Visiting Canada’s $50 million 1980s ghost town

It sounds made up. 

In the wilderness of British Columbia, a two hour drive from any town with cell reception, sits a ghost town.

Not only a ghost town, but a ghost town that was built for $50 million in 1981, only to be shut down a year later.

Not only that, but a ghost town that was built for families, from the community centre to the curling rink, the grocery store to the pub. 

Not only that, but a ghost town that has been fully preserved: the roofs redone, the rooms dusted, as much kept in its place as it was 40 years ago, right down to the medical equipment in the hospital and the children’s toys in the daycare. 

Like I said, it sounds made up.

But Kitsault is real. You can visit. 

So I did.

The story of Kitsault, summarized: 

In the late 1970s, the American Metal Company placed a bet on mining molybdenum in Mount Widdzech, next to an inlet about 900 kilometres north of Vancouver. 

It is a long way from any major city, and not accessible by road, so the company did what must have seemed logical: built a town pretty much from scratch, in an attempt to make a place that workers would want build a life in. 

A couple of apartments and hospital remained from a work camp attempted a decade prior, but the rest was all new — a school and a gym, a mall and a community centre, apartments and single-family homes, winding roads and cute street lights.

If it looks like an EPCOT pavilion for small-town middle-class Canadiana in 1980, well, that’s what it was. A planned community, built for young families with a sense of adventure, people who wanted to take a flyer on an chance amongst the trees and waterfalls and bears of the west coast. 

But just as soon as the 1500 or so residents started to form a community in Kitsault, the price of molybdenum began to crash. In mid-1981 the town opened. In mid-1982 the local newspaper had a front page story about the mall opening, but at the bottom of the page there was a notice saying operations at the mine would be suspended for a month. 

In late 1982, the mine closed. A short time later, in early 1983, everyone was ordered to leave town.

There Kitsault would have ended, or at least decayed and been taken over by nature like so many ghost towns, if not for a collection of improbable twists of fate. 

Because the town was so isolated and the company so eager to evacuate everyone, much of the infrastructure and equipment was left behind. 

And because the company held faint hopes of a rebirth for the mine, a caretaker was left in charge of basic maintenance of the property. 

And when the company eventually sold the property at the start of the 21st century, it was purchased by an American millionaire who decided to increase maintenance, pouring six figures each year into keeping the homes dry and the buildings clean, a group of around 10 caretakers fixing the roofs and rehabilitating things like the curling rink and swimming pool. 

The caretakers allow a few dozen guests each year, through a former University of Northern B.C. program coordinator who organizes tours. 

Which means, for a fee, you can drive two hours down a barely passable road. The caretakers will open the locked gates, and let you into a time capsule that you can sleep in overnight. 

The magic trick of Kitsault is just how ordinary it can seem. 

The homes are filled with lush burgundy carpets and harvest gold appliances. The mall has a low ceiling and brown floor tiles. Put Kitsault on the suburban outskirts of dozens of towns that had a population expansion in 1981, and it comfortably fits in. 

Of course, the town is completely empty, and in one sense that’s what makes it unique. You can open up nearly every home, explore every outlet in the mall, and feel like you’re in Canada’s largest museum exhibit. 

But it’s when the humanity breaks through that Kitsault is at its most powerful. 

In the Royal Bank, there’s a sign announcing the last day of operations. In the library, there are  due date cards showing which books were taken out most. In the hospital, there’s an ashtray in the waiting room. 

Go into most of the homes, and you’ll see the same design: a top floor with a living room, adjoining kitchen, two or three non-descript bedrooms, with an unfinished basement below. 

At least, most of them. Some of those bedrooms have the Smurfs or comics of baby superheroes as wallpaper. Some of the basements will be partially renovated; a rec room starting to come to fruition. 

And outside, there’s always a maple tree next to each house, towering over the foot-long grass. 

Look at photos of Kitsault when it was built, and you can see all those trees planted at the same time, ready to grow up with the families inside them. 

Every story about Kitsault includes a tantalizing section at the end speculating about its future

It’s easy to be excited about what it could be, how 100 well-maintained affordable homes and a few mid-sized apartments, connected to the power grid with running water, could become more than, as a friend put it, “a B.C. Chernobyl but someone is changing all the light bulbs.”  

The current owner has talked about it becoming a spiritual centre, a wellness retreat, an LNG facility, and much more. 

Nothing has really taken hold, but the owner continues to funnel in money to preserve Kitsault in case something materializes. 

The longer Kitsault has survived, the stranger it seems, and the more interesting it becomes: a replica of a 1980s village in the middle of nowhere might have been a curiosity in 2002, but in 2022 it’s downright historic. 

They don’t make ghost towns anymore: temporary work camps have replaced planned communities for companies exploiting resources in remote parts of the country.

One can wonder about how long it can last, or what could replace it. 

I will simply be grateful I was able to see it for myself.  

Categories: FeaturesTags: ,

99 Comments

    • Dean Brown

      Wow , that’s an incredible and as u put it ” unbelievable ” story ! I’m 54 and lived in BC my entire life . I’ve travelled many a back road through our province and never would have believed there was a modern day ghost town fully preserved . I’d love to be one of the residents if this town ever came to life . Thanks for sharing this with me ! Sincerely Dean Brown

      • Larissa

        Ask them. Or are we living in a country where masses can be shuttled off under the cloak of darkness? Btw, the dtes has been a community for much longer than many other areas in Vancouver. There are many services that have existed there for years , and these services are very much needed. You know there are many tens of thousands of ppl living in the dtes. But you only see the 65 raoming Hastings on any Given day. There are many who call it home. Why don’t YOU go and start a life out in this ghost town? Nothing is stopping you.

      • Kerstin kujannek

        That place would be excellent for a rehab place for the people who are actually wanting to get better

    • Keith Jenkrn

      I lived there with my family from about 6 months before start up until a few months after shut down. I’d go back in a heart beat!

      • Sylvia

        Hi Keith. Just read this Kool story about Kitsault, bc!! Why was everyone ordered to leave just because the company shut down? Why couldn’t folks stay in Kitsault n start other businesses, like farming, ranching, keep the stores open, still bring in supplies to keep the town going or start over with a new plan?? For the amount of people living in Kitsault, at the time, u’d think something could have been done. Maybe the bank could’ve loaned out money’s, or people buy the town from the company n continue to live there? Folks could’ve grown veggies, fruit n other commodities to ship out to raise funds!! Could u tell me a bit more? Any little tidbit?? Am really interested in all that happened from beginning of Kitsault to when the last folks left? Would sure appreciate talking to u about this!! Thankx for yr time to reply to my curiosity on Kitsault!! Never knew this situation existed!!

    • Elizabeth Young

      Wow absolutely fascinating!! Thank you for this trip down memory lane. The early 1980s in all its lurid glory.

      • Susan

        Please 🙏 I need a home, I’m 64 female can do anything, please think about us scared of being homeless, good jack of all trades, and smart, funny, useful. If ever they are looking for good residents. Thanks for the well written article.🌻🙏

  1. BCGuy

    Wow! Very cool article.
    I’d move there. A ton of people would. We could fundraise for a cell-internet tower. Just make rent affordable and really vet people out that apply. Seems like a no brainer. Especially for people on disability or pensioners. It looks like a nice place.

      • Doug Stevenson

        My wife and I lived there and our son there was the greatest people there a lot of the people where from Shefferville Quebec from the Iron ore mine as it was slowing down as Kitsaut was starting up

    • Pauline

      Now someone is making a lot of sense. I’m on ODSP wishing I could work but have very bad health issues but anyway! This would be a very smart thing to do and keep this town alive it was built for a reason and this article just did pop back into this century for people to read and learn about how this town could of survived.. It looks like people would like to have a backup and it looks so maculent clean And obviously people remember there because they’ve lived there I wouldn’t remove there in a heartbeat only because it’s like a new Millennium Place to start all over or not all over all over but for people that cannot afford today’s marketingEverybody’s building all these big buildingsAnd people are living on the street because they can’t really afford afford to sleep and eat and shower entertain societyIt’s disgusting how a town like that is justNot being used stop building these condominiums and houses and houses and asking for an arm and a leg for rent when you have a town like this you should reopen it for the less fortunate people and build a community that can afford like the Amish people.

  2. The town of Kitsault is a monument to just how foolish we are as Canadians. Surely our governments could have seen the value of this place and kept it for public use. Or even working with the owner of the place to try something like a therapeutic community for people with addictions. It would be an ideal place for such a community. Of course the current people who look after addictions and street people would say it’s not close enough to support systems but they don’t have a clue what a “Therapeutic community” is all about. (For example: In a therapeutic community it is the “community” that does the healing…not high priced social workers etc.) A modest amount of money to help with ongoing costs to support such an opportunity would be a lot less expensive than our current system. (Our current system has the audacity to point to the success of what they are doing, even though we can all see the complete failure of our current system by just looking at the number of people living in complete misery on our streets…. who are prayed upon by drug dealers etc etc.)
    We need leadership and we do not have it. We need politicians who care about homeless people. They don’t care, otherwise we would not have the misery and massive disaster of humanity on our streets.
    The people in the program could do training programs, participate in workshops that could build things for sale, learn new skills such as replacing roofs, fixing up the houses, gardening, growing much of their own food, etc etc.
    Instead our governments treat people with addiction and mental illness as a criminal offense. They end up in jail costing the taxpayers well over $70,000.00 a year for every street person.
    It’s complete madness and does nothing to help these people who find themselves in such a trap.
    The absolutely only way to make this work is for each participant in the program is to make a commitment to no drugs.
    Zero tolerance on drugs. You also need to know that you can stay in the program as long as you need to recover…as long as you follow the rules.
    It would not work for everyone, but it would be guaranteed to have a high success rate based on other such places like the one in Italy for example. ( San Patrignano )

    • Dustin

      I think you’re on to something there, if only such a program like you described set in this place was a real thing. That honestly sounds like paradise for myself someone on the street, literally struggling within the trap you mentioned currently. I think being a part of such a community in conjunction with having a decent place to rest my head, getting an opportunity to experience normalcy near nature, learning new marketable skills, & eventually rack up enough time of successful stability & ensuring a much easier transition back into regular society sounds so much of a better way of accomplishing those long term goals of mine that I continuously fail at doing trying the “tried & true” method that is so common this day & age. What you described plus the mere distance away from having any options of falling back into that cycle with such ease (hell, the last time I graduated treatment I was dropped off at a greyhound station in Portland Oregon 3 hour’s before My bus was to depart & there were dealers at every door with the types of crowds that I was hanging around 45 day’s earlier) would work for not only myself, but a lot of people in similar predicaments as me. Anyway, maybe someday there will be something so glorious on the horizon being a potential saving grace for so many whom may feel as hopeless as I do. With that being said, take care, bud. Hope you have a fantastic day.

    • Yvonne

      Love your idea. We have a whole town . Let the government buy it and help the homeless people.
      Especially the ones who want to start a new CLEAN life.

  3. Neil

    The author neglected to mention that the only road in is from Terrace,BC.,which was the supply base for building this town. I lived in Terrace at the time and through my business quite involved in the excitement and sudden demise of that community. Extraordinary story.

  4. vancouverizer

    Given that CBC does a story on Kitsault whenever some new idea is suggested for the town the following is probably not news for many (especially Justin) but might be useful for others…

    Though this town is in Nisga’a territory, and only accessible through Nisga’a territory, their concerns and ownership have been ignored whenever this place has changed hands or a new use for it has been planned. Kitsault stories at CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/search?q=kitsault

    • I was about to write a post that was almost identical to what you state here. The province should be working with the Nisga’a to decide the fate of this place. It is a failed attempt at colonization, currently owned by Krishnan Suthanthiran, a wealthy businessman who spends most of his time in the United States.

      • I wonder if Kitsault could serve as a temporary home for communities such as Lytton that have experienced environmental devastation? The current owner is to be commended for keeping Kitsault safe, whole and functional.

  5. Adam Thibodeau

    Lived there as a teenager. Great fishing! Flying into the town and landing on the water was always cool too.

  6. Christian Trepanier

    WOW!
    I’d love to go there and step back I to time. Glad to see someone actually care’s enough to keep it alive.

  7. Greg

    I worked in Kitsault l walked the streets and used the swimming pool lived in camp
    And curled at the curling ring and never saw so much snow in my life re Greg burns

    • Greg Burns

      Justin I drove that road when they opened it and from Terrace BC it was 1 1/2 and it was really Tricky but l really like My experience there Greg burns

      On Tue., Jul. 26, 2022, 9:06 p.m. Justin McElroy: journalist/ ranker of

  8. Katy

    I lived and worked there from 1979-1981
    No roads yet,we all flew in and out with TPA out of Prince Rupert.
    Goods were barged in.
    Nothing like frozen milk 😆
    Royal Bank flew in 2 times a week.
    Mail 3 times…
    Always “weather permitting” wink wink
    Loved it. Now thinking I may have to go back and check it out…
    We need to have reunion before we’re all gone…

  9. Shaun Jones

    I enjoyed the comments. Total agreement with those who stated toward, it doesn’t need to be empty. Rented out to make perhaps some sort of television series based in the 80s. Or Government helps with making it affordable living for lower income earners suchas pensioners or disability

  10. Greta Morrill

    That was so interesting, which my family lived there and experienced. It was so beautiful living there with the mountains and the ocean and we sure didn’t want to move but we did and went to live in Hinton, Alberta.

  11. David Littlejohn

    I spent the summer of 1981 there, and in the old mining town of Alice Arm across the bay. We also boated over to Anyox, a few miles away. In the early 1900’s Anyox was the largest smelter in the British Empire. It remains the most impressive industrial ruin I have ever seen.(and there’s a lot of competition for that honor in BC). We were there with our charter boat accomodating a team of oceanographic scientists investigating a major tailings spill at the mine. I have a lot of stories of goings on there that summer.

  12. Cory

    I want to buy one of these houses. The further away from Humans I can get the better. Like seriously. I want to buy one of these. No cell towers, no ppl, no nothing. What a dream place to grow and have a family. Would be wonderful.

  13. Devin

    So Many Places like this all over Canada, Dreams lost hopes dashed, Problem is, the Generation of today can’t live 5 minutes out being Plugged In. Myself lucky our Family still has our Old Simple A Frame cottage just beside Algonquin Park. No phone, No TV, No Hot Tub… Just Simple Peace, and a Beautiful Lake. Our kids Love it. No complaints about no Netflix or YouTube B.S. when we come home they’re full of energy and smiles.

    I would love to build a group, we all invest , Bring one of these places back to life. We need this.
    And yes My Childhood, in the 80’s was Unbelievable! What a Decade. Thake Care and thank you for the story.

  14. Scott

    Or give to all BC indigenous people of BC to create their combined BC Government Capital . Elected tribal represented who meet to plan and create better futures and negotiate with BC and Canadian government from a position of strength. Just a thought from an non indigenous person.

  15. Moe

    My husband stayed there a few years back. It is haunted. I witnessed things on FaceTime with him. I like a good ghost story but it’s as real as it gets there. Very scary

  16. Jo Dunn

    Visited the town when it was still operating and once after it closed – interesting bit of BC history and a product of the fickle mining business!!

  17. Hayley Ivison

    My first thought after reading this article, is perhaps it could house a Medical/ Therapy team and provide rehabilitation services. It’s remoteness would certainly be an advantage I am thinking in the healing process.

  18. Bruce

    I worked in construction in the days that the town was built. I worked for a company called Shanahans, and did a few trips in to work in the community centre and pool. At the time there was a 400 man work camp up the hill from the centre, that I stayed at. We where flown in from Prince Rupert, by Grumman Goose amphibious planes. It was an amazing experience, when I heard that it was shut down I was surprised.
    Hopefully one day the new owner finds something to do with the place.

  19. Marla

    How about a treatment centre for mental health and addiction run through the First Nations Health Authority and the Nisga’a peoples? There is nothing like being in nature. Alternatively with the Nisga’a peoples permission it would be a nice site for a village with people with dementia.. they probably would feel more at home there than most long term care facilities. Or, a peaceful, safe place for refugees to go. Dropping them into the lower mainland with its unaffordability does not seem like a great way to start their new lives. I wonder if anyone has approached the owner with these ideas.

  20. Sandy

    Almost sounds like Ocean Falls, if this town starts up and the owners need insulation in the buildings, there is a great insulation company in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, Coastal Pacific Insulation. Good luck with the town, sounds amazing.

  21. Kitsault is a great place, I’ve been there twice and shared several photos and a background story on my website olafincanada. I love the quiet and eerie place. You can even combine it with a trip to Alice Arm (a semi ghost town across the inlet) and Anyox, a real ghost town since the 1930’s.

  22. It’s own by an American Millionaire…How did that happen??…. Anything in Canada should stay within Canada……Canada is being sold off piece by piece…..It must STOP!!…..So much of Canada is owned by people who don’t even live in Canada…. Canada should always be owned by people who are Canadians, and live in Canada!!…

  23. Grant Sutherland

    My wife and I ( the Sutherland’s , Terri and Grant) and three children lived there. The bedroom with the rainbow was one our children’s bedrooms.
    Our third son was almost born there Dr Ed and Don Fippen (sp) flew her out on the Helicopter to Rupert
    A great place to work with a like minded community . The company had an expected turn over rate is 50 percent it was near zero fishing and crabbing was by phenomena great friends always remembered John C , Terry B Gary , Bernie P and the list goes on !!!!!! Open to contact from any one from Kitsault 780 405 2794

  24. I was hired, fresh out of college, by the General Contractor to be part of the Management Team that built the mine infrastructure. Money was no object…everything was ‘cost-plus’. The road was not built, so everyone had to fly in. I was there for a year, and it was tough…no cellphones, no TV..etc. It’s certainly an experience I will never forget!

  25. John Fehr

    My wife and I along with our oldest son , 5 at the time, we were there when the mine shut down sorry to say but it great well it lasted because it was the I know of where life slowed down to a crawl. Sure would love to go back!

  26. Essey

    Wow great article. Definitely a blast from the past from someone who lived in small town Canada. Hope they can do something with this.

  27. Greg Burns

    Justin
    I was living and working in Kitsault 1981 Ronald
    Regan got shot also they had a
    Tailings pipe from the mill to
    The Alice arm ocean dump tailings into ocean and environments did not like it also
    We had a ballfields lined
    with concentrate and we
    Would play ball there and then
    Head to the maple leaf lough
    For a beer
    Gregory Burns former employee

  28. Amazing! I’ve been idly interested in Kitsault for years. Have never had the chance to visit or even come close, but (funnily enough) I recently rediscovered the fact that in October 2004 while the town was up for sale, I bookmarked the real-estate listing. The Internet Archive turns out to have indexed the page, so if anyone’s curious, here’s what LandQuest Realty, which sounds like a hilarious geeky parody of colonialism, had to say about it:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20041109124642/http://www.landquest.com/detailmain.asp?prop=04136N&curpage=1&search=newlist

  29. Helen Page

    Our family moved there in April of 1979…: we watched as the roads were built and the mall. We stayed until September of 1982. Shelby was 6 months old.
    I wish they could make it a community for seniors with affordable living… (I realize it’s remote.)

  30. Flavio Caron

    I have had the chance to know Krish, learn of his vision and the opportunity to spend a few nights in Kitsault a dozen years ago. It is ALL as described! Heaven on Earth. I hope to visit again. 🙂

  31. Gordon

    Hired on with AMAX January 81 – left Oct 83 – we were pretty much the last family to load a truck and leave. Kids were very small so they dont remember much. Edie and I made some life long friends. And….yes we signed the”Last Drink” poster. Cheers to all!

  32. Dianne

    Hi Mr. McAlroy, I ama senior who raised two great boys on my own, working two jobs so.etimes. would love to be retired on a little piece of land and a tiny home or what is available with a tiny government pension. Woould consider off grid if possible. At least a llace to call my I own something for my kids. Please think about it what steps I can take. Thank you for caring. Dianne.

  33. Larry B Carlsom

    I Larry Carlson lived there and worked there I was there when the town was built and stayed as property manager untill 1988 I worked for Amax the mine who built and owned this town I saw all the people come at the start of the mine and I saw all the people go at the closing of the mine the people had to leave because the property belong to the mine and there was no way of the people to get supplies and support the town when there was no other place to work and earn a living once the mine stopped employing them how would they survive with no way to earn a living . I came there in 1979 and left there in 1988 it was a very enjoyable place to live . Sined Larry B.Carlson

  34. Greg Burns²

    Justin
    My Kitsault days we played baseball the field was surrounded with concentrate
    We had fun l was there when Ronald Regan was shot the tailings pipeline down the mountain to the ocean a d the
    Maple leaf lounge and l worked for the late george Morris’s and
    Odd jobs for don Hitchcock HD
    Foremen and l had a mailbox 104 Kitsault BC postmaster Francis fox wife he was personnel manager times l remember of kitsault and the white goose landing in Alice arm
    And taxing up on the shore l left Kitsault and when to work for Comincos polaris project high artic Gregory Burns

  35. Animal Rescue

    I’ve been looking to move to Canada, and it seems no one wants to live in these homes. Can I move there? Please? My flat lease is up soon, and I can’t stay in America anymore. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but these people are insane!

    I work animal rescue, and it looks like that area is probably surrounded by animals. I’ll certainly feel at home. Also, I was an 80’s kid so I’ll enjoy the nostalgia factor immensely. (Was avocado green a popular color for kitchens in Canada as well?)

    I’m willing to prove my loyalty and worthiness by toiling in the maple syrup mines. I already enjoy your many fine television programs, from Letterkenny to Kim’s Convenience. Please let me and my pets buy a home there, before the owner just turns it all into an Airbnb!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s