Kitimat: a century of boom and bust: The heady dreams of a 50,000 population city turned out to be just that – by Walter Thorne (Northern Sentinel – December 1, 2018)

Northern Sentinel

By 1950 there wasn’t much happening when you looked northwest across Douglas Channel from Kitamaat Mission. It was still rather quiet, pristine and devoid of human presence. Even the pioneer ranchers of the estuary had all disappeared, leaving only a few buildings and artifacts.

The five hundred or so souls of Kitimaat Village had it all to themselves. But a new development scheme had been proposed and the Haisla were about to witness one of the most rapid and profound transformations to the landscape ever seen in B.C. – the Alcan project.

Development of the aluminum smelter and accompanying town got underway in April 1951 when the first barges and towboats arrived with pile drivers and bulldozers. But while this was to be the grand-daddy of all booms, it was not the valley’s first. The first was five decades earlier in 1900 when developer Charles Clifford began to promote Kitamaat in earnest, describing its harbour as the finest on the Pacific seaboard without exception. In 1903 Clifford was elected MLA for Skeena and continued to be an avid promoter of Kitimat.

By then he had put his money where his mouth was by building a nice new wharf and hotel near the Moon Bay, to the south of present-day Alcan Beach. Development potential had speculators salivating.

When the giant Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) terminus location was proposed for the inner harbour at Minette Bay, Kitamaat’s first boom took off. In 1906 lots were selling in Vancouver on the not even surveyed sites at Minette Bay. And the boom did bring focus and attention to Kitimat’s estuary lands. A handful of pioneer ranchers imagined rocketing real estate values, and new docks and schools.

However, the euphoria was short-lived. Kitimat’s almost boom and Clifford’s dream came to a crashing halt in 1907 when GTP chose a new site on Kaien Island (Prince Rupert) instead. Folks would have to wait a half century for the real boom to occur.

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