The original settlement was a pulp and paper milling centre established as a company town in 1912. The old townsite was declared a national historic district in 1995 and many former company houses have been restored. Incorporated as a district municipality in 1995, Powell River was granted city status in 2005.
The forestry industry remains important to the region’s economy, in particular the pulp and paper mill. Commercial fishing and mining, based on nearby Texada Island, are also economically important. The climate and scenery make Powell River and its hinterland an attractive summer resort area. Saltwater and freshwater fishing and boating are major forms of recreation. Inauguration in 1965 of an automobile ferry from Comox, on Vancouver Island, boosted tourism.