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Locally inspired economies replacing a system of boom-and-bust extraction

For more than a century, the northern coastal community of Prince Rupert has been subjected to the boom-and-bust cycles of an economy built upon natural resource extraction. Today, with a population of more than 12,000 living on Coast Ts’msyen Territories, Prince Rupert’s economy remains anchored by industrial investment.

While a rapidly expanding port is driving economic development and employment, significant challenges persist. Residents are experiencing fewer benefits from the natural resources and industrial developments in the region; young residents are reluctant to fill critical community service jobs; global economic swings and technological advancements create uncertainties regarding long-term employment and community investment; and more value-added processing jobs are moving overseas.

All of the above puts pressure on small businesses, local organizations, and municipal institutions to retain talent and remain competitive. This also feeds a cycle in which the local offering of products, services, and experiences is diminished, further exacerbating the problem. Recognizing these challenges, Ecotrust Canada launched an innovative place-based initiative that could contribute to building a more resilient community and local economy.

Why Ecotrust Canada?

Ecotrust Canada has been a part of the Prince Rupert community for over fifteen years, and now has eight local staff working at the Skeena office in Prince Rupert. In 2017, Ecotrust Canada decided to launch the North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL), an intentionally designed social innovation approach that aimed to bring capacity, resources, creativity, and solutions to bear on the complex problems facing the community.
The NCIL drew on our history of work in Prince Rupert and our award-winning three-year social enterprise initiative in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab). The LEDlab approach was adapted for a northern and municipal context and designed to reflect the unique opportunities, challenges, cultural context, geography, and people that make up Prince Rupert.

The strategy

From 2017-2020, the NCIL was a place-based initiative for people invested in the future of Prince Rupert to identify, prioritize, and work together on tangible projects to build a resilient economy and improve social and environmental well-being.
As part of the process, the NCIL connected graduate students from all over Canada to work with community partners as project coordinators, and together, they explored the potential boundaries for social innovations such as transforming an empty greenhouse into an edible garden for food security or exploring different methods of restorative ocean farming. Beyond student coordination and capacity, the NCIL facilitated gatherings, events, and activities that enabled dialogue, learning, collaboration, and innovation across organizations and sectors to build a more resilient community and local economy.


  • Prince Rupert becomes a leading example of how a traditionally boom-and-bust town, can become socially and environmentally resilient through economic innovation.
  • Community-wide development initiatives flourish in the town for the benefit of local residents and bring stable employment while providing the goods and services Prince Rupert needs to thrive.
  • Rural, remote, and Indigenous community partnerships with Canada’s academic institutions are prototyped and nurtured.
  • A new generation of social innovation practitioners is created who build careers working with, for, and in rural, northern, and Indigenous communities and economies.
  • The social innovation approach is replicated in similar towns and communities across Canada.

Key learnings

  1. Relationships built on trust, respect and mutual understanding are imperative to successful place-based social innovation labs.
  2. Recognize and elevate place-based innovators and change makers of past and present.
  3. Create space for reflective practice and ongoing evaluation.
  4. When it comes to innovation and change, “seeing is believing”
The North Coast Innovation Lab place-based initiative concluded at the end of 2020. Over the years, a common theme around food security and food access emerged. This inspired Ecotrust Canada to introduce the Food Systems initiative. Learn more here.