Princeton is a small town of about 2,800 (2016) people in the Similkameen region of British Columbia. Princeton was born of the mining industry, however today the town relies on forestry, ranching, and tourism.
Princeton centres on seven blocks of businesses along Bridge Street and five blocks on Vermilion Avenue; there are also businesses along British Columbia Highway 3.
Historically, the area’s main industry has been mining—copper, gold, coal, and some platinum—the town’s biggest employers are Copper Mountain Mine and a sawmill owned by Weyerhaeuser, along with a few smaller timber companies, such as Princeton Wood Preservers and Princeton Post and Rail.
Before European contact, the land around today’s Princeton was known among First Nations people as a source of red ochre. Beginning no later than 1846, fur traders, settlers, and miners established trails connecting what was then known as Vermilion Forks to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. John Fall Allison became, in 1858, the first permanent settler of European ancestry. To this day, the site of his home functions locally like a kilometre zero, with creeks east of Princeton having names like “Five Mile” based on their distance from that location. The town he founded was renamed “Prince Town” (later corrupted to “Princeton”) to honour an 1860 visit to eastern Canada by Prince Edward (later King Edward VII).
From 1909 to 1915, the railways arrived, with the Kettle Valley Railway (later Canadian Pacific) connecting Princeton to the Great Northern.
Until 1961, Princeton was home to a brewery, the Princeton Brewing Company. Until the 1940s, the brewery kept its beer cool in the Vermilion Cave. The cave, which held up to 20 railway cars at a time, was largely demolished to make way for the Hope-Princeton Highway, part of the Crowsnest Highway (British Columbia Highway 3).
Beginning in the 1980s, Princeton began to revitalize its downtown, a plan that included red brick sidewalks and new streetlights. In the 1990s, they adopted a “heritage” theme, with many businesses converting their exteriors to match architectural styles from roughly a century earlier.
The name Vermilion Forks survives in the name of Vermilion Forks Indian Reserve No. 1, which is immediately adjacent to the town of Princeton, to the east, and is one of the reserves of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, whose head offices are in Hedley.
Princeton is just east of the Cascade mountains, giving the town a rain shadow effect whereby the community receives very little precipitation relative to areas on the windward side of the Cascade mountains. Princeton is one of the sunniest places in British Columbia with 2088 hours of sunshine annually. The 323 days per year with measurable sunshine, defined by having a minimum of 6 minutes of sunshine in a day, is the most in the province, and one of the highest in Canada.
BC Highway 3 (the Crowsnest Highway) bisects the town east-west. It travels east from Vancouver and Hope (British Columbia) and west from Osoyoos in the Okanagan. The section of the highway between Hope and Princeton is often referred to as the Hope-Princeton highway.
BC Highway 5A heads north from town and connects with BC Highway 97C (the Okanagan Connector) about 20 km east of Merritt.