As related in Gordon Robinson’s Tales of the Kitamaat, the First Peoples living on the coast of what is now British Columbia ventured up what is now called Douglas Channel perhaps from either Bella Bella in Heiltsuk traditional territory or from Prince Rupert in Tsimshian traditional territory.
The young men on the expedition up the Kitimat Arm spotted what they thought was a huge monster kilometres ahead with a large mouth that was constantly opening and closing. The sight was so terrifying that the men fled back to their homes and dubbed the Kitimat Arm as a place of a monster.
Later a man named Hunclee-qualas accidentally killed his wife and had to flee from the vengeance of his father-in-law. Knowing he had to find a place where no one could find him, he ventured further up the Kitimat Arm. There he discovered that the “monster” was nothing more than seabirds, probably seagulls, perhaps feasting on a spring oolichan run.
He settled along the shore of what is now the Kitimat River and found a land of plenty, with fish, seals, game as well as berries and other natural products of the land. Eventually he invited others to join him, which began the Haisla Nation and he became their first chief.
Let’s examine the new evidence so far.
Settlement along the coastal “kelp highway” between 18,000 and 16,000 years ago, followed by a warm spell 14,500 years ago
It’s now fairly certain that the First Peoples first began to settle along the coast by following the “kelp highway” perhaps as early as 18,000 years ago and certainly by 14,000 years ago. Haida Gwaii was ice free, except for some mountain glaciation as early as 16,500 years ago. At about 14,500 years ago there was a warming spell which forced the glaciers to retreat, brought higher sea levels and the arctic like tundra ecosystem would have been replaced, at least for a time, by forests. There is the discovery of a Heiltsuk settlement dated to 14,000 years ago. At that time almost all of the coast would have been free of glacial ice but there were still glaciers in the fjords, including the Kitimat Arm which would mean there could be no permanent settlement in the “inland coast” and the interior.
The cooling period from 14,000 to 11,700 years ago confines settlement to the coast
The cooling periods (with occasional warmer times) from about 14,000 years ago to about 11,700 years ago meant that settlement would largely have been confined to the coast for about two and half millennia. The culture of the coastal First Peoples would have been well established by the time the glaciers began the final retreat.
(Remember that it is just 2,000 years from our time in 2017 back to the height of the Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar).
It is likely that the cooling periods also meant that some descendants of initial settlers likely headed south for relatively warmer climates. Rising sea levels meant that the initial settlement villages would likely have been abandoned for higher ground.
A second period of rapid warming 11,700 years ago which opens up the interior fjords and valleys
At the end of what geologists call the Younger Dryas period, about 11,500 years ago, the climate warmed, the glaciers retreated further, in the case of Kitimat, first to what is now called Haisla Hill, then to Onion Flats and finally to Terrace.
Large glacial sediment river deltas filled with fresh melt water from retreating ice
The most important confirmation of the story of Hunclee-qualas’s exile is the account of the monster, the birds and the oolichan run.
The new scientific evidence, combined with earlier studies, points to the fact that the glacial melt water carried with it huge amounts of glacial sediment that created vast river deltas in coastal regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
That means around 10,000 years ago, when the Kitimat Valley was ice free and the new forest ecosystem was spreading up the valley, the Kitimat River estuary was likely to have been much larger than today. It could have been a vast delta, which would have quickly been repopulated with fish, including salmon and oolichan. That rich delta ecosystem could have supported a much larger population of seabirds than the smaller estuary in recent recorded history.
The story of the monster those first travelers saw far off is highly plausible. Even today in huge, rich deltas elsewhere in the world, seeing hundreds of thousands of birds in flight over a wetland is fairly common. (For a description of what a Kitimat River delta may have been like thousands of years ago, see KCET’s story on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta and what that delta was like 6,000 years ago)
The First Peoples had had well established communities for up to four thousand years before the Kitimat Valley’s metres of thick ice had melted away. For the first period, while the ecosystem regenerated, for the people of the coast coming up Douglas Channel to the valley would not have been worth it, there would be little to find in terms of fish, game or forest resources.
The change from tundra to a rich forest environment
Eventually as the forest regenerated, the streams filled with salmon and oolichan; the bird population including gulls, geese and eagles, found a new feeding ground; bears, deer and other animals arrived. The Kitimat region would have been an attractive place to explore and hunt. It may be the monster story did keep people away until Hunclee-qualas had to find a place to hide and discovered a new home just at a time that might be called an ecological optimum with new forests stretching back along the valley to what is now Terrace.
The river delta shrinks back to the current estuary
If a vast Kitimat River delta did stretch further down the Channel than it does in 2017, it likely shrank back in the subsequent millennia. Eventually the mass of glacial sediment that came downstream after the retreat of the ice would diminish, but not stop entirely. The estuary is still rebuilt from sediments washed downstream but that sediment doesn’t match other rich deltas elsewhere such as the Nile in Egypt. With that regeneration of the delta slower and smaller than in the first centuries of Haisla settlement, at the same time the land surface rebounded from the weight of the ice, perhaps creating the Kildala neighborhood. The ocean level rose, drowning and eroding part of the old delta, creating the estuary we know today.
As the authors of the paper on the First Peoples’ settlement note, most of the archaeological evidence of early coastal settlement is now likely many metres below the surface of the ocean but deep ocean exploration may uncover that evidence. As the scientific team on the second paper say, they are now working on detailed studies of the glacial retreat from the coastal mountain region which may, when the studies are complete, change the timeline
While waiting for further evidence from archaeology and geology it is safe to say that the stories of the monster and later Hunclee-qualas’s discovery of the Haisla homeland are even more compelling than when Gordon Robinson wrote Tales of the Kitamaat. We can now speculate that there was once, stretching from Haisla Hill far down the Channel, a vast, varied rich, river estuarine delta that supported hundreds of thousands of seabirds, which if they took the wing in unison, would have made those unwary travelers millennia ago, really think that there was a giant monster waiting to devour them at the head of the Kitimat Arm.
UPDATED with comments from District of Kitimat, Terrace and the Gitga’at Nation
A preliminary seismic hazard assessment by Natural Resources Canada has identified possible earthquake scenarios for the Douglas Channel near Hartley Bay, Terrace and Bella Bella.
The same studies indicate that while Kitimat may not be directly in a seismic zone prolonged earthquakes cause some damage in Kitimat depending on the earthquake and the condition of the soil in certain parts of the District. One model scenario says that in the event of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii, given certain soil conditions, there might actually be more damage in Kitimat than on the islands.
Susceptibility to landslides
That assessment, part of the overall the study by the Geological Survey of Canada indicates that the north coast of British Columbia from Prince Rupert to Bella Bella is likely face to “seismically induced ground failure”– mostly landslides.
Overall, the report says that on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 representing the highest
susceptibility), the majority of the west coast of BC “exhibits landslide susceptibility values of 5 to 6, which is significantly higher than the rest of Canada.”
In British Columbia the landslides are most likely to be triggered by delayed melting of the annual snow pack, heavy rains, bank erosion and site loading and caused long-lasting damning of the river causing “damage to pipelines, rail, and forestry, as well as fish habitats.”
So far no recent landslides along the northern British Columbia coast are known to be caused by earthquakes, the reports say “the existence of numerous landslides strengthens the likelihood of seismically induced ground failures… due to the high levels of seismicity….it is expected that the increased likelihood of strong ground shaking (with long durations) will increase the landslide susceptibility.”
It was only after the 2012 Haida Gwaii earthquake and with what the Geological Survey of Canada calls “a growing number of on-going and planned infrastructure projects, BC’s north coast is emerging as a region of high strategic importance to Canada’s economy,” that studies began in area where “there has been minimal research to understand earthquake hazards.”
Now that studies have begun the Geological Survey has given the region its own new acronym BCNC (BC North Coast). Haida Gwaii is not part of BCNC, although earthquakes on those islands would likely impact the coast.
The Geological Survey says that historically “the BCNC has been seismically quiescent.” As a result “seismic monitoring and research related to the BCNC has been minimal.” That meant while larger earthquakes were “felt and recorded,” the configuration of the Canadian National Seismograph Network did not allow earthquakes less than approximately magnitude 2.1 to be monitored in northern BC.
Now the Geological Survey is looking at “long-term, continuous monitoring of micro seismicity, combined with geodetic and paleo seismic techniques” that could be used to study at the possibility of large earthquakes, including a possible fault on the lower Douglas Channel.
Since the studies began in August 2014, the Geological Survey identified 145 earthquakes within the study area, many too small to be felt since they are less than magnitude 2.0. Those earthquakes, however, were picked up by the new and improved instrumentation used by the earthquake monitors.
The two reports one on “seismic hazards” and the second on “geohazards” says five “temporary seismonitors” (download reports from links below) were installed within the BCNC while some older stations were upgraded, saying, “It is expected that these new stations will be aid in locating small earthquakes” that were not previously detected by the existing network. The Geological Survey also installed ground movement monitoring GPS units along the coast.
The use of the term “temporary” raises the question about how much ongoing monitoring is planned.
The study also notes that the current data is not included in the seismic standards in the current National Building Code of Canada, which in turn is based on the Natural Resources Canada Seismic Hazard Map. That may mean that municipalities in the BC North Coast region, in the future, as the seismic studies continue, may have to consider updating building codes, especially in areas of “softer soils” as opposed to harder rock.
“Fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel
Over the years some small earthquakes have also been recorded on what the Geological Survey calls the “recently mapped fault-like structure” on Douglas Channel which was discovered in 2012. The survey is still calling it “fault-like” because it has not yet been confirmed as an active fault. A new map in the study shows that the “fault” runs from the southern tip of Gribbell Island, down the centre of Whale Channel east of Gil Island and then along the western coast of Princess Royal Island.
The study identified “a small, unfelt swarm of earthquakes between magnitude 1.7 and 2.0 between September 13 and 14, 2010 near Gil Island.”
There is also the previously identified ancient Grenville Channel Fault (ancient and believed inactive because it dates from the Cretaceous, the age of the dinosaurs) that runs from along Grenville Channel from Porcher Island in the north to Klemtu in the south which has experienced small earthquakes.
The report says geological studies of the Douglas Channel “fault-like structure” are a priority because, “Should this structure be determined to be an active fault, it would pose significant risk of earthquake-triggered landslides (and subsequent tsunami) from the susceptible Douglas Channel hill slopes.”
Clay and sand in Kitimat
The report also calls for more studies the local geology and soil conditions in the Kitimat Valley. A study back in 1984 by John Clague of Simon Fraser University showed that as the glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age there were “periods of stagnation” resulting in sediments that are thicker than other regions of British Columbia, Clague reported that in parts of Kitimat, the glacial moraine is hundreds of metres thick.
After the glaciers were gone, the sea levels rose and glaciomarine sediments (clay, silt up to 60 metres thick) were deposited until the sea level fell to present-day levels. The report says that as these marine deposits were exposed to fresh water, salts were leached out resulting in saturated, porous sediments, including clay, which are prone to failure. Boreholes in the Kitimat area show that the clay and sediments above the bedrock can range from 17 metres to 106 metres.
The report notes the presence of clay soils “can amplify ground shaking and secondary effects” as happened in November 1988 when there was an earthquake in the Saguenay region of Quebec.
Originally reported as a 6.2 magnitude but later downgraded to 5.9, on Nov. 25, 1988, the major earthquake was centered near the Quebec cities of Chicoutimi and Jonquière, with aftershocks felt as far away as Toronto, Halifax and Boston. The quake lasted for two minutes, catching thousands of people off guard and leaving buildings damaged and power out for hundreds of thousands of Quebecers.
The report says the most significant event within the BC North Coast study region (which as mentioned doesn’t include Haida Gwaii) was a magnitude 4.9 earthquake approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Terrace on November 5, 1973, which was felt as far as 120 kilometers away, with some minor damage (broken windows and cracked plaster) reported near the epicentre. The main shock at Terrace was preceded by a magnitude 2.5 foreshock four hours before, and followed by a felt magnitude 3.7 aftershock the next day.
Bella Bella at risk
Another area most at risk, according to the report, is southern part of the BC North Coast zone, near Bella Bella, which is close to the northern section Cascadia Subduction Zone a “1,000 kilometre long dipping fault that stretches from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino California” which one day will cause a major earthquake along the fault.
The report says that a magnitude 9.0 or higher earthquake in the northern Cascadia Subduction zone close to Bella Bella would be similar to the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska.
For the northern part of the BC North Coast region, hazards could come from either a major earthquake off Haida Gwaii or a similar earthquake in south-eastern Alaska.
The greatest hazard would come from “long period” earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.75 with an epicentre between 300 and 350 kilometers away where the shaking lasts longer than one second.
The Geological Survey modeled three possible scenarios for major earthquakes in the BC North Coast Region.
Model #1. A magnitude 8.0 Earthquake at Haida Gwaii
The model looked at a “plausible maximum predicted” magnitude 8.0 thrust fault earthquake off the west coast of Haida Gwaii which would be twice as strong in the fault area as the 7.8 quake on October 28, 2012 (Remember Magnitudes are based on a logarithmic scale. That means for each whole number higher, the amplitude of the ground motion recorded by a seismograph goes up ten times so magnitude 8 earthquake would result in ten times the ground shaking as a magnitude 7 earthquake)
For a short period earthquake, the report estimates that there would be minimal damage on Haida Gwaii similar to the damage from the 2012 earthquake with little or no damage on the BC North Coast.
A long duration, long period earthquake that lasted longer than one second and up to three seconds or longer “may effect taller structures and trigger ground failure (that is liquefaction and lateral shaking).” Kitimat would feel that earthquake with the worst shaking in parts of the District with what the report calls “sensitive soils.” Coastal islands would feel double the amount of shaking as would occur in Kitimat.
Model #2. A magnitude 7.2 Earthquake in Douglas Channel
The second model looked at an earthquake in Douglas Channel based on the “fault like structure” if a slip strike rupture occurred along the entire 60 kilometers of the so far unconfirmed fault, resulting in a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. There would be very strong shaking within 20 kilometers radius of the epicentre, with moderate to heavy damage” in the relatively uninhabited islands, major shaking in Hartley Bay, resulting in very strong to strong damage at Hartley Bay and strong to moderate damage in Kitimat.
That earthquake, however, would be felt across the entire province of British Columbia. The report notes:
The expected effects and impacts of such an earthquake would mimic those of the 1946 magnitude 7.3 Vancouver Island earthquake, which occurred slightly west of Courtney and Campbell River. Shaking due to the 1946 earthquake was felt as far as Prince Rupert, BC to the north and Portland, Oregon to the south. In addition to knocking down 75 per cent of the chimneys in the local area, much of the earthquake-related damage was due to landslides, slumping and liquefaction
Model #3 A magnitude 6.3 Earthquake near Terrace
On May 11, 1973, a magnitude 4.7 shallow earthquake took place about 20 kilometers south west of Terrace, on the south side of the Skeena roughly across from the Shames mountain area. The earthquake was felt up to 120 kilometers away. The report says “The event has not been associated with any geologic features in the area and little is known about its rupture process.” The model estimated the results of a larger earthquake 6.3 magnitude in the same area. The model showed there would be strong to very strong shaking in Terrace, light to moderate shaking in Kitimat and light damage elsewhere in the BC North Coast. Most of the damage would be concentrated in a 20 kilometer zone around the epicentre.
The cause of the two failures is still unknown but the report says “their proximity to a nearby unmapped fault-like structure suggests that the slides could have been triggered by strong ground shaking from rupture along this structure.”
Another factor was the two well-known landslides occurred in the 1970’s in the Kitimat Arm which generated tsunamis but fortunately they occurred at low tide which decreased the impact. On October 17, 1974 a submarine slide generated a 2.8 metre tsunami. The following year on April 27, 1975, a slope failure on the northeast side of Kitimat Arm (which overlapped the 1974 failure area) displaced an estimated upper limit of 26,000,000 cubic metres of material.
“Watermark observations in Kitamaat Village estimated that the tsunami generated by this slide was up to 8.2 metres high.” The report says that while the trigger of the first event is unknown; the latter event coincided with nearby construction at that time. Modelling of the 1975 slide estimates that given the right conditions the generated tsunami waves could have been as high as 11 metres.
The report also notes that numerous landslides have also been mapped by the BC Department of Forestry in an attempt to improve safety measures for forestry workers.
The report says “The culmination of these studies brings awareness to the significant natural hazards present in the fragile coastal environment of the Coast Ranges.”
Another factor is the geology of the BC coast. The granitic mountains have rugged, steep slopes dissected by an intricate fjord system and dotted with islands of lower elevation. At lower elevations the land is covered by wet, coastal hemlock forests, which could be vulnerable to ground failures whereas higher elevations are characterized by barren rock or mountain hemlock subalpine.
The District of Kitimat said it has “not directly studied these issues but we are aware of potential hazards.” The development department has been advised of potential issues and site concerns.
A spokesperson for Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc told Northwest Coast Energy News in an e-mail. “I have reviewed it and distributed it to the relevant department heads. We are aware that historically Terrace has been at risk for experiencing seismic activity due to its location.”
The District of Kitimat did cooperate with National Resources in finding a location for their recently installed seismic equipment.
At Harley Bay, Gitga’at First Nation CEO Ellen Torng said the Gitga’at have been “ working with NRCan on their research in the Douglas Channel and in Hawksbury. NRC has been meeting with First Nations along the coast and have conducted community sessions on their research.
“We hosted one community session here in Hartley Bay and have regular updates from their technical team when they are in the area,” Torng said.
In addition, the District of Kitimat told Northwest Coast Energy News that Community Planning & Development department also provided local land information to geoscientists in the years leading up an international study called Batholiths on land in 2009.
Batholiths are large zones of molten rock that have solidified in the earth’s crust and are believed to play a key role in the formation and growth of continents. The Coast Mountain Range has a large concentration of batholiths, which means Kitimat was an excellent place to study the earth’s crust.
The project, which involved more than 50 scientists from nine Canadian and American universities, was set up to examine how mountain belts form and change over time and why continental mountain ranges are made of granite not basalt. Seismic imaging of the crust and mantle below the mountains required deploying thousands of seismic sensors and recorders, and recorded responses to several man-made detonations. Field work was completed in July 2009, and several scientific papers and dissertations have followed.
The Heiltsuk Nation was unable to respond to a request for comment due to the ongoing crisis from the sinking of the tug Nathan E. Stewart and the resulting spill of diesel fuel and other contaminants near Bella Bella.
Not felt except by a very few under especially favorable conditions.
Felt only by a few persons at rest,especially on upper floors of buildings.
Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings. Many people do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibrations similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.
Felt indoors by many, outdoors by few during the day. At night, some awakened. Dishes, windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound. Sensation like heavy truck striking building. Standing motor cars rocked noticeably.
Felt by nearly everyone; many awakened. Some dishes, windows broken. Unstable objects overturned. Pendulum clocks may stop.
Felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.
Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.
Damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.
Some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundations. Rails bent.
Northern Gateway pipelines says the company will not appeal the Federal Court of Appeal decision that blocked the approval certificate by the Joint Review Panel and the National Energy Board because there had been insufficient consultation with First Nations.
OTTAWA — The federal government is joining Enbridge Inc. in not appealing a Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashing a 2014 Conservative decision to approve the $7.9 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, Postmedia has learned.
John Carruthers, President of Northern Gateway said in a news release, “We believe that meaningful consultation and collaboration, and not litigation, is the best path forward for everyone involved. We look forward to working with the government and Aboriginal communities in the renewed consultation process.”
Northern Gateway news release
VANCOUVER, Sept. 20, 2016 /CNW/ – Northern Gateway will not appeal a recent Federal Court of Appeal decision that reversed the project’s federal approval certificate. The Federal Court of Appeal found that the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel recommendation was acceptable and defensible on the facts and the law. The Court, however, concluded that further Crown consultation is required.
Northern Gateway supports the path outlined by the Federal Court of Appeal for the Federal Government to re-engage with directly affected First Nations and Métis communities to ensure thorough consultation on Northern Gateway is undertaken.
Statement from John Carruthers, President, Northern Gateway:
“We believe that meaningful consultation and collaboration, and not litigation, is the best path forward for everyone involved. We look forward to working with the government and Aboriginal communities in the renewed consultation process. We believe the government has a responsibility to meet their Constitutional legal obligations to meaningfully consult with First Nation and Métis. It also reflects the first priority of Northern Gateway and the 31 Aboriginal Equity Partners to build meaningful relationships with First Nation and Métis communities and ensure their voice is reflected in the design of the project.
We believe that projects like ours should be built with First Nation and Métis environmental stewardship, ownership, support, and shared control. Northern Gateway, the Aboriginal Equity Partners, and our commercial project proponents remain fully committed to building this critical Canadian infrastructure project while at the same time protecting the environment and the traditional way of life of First Nation and Métis and communities along the project route.
In order to encourage investment and economic development, Canadians need certainty that the government will fully and properly consult with our nation’s Indigenous communities. We look forward to this process and assisting those communities and the Federal Government with this important undertaking in any way we can.
The economic benefits from Northern Gateway to First Nation and Métis communities are unprecedented in Canadian history. As part of the opportunity to share up to 33 percent ownership and control in a major Canadian energy infrastructure project, the project’s Aboriginal Equity Partners will also receive $2 billion in long-term economic, business, and education opportunities for their communities.
The project would add over $300 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product over the next 30 years, 4,000 construction jobs and 1,000 long-term jobs, $98 billion in tax revenue, and an estimated $100 million investment in community programs and services. Northern Gateway will provide a badly needed multibillion dollar private infrastructure investment in Canada’s future.”
Statement from the Aboriginal Equity Partner Stewards (Bruce Dumont, President, Métis Nation British Columbia; David MacPhee, President, Aseniwuche Winewak Nation; Chief Elmer Derrick, Gitxsan Nation Hereditary Chief; Elmer Ghostkeeper, Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement):
“We support Northern Gateway’s decision to not appeal the recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal. This is a reflection of the commitment to the new partnership we are building together and their support of meeting Constitutional obligations on government to consult.
The Federal government has publically stated they are committed to reconciliation with First Nation and Métis communities. As such, we are now calling on this same government to actively and fully undertake the required consultation as directed by the Federal Court of Appeal in relation to the Northern Gateway project.
The Aboriginal Equity Partners is a unique and historic partnership that establishes a new model for conducting natural resource development on our lands and traditional territories. We are owners of Northern Gateway and are participating in the project as equals.
Environmental protection remains paramount and as stewards of the land and water, and as partners in this project, First Nation and Métis communities have a direct role in the environmental protection of the lands, waters, and food sources along the pipeline corridor and in marine operations. Our traditional knowledge, science, and values will be used to design and operate land and coastal emergency response to make the project better. We believe with this project there is an opportunity to work together with the Federal Government to improve marine safety for all who live, work, and depend on Canada’s western coastal waters.
This ownership ensures environmental stewardship, shared control, and negotiated business and employment benefits. Collectively, our communities stand to benefit from more than $2 billion directly from this Project.
Our communities need the economic and business benefits that Northern Gateway can bring. We are focused on ensuring our communities benefit from this project and are actively involved in its decision making so we can protect both the environment and our traditional way of life through direct environmental stewardship and monitoring.
Our goal is for Northern Gateway to help our young people to have a future where they can stay in their communities with training and work opportunities. We remain committed to Northern Gateway and the opportunities and responsibilities that come with our ownership. We also remain committed to working with our partners to ensure our environment is protected for future generations.”
The September issue of National Geographic includes a large map of British Columbia it calls “Claiming British Columbia.”
The map has three themes: First Nations’ traditional territory, the routes of proposed pipeline projects, both LNG and diluted bitumen, and it features a sub map that looks at what the map calls the “Troubled Salmon” fishery.
The cartographers at National Geographic are being very careful, avoiding such troubling issues as competing land claims among First Nations, unresolved land claims with the federal and provincial governments and treaty status.
So by and large the map groups First Nations by language group unless there are definite treaty or reserve boundaries. Large reserves under the Indian Act are on the map, but given the post stamp size of many reserves in British Columbia, those reserves are too small to be seen on the map. Towns and cities are identified as “First Nations” communities which often overlap with settler communities. Again the map misses many smaller communities, so Kitimat is on the map, while Kitamaat Village is not.
The map identifies Haisla traditional territory as “Xenaksilakala/Xa”islakala” and also includes the Kitlope Heritage Conservancy Protected area.
The article in the September issue is called The Pacific Coast, but unfortunately there is not much of a tie-in with the map, since it concentrates on California and Alaska with only a passing mention of British Columbia.
On the obverse side of the map is the poster that is promoted on the magazine cover, a beautiful painting of “The Changing Pacific Coast” which covers kelp and every creature from phytoplankton and zooplankton all the way to humpback whales and sea gulls (but for some reason no bald eagles). It is likely that poster will be on display in classrooms up and down the coast before school opens next week.
Monday’s decision by LNG Canada to postpone the all-important Final Investment Decision for the Kitimat liguified natural gas project came as a momentary shock—but no real surprise. After the Brexit vote, you could see the hold button blinking from across the Atlantic.
Andy Calitz CEO of LNG Canada and a long time, experienced, executive with the lead partner, Royal Dutch Shell blamed the current market conditions for natural gas in both a news release and an investors’ conference call. However, the turmoil in the world economy brought about by Britain’s (largely unexpected) vote to leave the European Union made the postponement inevitable.
Immediately after the vote on June 23, when the now not so United Kingdom voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, to leave the European Union, financial analysts predicted that given the uncertainty, companies based in the United Kingdom would immediately begin to adjust their long term planning.
The stock market has stabilized and reached new highs, at least for now, but the British pound remains weak.
Most important, according to reports in the business press around the world, many long term projects by companies not only in the UK but everywhere are being re-examined, postponed or cancelled. All due to the long term uncertainty in world markets.
Even without Brexit, the situation with long term planning for the natural gas market is complicated, as LNG Canada’s External Affairs Director Susannah Pierce explained in this interview on CKNW ‘s Jon McComb show. ( It is an informative interview. Autoplays on opening the page)
“ Postpone investment decisions”
Royal Dutch Shell is one of the world’s largest corporations. It is based in the United Kingdom although its corporate headquarters are in the Netherlands (also a member of the European Union).
From June 24 to July 11 was just enough time for the bean counters and forecasters in London, Vancouver, Calgary, Tokyo and Beijing to crunch the numbers and decide that the prudent move would be to put the LNG Canada project on hold.
Rio Tinto is also a dual national company, listed on both the London and Australian stock exchanges and with its headquarters in London. (More about Rio Tinto later.)
Although both Shell and Rio Tinto are giant transnationals with operations worldwide, the turmoil in the United Kingdom, in the corridors and cubicles of the home offices, is having a psychological and personal, as well as professional, impact, meaning more of the work in those towers of London will be focused on Brexit.
The decision doesn’t mean that the LNG Canada Final Investment Decision will be on hold forever. Of all the world’s energy companies, Shell is one of the oldest and it has a solid reputation for better long term planning than some of its competitors.
In the news release, Calitz noted
I can’t say enough about how valuable this support has been and how important it will be as we look at a range of options to move the project forward towards a positive FID by the Joint Venture participants.
The news release goes on to say
However, in the context of global industry challenges, including capital constraints, the LNG Canada Joint Venture participants have determined they need more time prior to taking a final investment decision. decision.
How much time? Well, as Theresa May became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the New York Times noted, like other media, that investment decisions are on hold:
Ms. May does not plan to depart the union quickly because it could put Britain’s negotiators under pressure, and at a disadvantage…
And the longer Britain drifts, the greater the uncertainty for businesses that could postpone investment decisions until things are clearer, potentially pushing the nation into a recession.
The extrication of Britain from Europe will likely be more in the character of the Greek financial collapse, a seemingly endless process where each event and each piece of news has the power to set off a new round of financial fears.
And like the Greek crisis, each piece of bad news will compound fears in markets that were nervous for other reasons.
So once (and when) Theresa May invokes Article 50 that opens a two year window for Britain to leave the European Union, starting negotiations for Brexit. Then it gets complicated, if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom or if Northern Ireland also demands a dual referendum in both the Republic and the North on a united Ireland (as permitted under the Good Friday Peace Agreement).
Although May says she will continue to the UK`s next fixed date election, what if May calls a snap general election, with an uncertain outcome, perhaps another minority government, with seats split among several parties, including those who advocate remaining in the EU?
The price of oil is still low compared to a few years ago. That price is expected to remain low with all that the Saudis are pumping to retain market share, the Iranians want to recover from sanctions, and according to Pittis in another column, that means everyone else is pumping as well
The main thrust for Canadian producers is to build more pipelines so they can expand capacity and push ever more of their relatively expensive oil into the world supply chain. If that’s the strategy for high-cost producers, how could anyone think the world’s lower-cost producers wouldn’t be doing the same thing?
There is the glut of natural gas currently in Asian markets and no one knows what Brexit will mean. Unless there’s a drastic change in the marketplace, energy project investment will remain on hold for years to come. (So forget any dreams of a refinery anywhere on the coast. )
Brexit is also going to be a problem for London based Rio Tinto—and for the current negotiations with the Unifor local in Kitimat. Rio Tinto’s bottom line is weak because the price of iron ore, its main source of income, has been dropping. After completing the $4.8 billion Kitimat Modernization Project, Rio Tinto is spending huge amounts of money on its Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold and other minerals mine in Mongolia, a project that many analysts believe could provide up to 60 per cent of Rio Tinto profits as commodity markets recover.
Add to that US presidential election. Donald Trump has threatened to halt imports of both steel and aluminum into the United States if he actually gets to sit in the White House.
Given the flood of steel and aluminum on the global markets, however, it points to the fact that free trade also has to be fair trade.
That means if Hilary Clinton becomes president, she will also be looking at the state of aluminum imports to the United States market.
World conditions are a warning for the Unifor negotiating team in Kitimat. One reason for last year’s prolonged municipal strike was that Unifor spent a good deal of time planning for negotiations with the District but failed to adjust its contract demands when the price of oil unexpectedly collapsed, which meant the District had less money and a lot less flexibility.
In its negotiations with Rio Tinto, Unifor cannot make the same mistake again. There were a handful of unexpected layoffs down at Smeltersite on June 30; there could be more layoffs in the future. Mandatory overtime is a major sticking point—but that overtime demand is coming from the bean counters in Montreal and London, calculating that the overtime costs are, in the long term, less expensive than a lot of new hires.
Media reports show that Rio Tinto is in tough negotiations with its employees around the world. With LNG on hold, disgruntled employees can’t just turn off Haisla Boulevard to the old Methanex site before reaching Rio Tinto’s property line. That means Unifor should be tough but very realistic in its talks with Rio Tinto, knowing that the powers that be that hold the strings in London are more worried about what Brexit will do to the company bottom line than any temporary shutdown of the smelter by a strike.
What does this mean for Kitimat?
So the boom and bust cycle once again moves to bust.
the Haisla nation has been working to get its people jobs in the construction of the facility and related infrastructure, as well as full-time jobs once the plant opens…This was our first chance as Haisla to be a part of the economy, to be part of the wealth distribution in our area. To witness the wealth generation in our territory for the last six years but to not be a part of it, and now to continue to not be a part of it, is really distressing to us, because we had built up our entire future around this.
Mayor Phil Germuth in the same interview said
There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a little bit of hurt for a while, but we still fully believe that Kitimat is by far the absolute best location anywhere on the West Coast [for] a major LNG export facility… We are absolutely confident that it will come.
There’s time in this bust for everyone in town to recover from the hangover of the past few years of the fight over Northern Gateway and the heady hopes of the LNG rush. Demand for natural gas is not going to go away, especially as climate change raises the pressure to eliminate coal, so it is likely that LNG Canada will be revived.
It’s time to seriously consider how to diversify the Valley’s economy, making it less dependent on the commodity cycle. It’s time to stop chasing industrial pipe dreams that promise a few jobs that never appear.
Like it or not, the valley is tied to globalization and decisions made half way around the world impact the Kitimat Valley.
Who knows what will happen in 2020 or 2025 when the next equivalent of a Brexit shocks the world economy?
Suppose, as some here would wish, that all the opposition to tankers and pipelines suddenly disappeared overnight. Does that mean that the projects would then go ahead?
The corporate planners would decide based on their projections for the world economy and the viability of the project for their profit picture. Enbridge was never really able to secure customers for its bitumen. Chevron had no customers for Kitimat LNG. LNG Canada is a partnership, and the partner customers in Asia decided that at this time, the investment is too risky, even if LNG Canada’s longer term prospects are good.
Promoting tourism should now be the priority for Council, for Economic Development, for the Haisla Nation Council, for the local business.
Beyond tourism, it’s time for some innovative thinking to come up with other ideas that would free Kitimat from the commodity cycle. At the moment there are no ideas on the horizon, but unless everyone starts looking for new ideas, practical ideas, the commodity cycle will rule.
In a two to one decision, the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the Harper government’s approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, finding that the federal government’s consultation process with First Nations on the BC coast that occurred after the NEB decision and the Joint Review Panel Report was inadequate, saying:
We conclude that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity in Phase IV—a critical part of Canada’s consultation framework—to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue. The inadequacies—more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections—left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored.
The dissenting judge found that the federal government under Stephen Harper had adequately consulted the First Nations. The split decision means that one of the parties, either the federal government, Enbridge Northern Gateway or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Environmental Protection Division of BC’s Ministry of Environment is launching a major study of the water quality in the Kitimat valley, first on the Kitimat River and some of its tributaries and later on the Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel.
There has been no regular sampling by the province in Kitimat since 1995 (while other organizations such as the District of Kitimat have been sampling).
Jessica Penno, from the regional operations branch in Smithers, held a meeting for stakeholders at Riverlodge on Monday night. Among those attending the meeting were representatives of the District of Kitimat, the Haisla Nation Council, LNG Canada, Kitimat LNG, Rio Tinto BC Operations, Douglas Channel Watch, Kitimat Valley Naturalists and the Steelhead Society.
As the project ramps up during the spring and summer, the ministry will be looking for volunteers to take water samples to assist the study. The volunteers will be trained to take the samples and monitored to insure “sample integrity.” Penno also asked the District, the Haisla and the industries in the valley to collect extra samples for the provincial study and to consider sharing historical data for the study.
With the growing possibility of new industrial development in the Kitimat valley, monitoring water quality is a “high priority” for the province, Penno told the meeting. However, so far, there is no money targeted specifically for the project, she said.
The purpose of the study is to make sure water in the Kitimat valley meet the provinces water quality objectives, which have the aim of watching for degradation of water quality, upgrade existing water quality or protect for designated uses such as drinking water, wildlife use, recreational use and industrial water supplies as well as protecting the most sensitive areas. It also provides a baseline for current and future environmental assessment. (In most cases, testing water quality for drinking water is the responsibility of the municipalities, Penno said. The province may warn a municipality if it detects potential problems, for example if a landslide increases metal content in a stream).
Under the BC Environment system, “water quality guidelines” are generic, while “water quality objectives” are site specific.
One of the aims is to compile all the studies done of the Kitimat River estuary by the various environmental impact studies done by industrial proponents.
The ministry would then create a monitoring program that could be effectively shared with all stakeholders.
At one point one member of the audience said he was “somewhat mystified” at the role of Fisheries and Oceans in any monitoring, noting that “when you phone them, nobody answers.”
“You mean, you too?” one of the BC officials quipped as the room laughed.
Water quality objectives
The last time water quality objectives were identified for the Kitimat River and arm were in the late 1980s, Penno told the meeting. The objectives were developed by the British Columbia government because of potential conflict between fisheries and industry at that time. The objectives were developed for the last ten kilometres of the Kitimat River and the immediate area around the estuary and the Kitimat Arm. “The Kitimat is one of the most heavily sport fished rivers in Canada,” she said.
However, the work at that time was only provisional and there was not enough water quality monitoring to create objectives that could be approved by the assistant deputy minister.
There has been no monitoring of the Kitimat River by BC Environment since 1995. “We’ve had a lot of changes in the Kitimat region, with the closure of Methanex and Eurocan, the modernization of Rio Tinto and potential LNG facilities.”
The main designated uses for the Kitimat River at that time were aquatic life, wildlife with secondary use for fishing and recreation.
She said she wants the stakeholders to identify areas that should be monitored at first on the river and the tributaries. Later in the summer, Environment BC will ask for suggestions for the estuaries of the Upper Kitimat Arm.
Participants expressed concern that the water supply to Kitamaat Village and the Kitimat LNG site at Bish Cove as well as Hirsch Creek and other tributaries should be included in the study. Penno replied that the purpose of the meeting was to identify “intimate local knowledge” to help the study proceed.
After a decade so of cuts, the government has “only so much capacity,” Penno said, which is why the study needs the help of both Kitimat residents and industry to both design the study and to do some of the sampling.
The original sampling station in the 1980s was at the Haisla Boulevard Bridge in Kitimat. A new sampling station has been added at the “orange” Kitimat River bridge on Highway 37. There is also regular sampling and monitoring at Hirsch Creek. The aim is to add new sampling points at both upstream and downstream from discharge points on the river.
The people at the meeting emphasized the program should take into consideration the Kitimat River and all its tributaries—if budget permits.
Last year, the team collected five samples in thirty days in during four weeks in May and the first week in June, “catching the rising river quite perfectly” at previously established locations, at the Haisla Bridge and upstream and downstream from the old Eurocan site as well as the new “orange bridge” on the Kitimat River.
The plan calls for five samples in thirty days during the spring freshette and the fall rain and monthly sampling in between.
The stakeholders in the meeting told the enviroment staff that the Kitimat Valley has two spring freshettes, the first in March during the valley melt and later in May during the high mountain melt.
The plan calls for continued discussions with the industry stakeholders, Kitimat residents and the Haisla Nation.
The staff also wants the industrial stakeholders to provide data to the province, some of it going back to the founding of Kitimat if a way can be found to make sure all the data is compatible. One of the industry representatives pointed out, however, that sometimes data is the hands of contractors and the hiring company may not have full control over that data.
There will be another public meeting in the summer, once plans for sampling in the Kitimat Arm are ready.
The British Columbia Environmental Appeal Board has upheld Rio Tinto’s plans for sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat airshed and dismissed the appeal from residents Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus.
The 113 page decision was released by the EAB late on December 23. It contains a series of recommendations for further studies and monitoring of the health of Kitimat residents. In effect, the EAB is asking the province (which is all it can do) to spend money and create a new bureaucracy at a time when Kitimat’s medical community is already short staffed and under stress.
By December 31, 2016…. engage with Ministry executive to secure their support for, and action to encourage, a provincially-led Kitimat region health study, based on the development of a feasibility assessment for such a study.
On December 24, Gaby Poirier, General manager – BC Operations
Rio Tinto, Aluminium Products Group released a statement saying:
Based on the evidence and submissions made by each of the parties, the EAB confirmed our permit amendment.
Although it is welcome news for Rio Tinto that the MOE Director’s decision was upheld, and the rigor and cautious approach of the science were confirmed by the EAB, we also recognize that there is more work to do to address community concerns regarding air quality in the Kitimat Valley.
In providing their confirmation, the EAB included a series of recommendations. Over the coming months, we will be working to fully assess them and we will continue to involve the local community including residents, stakeholders and our employees as we do so, noting that some of the recommendations have already started to be implemented.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Kitimat, our valued stakeholders and our employees for their support during this process. At Rio Tinto, we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of our employees, the community, and the environment as we modernize our BC Operations.
The Haisla Nation celebrated the signing of an incremental treaty agreement with the British Columbia government Tuesday at the Haisla Recreation Centre in Kitamaat Village. The treaty will see the return of Haisla lands on the shore of Douglas Channel of Lots 305 and 306 south of the Kitamaat Village, designated Indian Reserve #2 and Indian Reserve #3, also known as the Walsh Reserve, thus connecting the two reserves.
In a news release, the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that under the agreement, approximately 120 hectares of Crown land will be transferred to the Haisla Nation.
The land lies in the heart of the Haisla Nation territory and will support the community’s goal of expanding housing, commercial and public space for its members, and opening new business opportunities.
The release went on to say, “The agreement continues the productive relationship between the Haisla Nation and B.C., which is furthering economic development opportunities and improving social conditions.”
It took decades for the land to be returned to the Haisla.
At the ceremony, Allan Donovan, the Haisla’s lawyer said, “We are here to celebrate the achievement of something that should have happened when the Haisla reserves were set aside in 1889. At that point, the reseve commissioner noted the Haisla reserves were the smallest and least desirable in the whole nation.
“But he left it at that, but in the years and decades afterward, the Haisla sought to extend their reserve holdings and their lands and have done so with an increasing degree of success.
“The actual negotiations to see the lands returned actually started over 60 years ago with limited success. But the Haisla are always persistent when it comes to issues of land, when it comes to issues of justice.
“In the 25 years since then there have been a number of attempts over the years This time with Haisla leadership and cooperation from the government of British Columbia, that dream has become a reality. The land has been returned to the rightful owners, joining up these two reserves.
The ministry said the British Columbia introduced incremental treaty agreements “to help speed up the treaty process by building goodwill among parties and bringing the benefits of treaty faster to First Nations. These agreements also provide increased certainty on the land base and with natural resource development.”
At the ceremony, John Rustad, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that so far the province has signed 18 incremental treaty agreements with various BC First Nations.
“This is a relationship building step between the Haisla Nation and the province, to lay foundations for things we can continue to do in the future,” Rustad said, “Over the past number of years now the Haisla and the province have made great strides and have a very good relationship (at least I believe a very good relationship, … As we move forward in developing our relationship.”
Rustad noted that representatives of the Shell-led LNG Canada project, Chevron and AltaGas were at the Recreation Centre to witness the ceremony.
“It’s about embracing those opportunities and ways to find a balance between environment and economics. No one has been better than the Haisla in being able to do that, working with the companies working with the province, working with their neighbors to create opportunity.
“It is through hard work and through partnerships that is truly a path forward toward building a prosperous future.
“We are very proud as a province to be working with the Haisla as a partner,” Rustad said. “We have our difference, we have things we may not agree on but I also believe very strongly that as we work together the steps to ensure prosperity for all of British Columbia but also especially for the prosperity of the Haisla nation This agreement between the Haisla and the province is an example of some of the things we can do right and we can try to correct the situations that have existed for such a long period of time, to find a way to build a prosperous future.”
Stop dwelling on the past
Ellis Ross, the Haisla elected Chief Counsellor told the Haisla and their guests. “It’s time to stop dwelling on the past and start building the future. All the pieces are there Everybody wants to help us get to a better place. Our partners from LNG Canada are here.Chevron is here. It’s everyone working together for the future, to bring the pieces of the puzzle to ensure our future generations.
“We don’t have to beg to be part of the BC agenda. We should be equal particpants.in everything in our territory. That’s what we should be focused on Stop getting distracted with the minor little differences, where infighting stopped us from the promises that have been promsed us for the past forty or fifty years.”
He said the Haisla started working with the Christy Clark government in 2009.
“We both took different approaches to our relationship We both agreed there is a common goal to be achieved if we just put aside our differences. I am not sure how many people know this but the provincial government actually helped us acquire the hospital lands (the site of the old “pink lady” hospital across from the City Centre mall)
“In terms of the water lot that the Haisla own, we’re the only First Nation in Canada that owns water lots and that ‘s because of the provinical government support for us.”
He also thanked the province for helping the Haisla lease land with an option to purchase near Bish Cove (Beese in traditional Haisla terminology) and worked with the federal government so that the Minette Bay lands could also be added to the reserve lands. He said Haisla staff consult on a regular basis with provincial officials.
“Our staff are working on permits for the benefit of the Haisla as well as everybody else. I think the Haisla are a working definition of what reconciliation actually means and it matters to the average Haisla citizen…
“There are different definitions out there about what reconciliation means. Everyone has a different definition Right how BC and the Haisla are proving that reconciliation is possible without getting into politics.
“It’s agreements like this what we’re talking about today that truly set the stage for the future of the Haisla people.
“We’re not going to be around in a hundred years but in a hundred years the future if Haislas are still talking about the same issues they talked about 50 years ago, we as leaders failed today.
“This is only one of the many agreements that we sign with the provincial govt and with LNG Canada and with Chevron and everybody else that’s willing to sit down and work out some sort of agreement with us.
“In fifty, a hundred years I am sure our descendants won’t be talking about poverty, they won’t be talking about unemployment, they wont be talking about extra land so we can build more houses. they’ll be talking about issues we can’t even understand yet but they won’t be dealing with the issues we’re trying to deal with today.
“What is the next agreement? The only thing that makes this possible is two parties sitting down and saying ‘let’s get an agreement for the betterment of all.’”
– Quick Facts:
Haisla Nation has approximately 1,840 members, with 700 people living in Kitamaat Village, at the head of Douglas Channel, about 10 kilometres south of Kitimat.
The incremental treaty agreement provides for the early transfer land to Haisla Nation, ahead of a final agreement with the Haisla.
The Province and Haisla Nation have collaborated on a number of initiatives, including facilitating negotiations for the Haisla to purchase former District of Kitimat hospital lands; the purchase of MK Bay Marina; and transfer of foreshore lots in the Douglas Channel
In 2012, Haisla Nation and the Province signed the Haisla Framework Agreement allowing for the purchase or lease of approximately 800 hectares of land adjacent to Indian Reserve No. 6, intended for LNG development. The framework agreement also commits the parties to land-use planning around the Douglas Channel, helping to create certainty and allowing other projects in the area to proceed.
Haisla is a member of the First Nations Limited Partnership, a group 16 First Nations with pipeline benefits agreements with the Province for the Pacific Trail Pipeline. Haisla and the Province also have a forestry revenue sharing agreement and a reconciliation agreement.
Haisla Nation is a member of Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, which provides recommendations on stewardship and sustainable economic development of the coastal marine environment.
Over the past decade, the Haisla Nation has engaged in 17 joint ventures with industries seeking to support economic activity for the region
(Source Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)
Ninety-seven years ago, long before the townsite was founded in the 1950s, Kitimat was to play a short, now forgotten and unlucky role in the First World War with the launch of a vessel in New Westminster called the War Kitimat as one of the many emergency new ships commissioned by the British government to replace vessels lost to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare that was sinking convoys taking vital supplies across the Atlantic.
(Note: The ship may not have been the Valley’s only role in the First World War. I have been told by Haisla members that it is believed that a couple of men from the Haisla Nation may have served in the armed forces during WWI. However, no one I have contacted, so far, has been able to confirm that information. If anyone can confirm, this story will be updated).
During the First World War, over nine million gross tons of British ships were lost due to enemy action, both submarines and surface raiders. The worst losses came in the three months ending June 1917 when over 1.4 million gross tons were sunk.
In December, 1916, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s British Government appointed a “shipping controller” to manage a worldwide shipbuilding program to replace the lost vessels, to be built quickly, efficiently and to a series of standard designs. Although the vessels were often different, they were called “standard ships.” It was the Great War’s equivalent of the Liberty Ships built during the Second World War.
Many of the orders were placed with Canadian companies, others with the Japanese shipyards and British owned or controlled shipyards in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Canada created or contracted 19 emergency shipbuilders which built 137 cargo ships and 15 trawler/minesweepers. Some of these yards were purpose-built, others were repair yards that were converted to construction yards; seven were in BC, nine were in Ontario and Quebec, and three were in the Maritimes.
Orders were also placed with shipyards in the United States, but when the Americans entered the war in 1917, those ships were requisitioned by the U.S. Government.
All the ships’ names were given the prefix “War” no matter where they were built in the world.
The Canadians built both steel hulled and wooden hulled cargo vessels, including the War Kitimat, as well as yachts and sailing yachts (which likely became the war time “trawlers”). The British built 12 different types of “dry cargo” vessels, five types of “coasters” plus tankers. The United States also built wooden hulled cargo vessels (slightly larger than the Canadian versions) and various types of steel hull cargo ships.
The government of France also contracted Canadian shipyards for its own vessel building program.
In Canada, the BC Marine Railway Company was one of the prime contractors, and the job of building four ships was awarded to the New Westminster Shipbuilding & Engineering on Poplar Island, which can be seen today from New West’s Esplanade at Westminster Quay.
The First Nations of the area had used the island for generations and in 1871 the island was designated an Indian Reserve. During the small pox epidemic of 1889, with many members of the Vancouver area First Nations struck down by the disease, a hospital was built on the island. It is believed that many of those who died of smallpox were buried there. Because of the association with disease and death the island was abandoned until 1917, when the war time necessity meant a shipyard was built on the island.
New Westminster Shipbuilding had the job of constructing four “war” class wooden hulled freighters, 2300 gross tonnes, 3300 dead weight tonnes, 250 feet long with a beam of 43.5 feet, with 322 nominal horse power triple reciprocating steam engines powered by two water tube boilers, turning a single screw capable of ten knots.
The company built four ships, the War Comox, War Edensaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen. The War Comox was first launched in April, 1918, but completion was held up as the shipyard waited for equipment from suppliers. That led to pressure to build, launch and complete the War Edensaw, which was launched in June 1918, and the War Kitimat, which was launched on Sunday, August 18, 1918.
The War Kitimat immediately ran into trouble. According to the Times Colonist, right after launch the War Kitimat ran aground off New Westminster and had to be lifted off the Fraser river bed by using jacks until was raised enough so that tugs could attach lines and tow it to deep water. About a week later, the War Kitimat was towed to Victoria for repairs and further fitting out (possibly to the Foundation Company shipyard which was also building five of the war class vessels. Foundation is now Seaspan’s Point Hope Marine)
The War Kitimat did make at least one voyage to Great Britain, but by the time it arrived, the war was coming to a close. After the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the ships were no longer needed and the British government sold most of them to shipping companies. (All the ships were UK registry, not Canadian)
In 1919, the War Kitimat was sold to the Lloyd Royal Belge S.A. line of Antwerp, Belgium and renamed the Serbier.
How the ship came to be named War Kitimat isn’t certain. It was probably named after the Kitimat River since other vessels in the War category were named Skeena, Stikine, Babine, Niagara, Ottawa (others were named for cities like Halifax or Toronto).
The Belgian shipping company did not give up on the name Serbier. It purchased another US-built War cargo ship, first named the War Hound by the British. After the US entered WWI in 1917 and took over the building there it became the Lake Huron, a US Navy Transportation Service mine carrier. From later in 1920, Royal Belge operated the new Serbier until 1924, when it passed through French, Norwegian, Danish and then as the Advance, Finnish ownership. The Advance was seized in Panama by the United States in 1941 and renamed the Trojan. After the Second World War, the US returned the ship to Finland. It sailed as the Advance until it was sold a Greek shipping company in 1965 and scrapped at Piraeus in 1966.
Of the ships under British control, 821 ships were ordered by the UK shipping board and 416 were completed. Fourteen were lost to enemy action. The remaining orders were cancelled but often completed by the shipyards.
Many of the “war” or “standard” ships passed through various owners.
During the Second World War many played their original role and took part in the convoys that crossed the Atlantic. Many were sunk during those crossings. Others, sold to growing Japanese shipping interests in the 1920s and 1930s, were sunk by US destroyers and submarines. Others like the War Hound /Serbier survived to the 1950s and 1960s.
Of the War Kitimat’s sister ships built in New Westminster, the War Comox was sold to an Italian company, renamed the Guidatta and scrapped at Genoa in 1925, The War Ewen was sold to a German company, renamed the Etienne Marcel and scrapped in Germany in 1925. The War Edensaw, under the original name, was carrying Admiralty stores from Constantinople to Malta, when it caught fire on June 25, 1919 and sank 94 nautical miles east of the St. Elmo Lighthouse on Malta.
As for Poplar Island, it was zoned for industrial use but no one could come up with ideas for how to use the island. New Westminster sold the island to Rayonier Canada in 1945, where it became an anchorage for log booms on the Fraser River. The successor company, Western Forest Products sold it back to New Westminster in 1995, The island is still a wilderness area in the middle of urban Vancouver and subject to treaty and land claims negotiations with the area’s First Nations.
Editor’s Note: Up until now Kitimat has not had a reason, unlike other communities, to mark Canada’s role in the First World War. We suggest that should the District of Kitimat choose to do so either this year or in the next three years, August 18, the date of the launch of the War Kitimat might be an appropriate date, in addition to Remembrance Day on November 11.