Kitsault, Alice Arm

Kitsault, Alice Arm

by | Apr 23, 2022

Kitsault is a historical mining community near the mouth of the Kitsault River at the head of Alice Arm, a fjord and eastern extension of Observatory Inlet, about 86 miles (138 km) north-northeast of Prince Rupert and 38 miles (61 km) southeast of Stewart, British Columbia. The name ‘Kitsault’ is an adaptation of the name of a Nisga’a village ‘Gits’oohl’, meaning ‘a way in behind’, that occupied this site prior to the 20th century. The Kitsault area is situated in the rugged Coast Mountains and is rich in mineral deposits. The Coast Mountains are part of the North American Cordillera that is comprised of a series of accretionary terranes that from east to west include the Foreland Belt, Omineca Belt, Intermontane Belt, Coast Belt, and the Insular Belt. Kitsault lies at the western edge of the Intermontane Belt and about 1.2 miles (2 km) east of the Coast Belt. Rock types present within the Intermontane Belt range in age from Devonian to early Cenozoic and typically consist of sedimentary, granitic, volcanic island, and continental arc formations, and marine and non-marine sediments including the Bowser Lake Group that eroded mainly from uplifting of the Omineca Belt. The Bowser Lake Group is primarily greywacke that was metamorphosed to greenschist during intense igneous intrusive activity attributed to the Coast Belt, also known as the Coast Plutonic Complex. During the Tertiary from 64-54 million years ago, magma intruded the Bowser Lake Group and when this magma cooled, massive cores of crystalline igneous rock were left behind. These are the present-day Coast Plutonic complex, which, exposed by erosion over millions of years, now form the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. In the Kitsault area, the predominantly felsic magma became coarse crystalline granitic rocks ranging from quartz diorite to quartz monzonite. These are hard rocks, eroding very slowly compared to the sedimentary rocks of the Bowser Lake deposits. In the outer zone of one of these outlying granitic intrusions, on the south side of present-day Mount Widdzech in the Lime Creek watershed above Kitsault, the mineral molybdenite was deposited in the contact layer between the igneous and sedimentary rocks.

Human settlement of the coastal fringe began shortly after the massive ice sheets of the Last Glacial Maximum retreated about 10,000 years ago. The Haisla, Tsimshian, and Nisga’a First Nations had many thriving communities along the deep fjords that penetrated the Coast Mountains. Villages and fishing sites were historically located throughout Observatory Inlet. Kitsault is located within the traditional territory of the Nisga’a First Nation. In the 1700s, contact with Europeans increased when explorers and fur traders discovered the rich natural resources of the region. A brisk maritime fur trade was conducted in the Queen Charlotte Islands of Haida Gwaii and the adjacent mainland but few traders ventured inland. In the 1790s, the British Navy began an organized effort to map the coastline between the mouth of the Columbia River and Russian America north of Dixon Entrance. Observatory Inlet was named in 1793 by Captain George Vancouver in honor of the astronomical observatory he established on the shore of the inlet to calibrate his chronometers. By 1834, the Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Simpson at the site of a traditional Tsimpsean camping area known as Lax-Kw’alaams. Smallpox epidemics of the late 1700s and 1860s mostly depopulated the villages of the north coast. By the early 1900s, the village site at Gits’oohl was unoccupied. In 1868, Alice Arm was named by Captain Daniel Pender on the SS Beaver after Alice Mary Tomlinson, wife of Reverend Robert Tomlinson. Tomlinson was the Anglican minister in charge of the mission at Gingolx, a Nisga’a village at the mouth of the Nass River. Captain Pender was a Royal Navy commander who from 1857 to 1870 conducted detailed coastline surveys of the British colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The amalgamated colony of British Columbia was formed in 1866 and joined Canada in 1871.

In 1929, lands on the west side of Kitsault River were sold for building lots within the mining town of Alice Arm. On the east side of the inlet at Lime Creek, and upstream of the tiny mining settlement of Silver City, silver deposits were staked in 1911 and the showings were worked through the 1920s and early 1930s. A small amount of molybdenite was produced from the Lime Creek exposures during World War II, but the ore was not considered significant. Mining interests in these deposits were revitalized in 1956 when Kennco Explorations Ltd., a subsidiary of the American company, Kennecott Copper Corporation, examined the claims on Lime Creek and optioned the properties in 1957. In the same year, the company mounted an extensive exploration diamond drilling program in the area. In addition to a lead ore called galena and silver ore, they discovered a large deposit of porphyry molybdenum, the metal used in the manufacture of high-quality strengthened steel. At this time, during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s, molybdenum was of considerable interest due to its use in the manufacture of armaments, aircraft nose-cones, and equipment for the space industry. By late 1964, British Columbia Molybdenum Ltd., another subsidiary of Kennecott Copper Corporation, started construction of a mine at 2,296 feet (700 m) elevation on Patsy Creek, the east fork of Lime Creek. Between 1968 and 1972, this open-pit mine produced 22.9 million pounds (10 million kg) of molybdenum processed from a total of 9.3 million tonnes of ore. The mine closed in 1972 due to low molybdenum prices. In 1973, the property was purchased from Kennecott by Climax Molybdenum Corporation of British Columbia, a subsidiary of AMAX Inc. Further exploration work on the large molybdenum deposit was undertaken from 1974 to 1978 by Climax Molybdenum. The property was then transferred to Amax of Canada Ltd., another susidiary of AMAX Inc., in 1979. With the rise in molybdenum prices, Amax of Canada Ltd. re-opened the mine site during that same year and started construction of the company town of Kitsault to be used to house its workers and their families in this remote location. From 1981 to 1982, the company milled 4.1 million tonnes of ore, producing an estimated 8 million pounds (3 million kg) of molybdenum. Mining stopped in 1982 when prices for molybdenum again collapsed. Kitsault was evacuated but the townsite and all the buildings were continuously maintained until 2005 when the entire town was sold to Kitsault Resort Ltd. with the goal of developing a world-class eco-resort. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kitsault here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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