There are many ghost towns in British Columbia. Settlers originally pushed into the province with the promise of wealth and gold, so it’s no wonder that even years later, mining is still a booming industry in BC. Even now, people flock to the various high paying jobs that the mining, and now the LNG pipeline, provide.
Looking to the past might catch a glimpse of the future when you consider these three ghost towns in British Columbia.
Cassiar is located in Northern BC, north of Dease Lake. It was originally built by the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation in 1952 to house the employees of their nearby asbestos mine. Due to its isolated area, the mine had to fly employees in and out and had gotten quite costly. It was actually cheaper to build and develop the town of Cassiar than it was to fly people in, and they made sure there were many amenities relative to the number of people.
Cassiar had a population of around 1500 people, give or take. The small town included two schools, two churches, a small hospital, a theatre, a swimming pool, a recreation center, and a hockey rink. A resident recalled that the first movie shown at the theatre was Star Wars, and it cost 25 cents for kids and 75 cents for an adult.
The fate of Cassiar came to an abrupt end when the price of asbestos crashed in 1992. The mine went bankrupt and had to auction off the town to pay their creditors. The town was auctioned off in September 1992, with over 5000 lots purchased, raising over $6 million.
Now, Cassiar is a shadow of the former boomtown. Most of the buildings had been torn down, and even though the town does have caretakers, unfortunately, the historic church in Cassiar burned down in 2015.
Located in the middle of BC’s “Valley of the Ghosts”, named due to the many towns that had been abandoned in the area, Sandon’s story is a familiar one. Sandon was built right next to a lucrative silver mine, and the employees of the mine set up shop nearby and grew to a peak population of nearly five thousand at one point.
Sandon’s silver mine during the span of 1892–1900 generated the equivalent of billions in income (if you adjust for inflation).
It had a reputation of being like the “wild west”, with an anything-goes attitude.
“There was even a police chief who ran a house of prostitutes and dealt blackjack at a casino,” Hal Wright, longtime Sandon resident, and caretaker.
The town had many things available to residents that you didn't really see a lot at the time except in larger cities. This was the late 1800s to early 1900s and Sandon had a large curling arena, a hockey rink, and venues for lawn bowling, cricket, and tennis. There were also two ski hills and facilities for baseball and lacrosse, and they also had a bowling alley, several pool halls, a rifle club, and a gymnasium.
NHL Hall of farmer Cecil “Tiny” Thompson was born in Sandon in 1903, where he worked for the mine for a short time.
A devastating fire on May 4 1900 wiped out most of the downtown core and ended the era of prosperity that Sandon enjoyed. The buildings were uninsured and never were fully restored even after an ambitious project lead by the city’s founder. Although the town did have a few years of prosperity around World War I and II, it never again was the Sandon of pre-1900.
After the town’s founder died, looters and treasure hunters seemed to descend on the town overnight. The dying town’s buildings were stripped of anything of value.
The final blow for the dying town came in June 1955 when heavy rainfall caused a massive increase in water levels. The water burst over the banks of the small nearby creek and spilled uncontrollably through the streets of Sandon causing significant damage to the roads and buildings.
Once again the looters came back to strip what was left.
Sandon is now a popular tourist spot and a preservation society has been able to save many of the historic buildings.
Kitsault is an unincorporated settlement on the Northcoast of British Columbia. Another town that sprang up near a booming mine. In 1918 the Dolley Varen mine opened and operated for three years before being held up in litigation.
The town didn’t really start to boom till 1979 when the town of Kitsault was officially established as the home community to a molybdenum mine run by the Phelps Dodge Corporation.
Kitsault was designed for 1200 people and included a shopping mall, a restaurant, a swimming pool, and a bowling alley.
Ironically after only 18 months of residence, the town was evacuated after the mine closed after a crash in molybdenum prices.
A curious side note to the story of Kitsault is that in 2004, the ghost town was purchased by Krishnan Suthanthiran for $5.7 million, and he has spent $20 million more to update the town. He has since closed the town to the public
I guess for me the story that all these ghost towns in BC tell is that these booms are temporary and that they come in waves. There is a boom in Northern BC right now in regards to a large pipeline project in the area and people act like this is always going to be a big thing here.
While I agree that projects come and go, this particular one is only supposed to last for five-ish years. So I hope no one wants to set down some roots anywhere because you will have to chase the next big project once this one runs out.
In the meantime, all you can do is try and save as much as you can for a rainy day. It's just that right now in the world it’s pretty rainy.
I hope you liked my story about some of the ghost towns in BC.
Till next time.