Kitsault — a remote, abandoned northwestern B.C. town along the coast of the Observatory Inlet has captured the imagination of most who hear about its fascinating past and equally bizarre present.
Visitors must pass through the Nass Valley’s alien landscape filled with breathtakingly beautiful lava beds and a drowned forest to reach Kitsault, which falls within the Nisga’a First Nation’s traditional territories and is just 115 kilometres by road from Terrace.
A former mining town, Kitsault’s modern town was built by the American company Phelps Dodge during the molybdenum rush of the 1970s to house over 1,200 residents.
It was complete with a state-of-the-art recreation centre, hospital, bank, theatre, mall, post office, school and a restaurant among others.
But the town was inhabited for a very brief period after its construction completed in 1980. When the price of the silvery-white metal crashed in 1982, the mine shut down and the town was abandoned – some say overnight– by its residents. The last residents left town on Oct. 31, 1983, following which the modular homes were barged out and sent to Terrace, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The school was barged out and sent to Kamloops.
After that, for over a quarter of a century, no one was allowed to enter the abandoned town. In 2005, Virginia-based Indo-Canadian businessman Krishnan Suthanthiran bought the town for just under $6 million dollars and renamed the community Chandra Krishnan Kitsault, after his deceased mother.
The molybdenum mine – not a part of Suthanthiran’s purchase – was bought by Avanti Mining Inc, which unsuccessfully tried to revive over the next years.
Suthanthiran – an engineer turned entrepreneur who graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1971 and went on to found multiple biomedical companies under the umbrella of TeamBest before diversifying into real estate, entertainment and energy ventures – has changed his vision for Kitsault a few times since he bought the town.
Initially, the tycoon’s plan was to revive Kitsault as the mecca for scientists, artists and freethinkers from across the globe. The money to power this vision of Kitsault would come from opening Kitsault’s doors to retreats, ecotourism, film productions and other activities.
That never materialized. Almost a decade later in 2015, Suthanthiran turned his attention toward LNG, a product that sparked a gold-rush mentality in the northwest.
Kitsault Energy was born with the vision of building a floating LNG terminal and establishing a deep-water port with Kitsault at the end of a corridor of pipelines to cater to the growing demands of the Asian market. The estimated $20-30 billion project was slated to be up and running by 2018 but has not taken off yet – which Suthanthiran said mirrors the plight of most proposed LNG projects in B.C.
When asked about the reason for the delay and Kitsault Energy’s future the 75-year-old business man said the challenges he faces are no different from the challenges other companies have faced while trying to set shop in B.C.
“But the difference between Kitsault Energy and all the others is that the others pulled out, whereas we’re still here and we still want to do this,” said Suthanthiran in a phone interview from his Virginia, U.S. office.
While he did not divulge details about the project’s luck with investors and its present day progress, he did say that the company is still focused on developing the pipeline which would make the town an “ideal location for housing a large business.”
Suthanthiran also said that currently he was not really focusing on LNG but more so on crude oil and butanol, which according to him is one of the “best kept secrets.” Compared to LNG, the bio-fuel is less expensive to produce, export and store at room temperature.
In his crude oil quest Suthanthiran claimed to have met with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Ottawa in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic halted progress on those talks.
Suthanthiran visits Kitsault only a couple times a year and has entrusted its overseeing to managers Indhu and K.U. Mathew – former Terrace-based teachers.
The town is an allure for everyone who has heard about its history or seen images of immaculately preserved houses and structures. Its myth is further fuelled by non-admission.
“It is a private property and Krish considers it like his own home,” said Indhu explaining why they don’t entertain as many visitors. The select few visitors who are allowed into town come in with a private tour operator from the University of Northern British Columbia, Rob Bryce who has known the couple for over a decade.
Indhu described Kitsault as a “paradise” to some of the guests that Bryce’s company – Northern BC Jet Boat Tours – brought in last month.
Her description is apt while one sits by the dock side tea house overlooking the idyllic fjord. A stone’s throw from Kitsault along the Observatory Inlet are former copper, silver and zinc mining towns Anyox and Alice Arm which are also listed among B.C.’s famed ghost towns after they were abandoned. These ghost towns add to the aura surrounding Kitsault.
When visitors come, they are asked to remove their footwear before entering any building. But despite walking from room to room barefoot, one’s feet are hardly soiled – attesting to the meticulous work involved in preserving the town. Half a million dollars is spent on Kitsault’s maintenance every year. With houses re-roofed, lawns mowed, upholstery cleaned and carpets vacuumed, it’s almost like the town is stuck in a time loop. And it will continue to be maintained so until Suthanthiran’s vision for his town materializes .
However with his plans riding on the development of the pipeline corridor, it may be a while before the lost paradise is regained again.