If you think about any ghost town, you’ll probably imagine roofless houses, broken windows, dirty floors and vandalized areas. That’s true?
Not at Kitsault, on the North Coast of British Columbia, Canada.
Here you’ll find rows upon rows of perfect houses, but also shopping centers, restaurants, banks, pubs and theaters, all abandoned, of course, but all untouched and very preserved. The town’s lights are always on, with streets lined with plentiful trees and lawns are freshly mowed. However, no one live in Kitsault since 1982!
The town of Kitsault, close to the Alaskan border, situated about 115 kilometers down the gravel road from Terrace, had a very short existence: It began in 1979 as a community of workers of the molybdenum mines. Molybdenum forms hard, stable carbides in alloys, and is often used to provide hardness and corrosion resistance properties to steel. But when the market for molybdenum crashed, the entire town of some 1,200 residents abandoned it. A bit like what was happening in Taiwan, in the mining village of Houtong, which was saved by cats.
This area of British Columbia, at the head of Alice Arm, Observatory Inlet and at the mouth of the Kitsault River, was popular for precious and semi-precious metals such as silver, lead, zinc, and copper for nearly a century, leading to the establishment of many boom towns such as Alice Arm and Anyox.
The locality of Alice Arm and the Nisga’a community of Gits’oohl are in the immediate vicinity and “Kitsault” is an adaptation of Gits’oohl, which means “a ways in behind”.
Moreover, the mines were very popular in the region, such as the Blue Hawk Mine, now an abandoned labyrinth.
Historically, mining came to the remote valley with the Dolly Varden mine in 1918. Much of the area had been explored for minerals and houses, stores and a ten-mile-long (about 16 km) railway were built.
Molybdenum was first mined here from the late sixties until the early seventies, but was stopped when profits started to dip. By the end of the decade prices were back up again as many of the known molybdenum deposits in Alaska, British Columbia and in the western United States began to deplete.
The later town of Kitsault was established in 1979 as the home community to a molybdenum mine run by the Phelps Dodge corporation of the United States.
A large swath of land several hundred acres in size was prepared for the town of Kitsault, and a massive construction project, on a scale that had never been seen in Northern British Columbia, began: ships arrived with building supplies into Kitsault’s deep water fiord, a gravel road from Terrace was in record time built through the mountains and engineers and construction workers from all over North America came, drawn by high-paying construction jobs.
More than a hundred single-family homes and duplexes were built, and also seven apartment buildings with over two hundred suites. There was a modern hospital, a shopping center, restaurants, banks, a post office, a pub, a pool, a library, and two recreation centers with Jacuzzis, saunas and a theater. Also cable television and phone lines were laid underground; there was a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant and the cleanest running water in the province.
All perfect, right?
However, barely 18 months after the first families had settled in, the molybdenum market crashed due a badly timed recession and the arrival of molybdenum by-products. So the mines were closed, people started moving out and Kitsault was abandoned and forgotten.
In 2005, India-born American entrepreneur, Krishnan Suthanthiran, bought the town for $5.7 million and began charting its revival: since then, the millionaire has poured an estimated $25 million on restoration, update and upkeep.
More than a dozen caretakers make rounds of the houses and other structures, checking on their conditions and making repairs: they also mow the lawns, cut the trees and sweep the streets.
He plans to recoup his investments by turning Kitsault into a hub of British Columbia’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, and the future of the city depends on the success of this LNG project…