Thursday, 19 January 2017

Kitsault: The Ghost Town Where Lights Are Still On But No One’s Home

Think ghost town and you’ll probably imagine ruins —roofless houses, dirty broken windows, rotting floors, but at Kitsault, on the North Coast of British Columbia, Canada, you’ll find rows upon rows of immaculately kept houses, shopping centers, restaurants, banks, pubs and theaters, all abandoned and sitting empty but untouched and spotless. The town’s lights are always on, the streets are lined with neatly trimmed trees and there are freshly mowed lawns, yet no one has called Kitsault home since 1982.

The town of Kitsault, near the Alaskan border, situated about 115 kilometers down the gravel road from Terrace, had a very brief 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 just as life was getting started in this pristine mountain utopia, the market for molybdenum crashed and the entire town of some 1,200 residents abandoned it.

This area of British Columbia, at the end of the Observatory Inlet, had been mined 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. Molybdenum was first mined here from the late sixties until the early seventies, but was stopped when profits started to dip. But by the end of the decade prices were back up again as many of the known molybdenum deposits in Alaska, British Columbia and the western United States began to deplete. The American mining company Phelps Dodge jumped in at the opportunity.

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 hastily built through the mountains. Engineers and construction workers poured in from all over North America, drawn by high-paying construction jobs.

More than a hundred single-family homes and duplexes were built, and seven apartment buildings with over two hundred suites. There was a modern hospital and a shopping center, restaurants, banks, a post office, a pub, a pool, a library, and two recreation centers with Jacuzzis, saunas and a theater. 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.

Barely 18 months after the first families had settled in, the molybdenum market crashed caused by a badly timed recession and the arrival of molybdenum by-products. The mines closed and people started moving out and Kitsault was forgotten.

In 2005, India-born American entrepreneur, Krishnan Suthanthiran, bought the town for $7 million and began charting its revival. Since then, the millionaire has poured an estimated $25 million on upgrades and upkeep. More than a dozen caretakers make rounds of the houses and other structures, checking on their conditions and making repairs. They mow the lawns, trim the trees and sweep the streets.

Suthanthiran plans to recoup his investments by turning Kitsault into a hub of British Columbia’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry. The future of the town depends on the success of this LNG project.















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