Expedition to Kitsault and Alice Arm

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Hello all!

Finally found a few moments to get started on a trip report of our recent expedition to Northwestern BC, to the ghost towns of Kitsault and Alice Arm. The idea for this trip began over a year ago when I first heard about Kitsault. Founded back in 1981 by Amax Mining Corporation, Kitsault was an audacious and creative attempt to combat the trend of excessive staff turnover in remote mining operations in BC. The notion was that if the company built a town, it would encourage workers to bring their whole families and once settled, they would be reluctant to leave. Unfortunately the mine was extracting molybdenum and in 1982 the bottom dropped out of the market, and the town was shut in 1983, just 18 months after it opened.
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When the town was shut, the power was left on and many of the resident's belongings and furniture were left, such was the haste with which the company evicted everyone. In 2005, the town was bought sight unseen by a billionaire who has since had several different ideas of what to do with it, none of which have come to fruition. So the town sits empty save for the two caretakers and their small team of groundskeepers who mow the grass and keep the buildings from excessively deteriorating.

In the course of my research into Kitsault, I discovered that just across the bay from Kitsault lies Alice Arm, another ill fated mining town which went derelict in the 1930's and today is home to only one couple who live there full time and a handful of seasonal residents who keep vacation homes.
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I was captivated and resolved to visit these towns, as well as Anoyx, once a city of over 3000 people located 33kms down the inlet from Alice Arm and Kitsault, now a ruin. It took a year, a lot of emails, and a lot of patience and persistence but finally we got permission to visit the two privately owned towns, Kitsault and Anyox, and everything was set for us to head off on this epic, once in a lifetime adventure. Sadly we could not visit Anoyx on this trip, but after a year of planning, the expedition was an outstanding success.

The route was over 2717kms round trip, further than driving from Vancouver, BC to Kenora, Ontario.
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Originally we planned to have 3 of us, co-workers, along for the expedition, but unfortunately one of us couldn't get the time, so we had two. We set out very early on the morning of the 3rd, meeting at Hope, BC, at the start of the famed Fraser Canyon.
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The first day was a long slog, and we drove around 15 hours all together before making camp. Along the way, we stopped in to pay a visit on The Lady Franklin, an impressive rock island in the Fraser near Yale, named for the wife of the famously ill fated arctic explorer (pic is from my previous Fraser Canyon exploration from October last year).
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Our route also took us through Vanderhoof, the geographic center of BC. I note that their sign is spelled incorrectly lol.
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This trip interestingly highlighted both the benefits and the limitations of satellite recce of potential routes and campsites. I had scouted this camp spot using various online resources, primarily Zoom Earth, but also the Land Title Office's online map system. As it turned out, it was an absolutely fantastic camp spot on the Bulkley River, and we had it all to ourselves save for a fellow overlander driving an awesome newer model Tacoma that was fully kitted out.
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We were quite exhausted from the long haul driving the first day, so we capped the day off with some whiskey, beer, chunky soup and hot dogs. It was a very relaxing sleep, although I was awakened once by the train passing high overhead on the edge of the canyon. It was kind of nice to listen to the train rumbling by, however, and I soon fell back to sleep.

The next morning, the true adventure far from civilization would begin...
 
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We woke up fairly early the next morning and headed out, and before long we were turning onto the remote Cassiar Highway. Within only a couple of KMS of turning on to the Cassiar, we saw a young black bear right by the side of the road. We were in bear country, indeed, and we would be seeing a lot more of them.

The last chance for gas was the First Nations Reserve of Gitanyow, which had these impressive totem poles standing vigil at the station.
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It wasn't too far from here, perhaps an hour or so on the pavement, before we hit the Nass FSR and the very long dirt stretch heading in to Kitsault. Although the Nass FSR and Alice Arm Road are remote dirt/gravel roads and do have their share of potholes, they are quite well graded and maintained (despite ominous signs to the contrary).

We came upon two young grizzlies foraging by the side of the road, but unfortunately I wasn't able to capture them on video or pictures. We had gone a long way on the dirt before we saw the welcome sight of the Kitsault sign at the junction with Alice Arm Road.
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Deeper into the back country, we encountered a couple of awesome bridges.
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Closer to Kitsault, the road climbed along the ledge of some impressive rock faces, so we stopped for some awesome viewpoint shots.
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Very soon after this shot, I encountered a huge black bear in the road and managed to record it on video.
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This area is absolutely crawling with bears, and right behind our camp a bear came in at some point when we were away and was digging up rocks, presumably looking for bugs to eat. Later, we saw bear scat on the trail in to our camp site only a hundred meters or so from the clearing. We were extremely cautious about not leaving anything out whose odour might attract bears, however, and there was no sign of them disturbing our camp looking for anything, nor thankfully did we have any need to use the two twelve gauge shotguns we brought along just in case.

Along the way, we encountered another kind of wildlife - the elusive wild forest road cone.
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This was one of the first signs we might be close to Kitsault. God's majestic creation had a few more surprises, though, as we encountered these gorgeous little lakes dotted with islands very close to the old mine site.
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It wasn't too much longer before we reached the gate to Kitsault, which by arrangement had been left unlocked for us. The excitement was building as we drove this last little stretch of gravel before the pavement of town. A thrill went through me as I rounded a corner and caught sight of the ocean as well as the sign I had seen so often during my research.
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Detail of the sign, taken from a CBC story on the town:
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We had finally arrived. (More to come!)
 

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We arrived around noon and drove to the caretaker's house as instructed. She wasn't in when we arrived, so we ate a light lunch and took in the stunning views all around us.
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The view from the front of the house toward Alice Arm tidal flat. The concrete structures just visible in the low ground in the middle of the pic are foundations poured for houses that were never built. There were many of these, particularly in this little area. Clearly Kitsault was intended to be an even larger town than it ended up being. According to my research, at its height, about 1200 people lived here.
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The view toward the workshops/sheds from the side yard of the caretaker's house.
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There were several vehicles by the workshops and elsewhere that had sat since the town was closed in 1983. They still had the Amax logo on them. The following picture is from the side/back of the caretaker's house looking toward Alice Arm. The dock is the large warehouse like structure visible on the far shore at the left side of the photo. The sketchy looking fence is intended to keep the caretaker's tiny dog separate from the bears wandering the area, athough I don't think a determined bear would have much trouble getting through that. So far so good I guess!IMG_20190804_121300269.jpg
It wasn't long before the caretaker returned from walking said tiny dog and greeted us. We chatted briefly and agreed to meet at 3pm for the tour of the town, which I had been told would be an hour long guided tour. We set off toward our camp site to set up.

This is where the satelite recce showed its limitations. Our intended spot is shown here, bottom left. campsitegooglemapscircle.jpg
Here is a more detailed shot from Zoom Earth:
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In both cases, the sat images clearly show at least some access to the water over a wide area to the SW of where the road enters the cleared area. What is not apparent is that the slope down to the beach area and the water is a fairly steep jumble of huge rocks. Also, since the photos were taken, scrub trees have totally taken over the west and south west sides of the clearing, completely obscuring the water except for a little trail that led to our "balcony." Here's the road in to the site and the site setup respectively.
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IMG_20190804_143302097.jpgAs you can see, our ocean view has been rather obliterated by the scrub trees that spring up quickly everywhere around this area. Fortunately, there was an easy path on the right side of the photo that allowed access to the water. This would become critical, as our efforts to uncover what appeared to be a road to the water continuing past the site on the left side were ultimately thwarted by the trees.
Wider shot (note the OB basecamp mini flag!):
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The "balcony" right side looking toward Kitsault, followed by left:
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The boat was a crabber that showed up. While setting up camp, we found this little buddy among the fuel barrels nearby.
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More about the fuel barrels (which we believed to be more leftovers from Kitsault's life) later. After setting up camp and having a little rest, we proceeded to our meeting with the caretaker. She came out of her house looking somewhat flustered and apologized for keeping us waiting, but that she had a very important phone call. After some brief discussion and explanation of the tags, she proceeded to hand us the literal keys to the city and bid us look around at our leisure. We needed only to lock up after ourselves and make sure lights were turned back off again.
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To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. This was more than I could possibly have hoped for!

We set off to explore BC's youngest ghost town.

More to follow!
 
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We started our exploration of Kitsault with the hospital. Just as I was unlocking the door, a bewildered groundskeeper drove up and gawked at us. "You have the key for that?" he asked. Clearly he didn't get the memo, so we explained that we were guests of the caretakers, and asked with a smile if he needed to get into the hospital. He said no and headed off on his way and we proceeded to explore.
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The reception desk, complete with rotary phone and 1982/83 vintage reading material. Gotta love that harvest gold colour...
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One of the most interesting rooms in the building. My wife informs me that this was almost certainly a trauma room. The hospital was too small to have a proper ER, so most likely they would have stabilized someone here and fly them out by chopper to Terrace.
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I think this is an old autoclave, unless I'm mistaken. Apart from a little paint deterioration and the smell of stale cigarette smoke everywhere, most of the buildings in Kitsault are in pretty excellent shape.
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This was the old security office, which I had to photograph as I used to work security in one of the most dangerous hospitals in Canada before I got into law enforcement. The big machine on the left is an alarm control panel of some sort.
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Found on a desk in a boardroom upstairs in the hospital.
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Those curtains and that floor...who ever thought this was a good look? lol
The basement of the hospital was fairly creepy. What's with this chair?
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Concluding our tour of the hospital, we locked it up and moved on to the shopping mall. The mall was actually fairly impressive for a town of this size, and we figured between the mall and the rec center next door, there was probably parking for everyone in town! Immediately to the left of the front doors of the mall was the grocery store, which apparently was called "Hospitality" because that's what it says in gigantic letters over the entrance.
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The next place that still had a sign was The Town and Country Restaurant - might have been a decent place back in the day. It had a pool table, apparently. The stale cigarette smell was strong in this one.
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These curtains, though...
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The pool room.
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And the bar
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Other interesting sights in the mall included the last Sears in all of Canada:
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The Royal Bank, unsurprisingly not open.
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Decades too late to find any cash in here.
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The bank calendar was an eerie reminder of how time stood still in Kitsault since the company shut it down.
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Canada Post was quite interesting as well. On the back side, the mailboxes were all marked with the names of the people who once called Kitsault home.
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We concluded the mall and headed across the way to the rec centre.

More to follow.
 

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The Kitsault Rec Centre, which as near as we could tell, also functioned as the elementary school. The windows facing the front of the building appeared to be classrooms. The playground looked like a snapshot right out of my childhood, as all the playgrounds near my home as a child were of this same log, pole and tire sort.
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This old pool table was on the bottom floor of the rec centre, but the lack of a pool table light above it made me wonder if it didn't perhaps reside somewhere else originally, like maybe in the Town and Country Restaurant across the street. All throughout this building were home printed signs that spoke of "Kitsault Resort" and its rules, amenities, etc. but so far as I've seen, the town being a resort is more of an idea than a reality, as there were no guests staying there, nor does the website have any information about how to book a stay there. The whole town seems to continually hang in a sort of limbo as none of the plans of the eccentric owner have come to any fruition that we could see.
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The pool. This room was extremely musty smelling, so we didn't go too far in. It was obvious that at one time this would have been a really nice facility. It now had a creepy vibe with its hanging decorations and gloomy darkness.
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The gym, which also smelled fairly musty, as did the entire bottom floor of the rec centre, in fact. Again, a very nice facility. I believe there is a screen behind the basketball hoop which could have been used to show movies, perhaps at school assemblies, as there was an actual theatre room in another building we'll see shortly.
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The Library was one of my favourite rooms in the entire town, partly because it was very heavily reminiscent of my childhood, but also because the books are not all original to the library, but were in fact gathered from various places throughout the town and assembled here. It was intriguing to see this collected snapshot of what the people of Kitsault were reading back in 1981-1983.
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This fascinating document was sitting beside the door into the library. I'm not sure if it was always here, however I believe that the Lions Club had a hand in the opening of the rec centre, so it's as likely as not. To me, what makes Kitsault so fascinating as a ghost town is the very fact of its being so recent - probably the majority of the names on this charter are still alive and well today, and yet this whole town they were a part of is now utterly deserted save a handful of groundskeepers.
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I was tickled at finding this book because I've read it to my children before. The same goes for the copy of Curious George peeking out behind it a few books to the left.
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This cute poster was hanging in the museum house, but it originally came from the library. I vaguely remember seeing the same or similar posters as a child at the library.
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This looked like maybe it was a lounge of some sort, but the design of the room makes me think it was intended as a class room. It has a folding wall to allow it to be divided into two rooms. Perhaps it was simply meant as a flex room that could serve many purposes. The blackboard has names and dates of various people who have visited Kitsault throughout the years since it was closed. We decided not to write ours.
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The kindergarten classroom(s). Those hanging lamps are next level awesome lol This room was cool because it was heavy with nostalgia for me, especially the little Fisher Price rolly telephone. Pretty much every kid I knew had one at some point.
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Apologies for the reflection in the plexyglass. This was hanging in the front upper level foyer of the rec centre. I recognize numerous familiar characters from first nations art included here, and I wonder if this piece might not fetch a hefty price if it were auctioned off. I'm sure this mural tells a story, and it would be fascinating to hear the interpretation from someone well versed in the art style.

Our next stop was the Kitsault Museum, assembled in House #1.
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Constructed in the "BC Box" format extremely familiar to anyone who lived in BC since the late 1970's, the museum is a labour of love put together by the caretakers and contains numerous artefacts collected from around Kitsault.
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A collection of signs from around town.
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This odd creation was labelled as a water craft built for races dated 1983. To me it looked more like a home made toboggan of sorts, but the barrels do suggest they were intended for buoyancy.
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A copy of the town newspaper dated March 1982. I was born 3 months later.
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A couple of interesting topographic models of the area put together for projects that never came to fruition.
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Apologies for the poor picture quality. I had a good chuckle about this one. The label reads "Special Home made skateboard, Kitsault 1983." I didn't have the heart to say anything to the caretakers lol

More of the museum to follow!
 
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Upstairs in the museum was an intriguing collection of nostalgic items from the late seventies, early 80's.
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I love this flag - wolf says, always do your best, kids!.
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My mom used a typewriter like that black one for years at work, and I still remember using rotary phones as a kid.
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Creepy doll alert. For anyone who doesn't know, the device on the far left of the shot is an ancient VCR.
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I was amused by the article on consumer reports about sunscreens. I don't think there would be much controversy about those anymore lol. Some more issues of the Kitsault times, the uppermost documenting the mall opening.
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Interesting to note that inflation and taxation have not affected cheesies and cigarettes equally. The price of gas is interesting too - very high for the 1980's, reflecting just how remote Kitsault really is.
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This was one of the two main residential streets, this one being behind the museum house, the other running in front of it. They form more or less a big loop. All the houses on this street were in remarkably good shape considering they've been empty for nearly 40 years. The grass in front is cut by the caretakers, but we noted that all the back yards on the left side of the street were utterly overtaken by four foot plus weeds. Many of the houses still had stacks of firewood laid up, prepared for a winter that nobody was left to weather.
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This was the very last house on the street, which we found interesting because of the unique wraparound deck in the back/side, and because of the way nature was clawing at this one, trying to take it over. Everything grows incredibly fast in this region, so it's a constant battle for the caretakers to prevent the forest from utterly swallowing up Kitsault.
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There are three blocks of apartments like this one at the entrance to town, and four more up on a hill further into town. They're all of this cedar planked style of construction with brown metal storm windows, another mainstay of late 70's, early 80's BC architecture. The apartment buildings were quite well preserved.
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View from the living room of one of the apartments.

It took us a bit of wrangling, but eventually we figured out where the Maple Leaf Pub was located, in a large building near the entrance to town which also housed racquet ball courts, a curling rink and a small theatre complete with snack counter. This place always fascinated me, because it seemed like it would have been such a cool place to share a pint and relax. My buddy and I shared a toast of whiskey at the bar, perhaps the last two people ever to drink in there.

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The curling rink.
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The theatre. The dark opening at the back left was the concesson. Would have been interesting to know what movies were shown here.

We also explored the rest of the creepy rooms in the basement of the pub/curling rink. We couldn't really figure out what they were for other than storage, so we left it at that.
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We did find what we were fairly sure was the machinery to keep the curling ice frozen.
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We finished up our tour of Kitsault with this building and headed back to return the keys to the caretaker. All in all, it was an oustanding experience that far surpassed what we had expected. We headed back to camp to make dinner and talk over our plans for the following day when we would strike out across the bay to Alice Arm, an abandoned mining down that shut down in the 1930's, long before Kitsault even existed.

More to follow.