Situated in the Nicola Valley, the City of Merritt is the largest municipality between the Lower Mainland and the interior centres of Kelowna and Kamloops. The focus of the highway networks linking the interior and the coast, Merritt sits at the intersections of Highways 5 (Coquihalla), 5A, 8, and 97C (Okanagan Connector), with roads coming in from 7 directions.
Styled "the country music capital of Canada", Merritt's small population swells during the summer months, when the c. 6,000 residents are vastly outnumbered by up to 140,000 music fans attending festivals at the nearby Merritt Festival Show Site.
The hills surrounding Merritt are covered in forests and hiking trails, with nearby Nicola Lake providing watersports opportunities, and camping at Monck Provincial Park.
Geography and Transport
Merritt is located in a high valley. At around 600m above sea level, it is substantially above both Kelowna and Kamloops, and can be correspondingly cooler, particularly in winter.
Highway 5A is the traditional route in and out of the city, linking to Kamloops (north) and Princeton (south). In the mid-late 1980s, the Coquihalla Highway was built as a direct link to Hope and the Lower Mainland, and a shorter route to Kamloops, and the Okanagan Connector reached across Penask Summit to provide an east-west link to Kelowna. Both the Coq and Connector are high mountain roads which can be subject to severe weather, particularly in winter. The Coq in particular climbs steeply from Hope, almost at sea level, to Coquihalla Summit's 1250m pass (almost the height of Ben Nevis) in just 48km.
Merritt has no current railways (the Kettle Valley Rail Trail occupies the bed of the former KVR), and the municipal airport has no scheduled flights. The nearest airport with regular service is Kamloops.
In common with the rest off the southern interior, Merritt has long hot dry summers. Winters are relatively mild by Canadian standards, but are often cooler than the Okanagan due to altitude. Being inland and behind a mountain range, it is of course colder in winter than on the coast. With over 2,000 hours of bright sunshine annually, the city's motto is "Flourishing under the sun", and a sun logo adorns the city flag and street signs.
Population and demographics
Merritt is a small city, with slightly over 5,000 residents in the core area, and aaround 7,000 in the City as a whole. .
Merritt has several elementary schools, a high school, and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.
Originally called Forksdale after the fork (confluence) of the Nicola and Coldwater rivers, Merritt was renamed after an engineer, and many of the major streets are named after early ranchers and settlers from the area. After the US-Canadian boundary carved along the 49th and cut off the southern Columbia District, new transport links had to be forged to the coast instead of using the old river; Merritt was a convenient location. It was then largely settled by ranchers and miners, as a gateway to gold country throughout the interior.
The historic heart of Merritt remains relatively intact as a few blocks along Nicola Avenue of western frontier town. The domed Coldwater Hotel rises above the streets whose atmosphere is retained with historic facades and stylings. More modern residential development exists on the Bench to the north of town.
Merritt is a small city, and doesn't directly have the amenities of a larger location. Instead, it has a lower cost of living, and a laid back pace of life. If you enjoy the outdoors, there are endless opportunities for hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing and the like. Basic shopping is met, with a Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Save on Foods, etc as well as numerous independent stores selling local products. A craft brewery has recently (May 2019) opened in downtown. The civic centre is regularly used to screen movies, but if you want sophisticated restaurants or even a fully equipped cinema and reasonably sized mall, you would need to head out to Kamloops, Kelowna, or down to the Lower Mainland. In summer this drive is beautiful, but when there's snow it can be treacherous. You are very likely to need a set of all-season or winter tires at the very least if you plan to live in Merritt, as every road in or out of town is mountainous and has the winter tire obligation at least October-March.