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The Ghost Towns of Northern BC

mall at Kitsault

As the helicopter lifted off, the vast wilderness around Northern Escape Mountain Lodge came into view. We flew north over Kitsumkalum Lake, mist-shrouded forests and the winding tributaries of the Kitsumkalum River. Myriad tiny nameless lakes dotted the landscape, some gin-clear, others jade-coloured from glacier runoff. And some waters were mixed like paint swirling in streams.

aerial photo, Northern BC

flying to Kitsault

 

Then the landscape abruptly changed; the lush rainforest replaced with a moonscape. We were flying over the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed , the remains of an eruption some 250 years ago. Despite time, little has grown in the lava since. The lava flows extended as far as I could see, twenty kilometers or more.

 

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed as seen from the air. The lava flows are massive.

Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed as seen from the air. The lava flows are massive.

Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed

 

The helicopter then began to ascend, up 1952m Nass Peak, above rocky alpine slopes and snow fields. Winds buffeted the machine, and it shook hard as we crested the summit. I noticed tiny white dots moving in the distance, mountain goats. After nearly 45mins in the helicopter, and some 90kms from Mountain Lodge, we could see the coast, and our destination, the ghost town of Kitsault.

Skeena Mountains, Terrace, BC

Kitsault

The town of Kitsault.

A Bizarre 1980’s Time Capsule

Northern BC has a long history of mining and resource extraction. Over the past century-and-a-half, many towns have sprung up only to be abandoned when the mines were depleted or no longer worth running. But none are as odd or interesting as Kitsault. Located at the end of Alice Arm, a remote inlet on the north coast near the Alaskan Panhandle, it is all but inaccessible. The town was first built in 1968 for Molybdenum mining, then closed in 1972. It opened and expanded again in 1981, with state-of-the-art facilities for a population of 1500 residents.

When the price of molybdenum crashed in 1983, the Mining Company, AMAX, which owned the town, ordered everyone to leave. The unusual thing is, due to its remote location, almost everything was left behind, from a library still filled with books, to a daycare stocked with toys, to an eerie hospital with medical equipment to a bank with a vault. It has been untouched for almost 40 years. Wandering through these buildings is a bizarre time warp back to the early 1980’s.

The daycare centre in Kitsault.

daycare in Kitsault

Toys in the daycare center.

Kitsault library

Kitsault library, still with books on the shelves.

Full size gymnasium in the Kitsault Rec Centre.

Full size gymnasium in the Kitsault Rec Centre.

Swimming Pool in Kitsault Rec Centre

Swimming Pool in Kitsault Rec Centre

lockers

Exercise equipment in Kitsault Rec Centre

Exercise equipment in Kitsault Rec Centre

Kitsault Grocery Store

Kitsault Grocery Store

Kitsault Grocery Store

These shelves have been empty nearly 40 years.

Kitsault Grocery Store

Kitsault Grocery Store

Royal Bank, Kitsault Branch

Royal Bank, Kitsault Branch

bank vault

Bank vault.

mall at Kitsault

Shopping mall.

houses Kitsault

Abandoned houses, complete with shag carpet.

houses in Kitsault

Getting around Kitsault, with tour guide Rob Bryce

Guide Rob Bryce keeps an ATV and trailer in the town for taking guests around on tours. Driving along the paved streets, past the rows of houses, you can easily feel you’re in the suburbs of a major city, not an abandoned ghost town.

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Reception area, Kitsault Hospital

Reception area, Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

Kitsault Hospital

wandering through Kitsault on foot

wandering through Kitsault on foot

The Maple Leaf Pub, Kitsault

The Maple Leaf Pub, Kitsault

curling rink, Kitsault

Full-size curling rink, Kitsault

curling rink, Kitsault

curling rink, Kitsault

Kitsault BC

 

In 2005, US-based entrepreneur Krishnan Suthanthiran bought the town sight-unseen for $5.7 million. However, Kitsault has been completely off-limits from 1983 until only recently, when Northern Escape partner and tour guide, Rob Bryce, of Northern BC Jet boat Tours, was given the only permit for visiting the town. A caretaker now lives there, and mows the grass and there are lights and electricity in most of the buildings.

A trip to Kitsault, especially if you are from that era, is something you will never forget.

The Ghost Town of Anyox

After a few hours in Kitsault, we hopped in the helicopter and flew across the inlet to another ghost town, Anyox. This town is much older, and not much remains. Bryce took us up to see an abandoned dam, from a century ago. We explored other old buildings, and most, like the dam powerhouse, are being reclaimed by nature, a mix of crumbling bricks, twisted metal, invading trees and drooping moss.

hydroelectric dam at Anyox

hydroelectric dam at Anyox

dam at Anyox

Inside the dam at Anyox

powerhouse, at Anyox

Dam powerhouse, at Anyox

Planning a Tour

Northern Escape’s ghost town tour can be arranged with a private helicopter and guide and can include other ghost towns and scenic flights. Contact us for more info or to arrange your trip.