The Industry Training Centre/Oil and Gas Centre of Excellence opened at the Fort St. John campus.


  • Hudson’s Hope Campus closed, with responsibility for programming transferred to the Chetwynd Campus.


  • Exterior renovations and the construction of a new Indigenous Gathering Space completed at the Fort Nelson Campus.
  • Simulated well-site training facility completed at the Fort St. John Campus.
  • Three new videoconference rooms were opened, one each on the Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson and Fort St. John campuses. This brings the number of videoconference rooms across the College to eight.
  • Construction began in July on the renovation/refurbishing of the Science Building into the Health Sciences Building.
  • Construction began in November on the Centre for Clean Energy Technologies (Energy House). Target completion date is March 2011.


  • Retrofit and renovations completed to transform the Science Building into the new Health Sciences Building at the Dawson Creek Campus. The facility is ready for students in September.
  • Active programming ended at Dease Lake and Atlin campuses, however the campuses remained open as access centres.
  • NLC celebrates its 35th anniversary in September
  • Renovations begin in the Campus Centre Building on the Dawson Creek Campus. Work will see the creation of an Indigenous Gathering Space, revamped bookstore/library, a new home for Workforce Training/Continuing Education, and new-look Student Services. As well, a new home will be constructed in the basement for the Information Technology department.
  • Construction continues throughout the year on Energy House.
  • Renovations begin at the Chetwynd Campus towards the creation of an Indigenous Gathering Space.
  • Renovations begin at the Fort St. John Campus towards the creation of a new Indigenous Gathering Space.


  • Laurie Rancourt took over as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the College, replacing D. Jean Valgardson, who retired in February.
  • Grand opening held in September for the Indigenous Gathering Space at the Chetwynd Campus. Special dignitary at the event was Lieutenant Governor Steven Point. 
  • Grand opening held in October for the Indigenous Gathering Space at the Fort St. John Campus.
  • Grand opening held in October for Energy House and the Health Sciences Building at the Dawson Creek Campus. Special guest dignitaries in attendance for the event were Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Christy Clark.
  • Grand opening held in November for the Indigenous Gathering Space at the Dawson Creek Campus.
  • Nabors Canada announced it was donating a full-sized oil rig to be set up at the Fort St. John Campus to augment the Simulated Well Site Training facility that is a key part of the Jim Kassen Industry Training Centre.