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The connection between Prince George and Edmonton has always been a close one and now there are only about 100 minutes between Canada's two premier northern cities.
An air experiment that began in 2016 is successful enough to carry on, according to Central Mountain Air, an airline born in northern B.C. and now operating direct flights from Prince George over the spectacular spine of the Rockies to Edmonton and then on to Calgary as well.
On the highway, Prince George and Edmonton are separated by a spectacular eight- to nine-hour drive in normal conditions.
Of course there is never anything normal about traveling through the Rocky Mountains, and even for seasoned local veterans of Highway 16, it is a breathtaking drive.
The same could be said for the Via Rail service between the two cities. It is one of the world's great passenger train trips, with Jasper in the middle like a tiny jewel set between the larger urban stones.
But you should see it from the air.
Edmonton is quite decidedly the larger and more infrastructural of the two municipal friends. Prince George has, in many historic cultural and economic ways, considered the Alberta capital to be like a big sibling.
It is actually closer from P.G. to Edmonton than it is to either Vancouver or Calgary. All three are well situated to Prince George, but Edmonton has the literal edge and it is also meaningfully closer on the latitude scale. P.G. sits at 53.9 degrees north while Edmonton is at 53.5 degrees north. The two cities are circumpolar pals.
There is a historical connection, as well. The reason Prince George emerged as a city in the modern context was the economic stimulation triggered by the 1914 completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, linking Edmonton to the Pacific via this beating heart of the B.C. geography.
Going back through time immemorial, the aboriginal trade routes through the jagged teeth of the northern Rockies were well worn, and Lheidli T'enneh territory has plentiful physical and oral accounts of the connections here to the Cree of modern day Alberta, in addition to the active commerce that went on in the other directions as well, thousands of consecutive years before any other continent's explorers arrived.
Today's primary east-west road across northern Canada is called the Yellowhead Highway today as a homage to Pierre 'Tête Jaune' Bostonais (sometimes Hastination), a blonde Iroquois-Métis exploration guide who showed colonial explorers through the pass in the early 1800s where the highways and railways now run.
But he was by millennia not the first through that slip through the mighty Rocky Mountains, he merely showed Europeans how First Nation's had done it for thousands of years.
Now, a new form of history is being made. Daily flights had not been available between Prince George and Edmonton International Airport until Central Mountain Air formed that link.
"Introducing this nonstop allows for a quick flight between Prince George and Edmonton or onto Calgary, and opens many connection opportunities within and outside of our route network," said Central Mountain Air president Douglas McCrea. "Connecting these points with nonstop service will provide passengers with improved service by eliminating the need to connect in Vancouver, which is a four-hour journey."
It is never easy to establish an air route. Remember those childhood games with eight moveable squares in a nine hole frame? Where you had to use your thumb to slide the squares on vertical and horizontal lines to arrange them into the proper pattern? That's very much like the challenge of making sure every possible hour of plane time is arranged for an airline. If it flies one place, what's next, and then next, on down the logistics line, to make sure aircraft and staff are used to their fullest and in compliance with applicable regulations.
The startup of a new route is a fiscal risk for any airline. Will the public respond to the product? Are there enough industrial players, commercial travellers, and tourists to fill enough of the seats for a viable business venture? Part of the equation is doing research in advance, and then it is a matter of marketing the link so people know it's there.
The drive is very long. The train ride is even longer. Each mode of transportation has its appeals, but time is often a critical consideration for a potential traveller. When the alternative is airport hopping to catch a set of connecting flights in between the P.G.-Edmonton geography, CMA calculated there would be a hunger for flying in a straight line.
"We are happy with the results of this route and will continue it as long as the region supports it," said Kelsi Desjarlais, marketing coordinator for CMA. "By providing this service we were able to connect the north to both Edmonton and Calgary as YXS acts as a hub for CMA, so we get passengers from all around our network fly into P.G. and transfer onto this flight, so it is supported by a number of different communities. Passengers can connect to this flight from Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Dawson Creek, Terrace and Smithers."
Upgrades to the amenities at either end of the route also helps the appeal of the route.
Prince George is a small city, but it has personality bigger than its dot on the map. P.G. is undergoing a downtown resurgence with a bustling and scrumptious restaurant scene, a strong complex of hotels, plus a fair array of live entertainment and static cultural facilities. It has an outgoing college crowd from the University of Northern British Columbia and the College of New Caledonia. It has a lively mix of indie and brand name shops and boutiques. The people are famous for their eager and friendly attitudes towards friends and strangers alike. And impossible to overlook is the natural good looks of the compact wilderness city.
The smartly designed Prince George airport has a shuttle service, easily accessible set of taxis, and on-site car rentals to get travellers from there to the downtown only 15 minutes away. From there, driving, BC Transit services and pedestrian options are all user-friendly.
At the Edmonton end, the airport is situated in the neighbouring town of Leduc. It has a full suite of transportation options to the city centre, located a half-hour's drive in a straight unmistakable line. The city itself is the capital of Alberta, it supports a population of more than 800,000 and that surpasses a million in the immediate area. It's the fifth-largest city in Canada. It has every ability to welcome the world in style.
For those wanting the convenience of an on-site hotel at the airport, Edmonton has one of those and is it ever an attraction of its own. The Renaissance Hotel is only about five years old and was outfitted in a 21st century architectural wardrobe.
The interior design is nothing short of stunning. One wall of the in-house bar has a covering of leather belts instead of wallpaper.
It has four-diamond classification, with soundproof rooms and top-level facilities. Business meeting rooms, conference and banquet spaces, bar, bistro, live entertainment stage, pool, gym, and a lot of "wow" features. It has celebrity appeal but prices that dip below $200 per night for the economy traveller as well.
If you're on a budget, if you're a sports team or association travelling as a group, if you have to pop to Edmonton for some quick meetings, if you have to plan a convention, it can all be done within the airport in sleek surroundings and a heated hallway right into the main airport.
It's a corridor that parallels the route itself - direct, easy, comfortable and impressive to look at.
If you go
CMA's direct flights from Prince George to Edmonton depart at 4:10 in the afternoon every day of the week except for Saturday, arriving in Edmonton at 6:25 p.m. local time. Return flights from Edmonton depart at 8:40 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, arriving at 9:05 a.m. local time. The Sunday and Friday return flights from Edmonton depart at 11:05 a.m., arriving at 11:30 a.m. local time.
The aircraft, a Dornier 328, seats 30 passengers and flies with two pilots and one flight attendant
Next Saturday: Seeing Edmonton through Prince George eyes.
Central Mountain Air sponsored the travel and accommodation for this story.