Haisla celebrate incremental treaty pact with BC, see more traditional lands returned

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.”

Map from the treaty agreement showing the lands transferred back to the Haisla Nation. (Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)
Map from the treaty agreement showing the lands transferred back to the Haisla Nation. (Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)

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.

Allan Donovan began working for the Haisla as a young lawyer and is still representing the Nation. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Allan Donovan began working for the Haisla as a young lawyer and is still representing the Nation. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“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.

Building goodwill

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.”

BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad presented Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross with a certificate commemorating the incremental treaty agreement (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad presented Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross with a certificate commemorating the incremental treaty agreement (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.”

Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross presented BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad with a painting of two paddles, representing how people have to work together to accomplish goals. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross presented BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad with a painting of two paddles, representing how people have to work together to accomplish goals. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.’”

The incremental treaty ceremony begins at the Haisla Recreation Centre (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The incremental treaty ceremony begins at the Haisla Recreation Centre (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)


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)

Text of the incremental treaty agreement (Pdf)

Kitimat lifts “precautionary boil water advisory”

kitimatlogoThe District of Kitimat Friday afternoon lifted the boil water advisory declared during a heavy rain storm late last Saturday. The District says system flushing may result in some discoloured water, but it is safe to drink and the water should run clear quickly.

On its website the District said:

The precautionary boil water advisory issued on Sunday, October 11 has been lifted.

This advisory was issued by the District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, after the extremely high flood levels in the Kitimat River caused an increase in turbidity in the municipal water supply. It has now been lifted after two consecutive sets of samples confirmed there was no total coliform or E.coli contamination in the potable water.

Chlorination was increased and maintained over the boil water advisory period and municipal crews flushed the water system to speed up removal of the turbid (cloudy) water. The flushing itself could result in some discoloration of the water but it is safe to drink without boiling. If your water is discoloured, let your cold water run until it clears.

The District of Kitimat apologizes for any concern or inconvenience this precautionary measure may have caused.

 

 

 

Kitimat boil water advisory could last until the end of the week, District says it depends on river levels, rain

kitimatlogoThe District of Kitimat in an update on the boil water advisory says it could last until the end of the week. There is no immediate problem because the water is still being treated.

Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen says the turbidity from the high water means that it is not possible to do a full sample on the safety of the water.   There are no delays due to the holiday weekend, the labs are open and ready, Waycheshen told Northwest Coast Energy News.

There  are no immediate dangers to Kitimat from the high water,  he said.

The District says:

October 11, 2015
The boil water advisory issued by the District of Kitimat will remain in place at this time. Until further notice, continue to boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.

The District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, will not consider terminating the advisory until two samples conclude there is not a health risk. Sampling is not expected to be complete until at least the end of the week of October 12, 2015 and could be longer if the rain continues.

The District is treating the water as usual. There is nothing to suggest contamination is occurring; however, as a precautionary measure please continue to boil water prior to use.

Turbidity in this case means high levels of particulate matter in the river, including sand and possibly salts.  Waycheshen said the Kitimat River rose four metres on Saturday, then dropped by about two metres overnight but with the later Sunday afternoon rain the river is rising once again.

The Environment Canada forecast issued at 4 pm Sunday, calls for rain for the next week.

Wind Warning continues

The Environment Canada wind warning for the north coast was continued this morning but there are currently no alerts in effect for Kitimat.

Wind warning in effect for:

North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms is moving onto the northern BC Coast. The front will cross the central coast tonight. Southeast winds up to 110 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii near noon then spread to the North Coast – Coastal Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections this afternoon. Winds will shift to southwest with the passage of the front then diminish this evening.

Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles and windows, may occur. High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.

Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds.

Radley Park

Waycheshen says there probably has been some flood damage to Radley Park, but at this point  District staff are unable to get into the area to assess the damage.

District of Kitimat issues boil water advisory; Environment Canada wind warning

kitimatlogo

The District of Kitimat has issued a boil water advisory.

Late Saturday evening, the District issued this statement on their website

Due to the significant rainfall, water entering the District of Kitimat’s system is turbid.  The District is still treating water, however, until further notice, boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.

The District of Kitimat is working with Northern Health on this matter.

Wind warning in effect

As well Environment Canada has issued a wind warning for the north coast

North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms will approach the North and Central Coasts on Sunday. An intense low is forecast to track west of Haida Gwaii as moves northward. Southeast winds up to 100 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii midday Sunday and then spread to the North Coast – Coast Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections in the afternoon. Winds will diminish Sunday evening as the low moves away from the region.

High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.

Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds

The Environment Canada web page says Kitimat received 24 mm of rain in the 24 hours preceeding the forecast at 2039 on Saturday.

Sunday’s forecast calls for

Showers. Amount 10 to 20 mm. Windy this evening and after midnight. Low 8.
Sun, 11 Oct Showers. Amount 5 to 10 mm. Wind becoming south 40 to 60 km/h late in the morning. High 10.
Night Showers. Amount 20 mm. Wind south 40 to 60 km/h becoming light near midnight. Low 8.

Unifor 2301 protest says Rio Tinto is cutting back on smelter health and safety

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wMembers of Unifor 2301 rallied in front of the Rio Tinto offices at City Centre Mall in Kitimat, Wednesday, October 7, to protest against what they called “precarious work” and health and safety issues at the Rio Tinto BC Operations aluminum smelter.

The rally was part what the union calls a “Rio Tinto Global Day of Action” aimed at Rio Tinto operations in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unifor 2301 is part of the “Rio Tinto Global Union Network,”

Sean O’Driscoll, president of the local, concentrated on what he said was an increasingly tense relationship with Rio Tinto over health and safety issues. O’Driscoll told a group of supporters that relations with the company over health and safety have gone down hill since Rio Tinto took over Alcan.  He said the CAW,  predecessor to Unifor, had negotiated a strong health and safety agreement with Alcan that Rio Tinto is now trying to weaken down to minimum government imposed standards.

Unifor 2301 president Sean O'Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Unifor 2301 president Sean O’Driscoll addreses the Global Day of Action At Rio Tinto Rally at City Centre, Oct. 7, 2015. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

O’Driscoll said that the list of grievances between the union and management are growing and that instead of trying to solve the grievances, RIo Tinto has filed a grievance of its own claiming the union has filed too many grievances.

Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants in the Unifor 2301 rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

 

The main reason for the rally was a worldwide protest over what the union calls “precarious work,” the use of short term, usually poorly trained workers,  what most industries call call “casuals” to save money.  The other issue at the protest was increasing contracting out.

 A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A participant in the rally listens to speeches. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

O’Driscoll also pointed to the controversial issue of increased sulphur dioxide emissions from the upgraded smelter. Unifor has joined environmental groups in a successful court challenge to  the BC  Environmental Assessment Agency’s approval of the emission plan.

Sean O'Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Sean O’Driscoll and other union leaders at the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A Plant Protection security guard recorded and photographed the rally in front of the Rio Tinto City Centre office. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A spectator watches the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Participants applaud at the conclusion of the rally. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Court orders Environmental Assessment Board to investigate impact of Rio Tinto sulphur dioxide

UNIFOR-theunion-Canada-wKitimat Unifor local 2301 has succeeded in forcing the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) to take responsibility for investigating the impact of plans for a dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) at the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. The BC Supreme Court has sided with Unifor in a judicial review involving the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the smelter’s expansion without a SO2 “scrubber”.

A news release from Unifor 2301 goes on to say:

The project will increase SO2 emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.

“Expanding the smelter without a scrubber is a terrible health risk to my community,” said Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. “We’re very pleased that Rio Tinto’s proposal will have to go through an environmental assessment. It’s a shame that it takes a Supreme Court Judge to force the BC Liberal government to do the right thing.”

The decision to approve the smelter expansion without scrubbers will now be sent back to the EAB.

Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.

In the decision, BC Supreme Court Justice W.F. Ehrcke wrote that it was unreasonable for the EAB to conclude that Unifor’s appeal must be rejected on the ground that the 2014 Letter of Approval to Rio Tinto was not an appealable decision within the meaning of the Act.

Other challenges to the emissions of sulphur dioxide from the Rio Tinto smelter are continuing.

Photo gallery: Preparing for the Pacific Trail Pipeline

pipelineslashwedeene1bw

A pile of slash at a quarry site for the Pacific Trail Pipeline near the Little Wedeene River. (Robin Rowland)

Complete photo gallery at my photography site.

Court orders man to donate $5,000 to wildlife trust in deer harassment case

A Portuguese man was fined $1 in Terrace Provincial Court Wednesday Sept. 2 and ordered to donate $5,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund for hitting a swimming deer on the head off Bish Cove in Douglas Channel on May 14.

Rodolfo Lopes, previously misidentified in court documents as Martins-Lopes, pleaded guilty in to one count under the BC Wildlife Act of harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle.

Evidence in the case showed that Lopes hit the deer on the head with a jig or gaff in an attempt to bring it on board. The deer managed to escape and make it to shore.

Such donations are permitted under the BC Wildlife Act. The money, which Lopes originally paid in bail, will be allocated to conservation efforts in the Kitimat region.

Other charges against Lopes, a former supervisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, including one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal under the Criminal Code were stayed by the Crown.

Provincial Court Judge Terence Wright also prohibited Lopes from approaching wildlife for the next two years unless required by his employment.

Lopes did not return from Portugal for the hearing. Vancouver lawyer Don Sorochan, QC, appeared on his behalf.

Crown counsel Corinne Baerg said Lopes was a supervisor at Brasco, one of the subcontractors at KMP, and had hired a fishing guide to help celebrate both the end of their work at the aluminum smelter modernization project and Lopes’ planned wedding in August.

After a day of what was apparently unsuccessful fishing, Lopes and five others were on board the boat, returning to Kitimat, when a deer was spotted swimming in Douglas Channel.

According to the submission, the guide then took the boat “ running up alongside” the deer. At that point Lopes hit the deer on the head with what some witnesses said was a jig and others said was a gaff in attempt to haul it on board. The deer was able to free itself, swam to shore and disappeared into the bush.

After Conservation Officers were told  about the incident by residents in Kitimat who saw a video of the fishing trip on Facebook, one of the men on the boat voluntarily surrendered cell phone video and other evidence was seized under a search warrant. The video was not shown in court.

Because Lopes was not a Canadian resident he was arrested and spent time in custody before being granted bail and was permitted to return to Portugal.

In his defence submission, Sorochan said Lopes was not familiar with Canadian hunting and wildlife laws and was totally dependent on the “advice of his professional guide.” Sorochon told the court that the incident had become exaggerated by people gossiping on social media.

Sorochan told the court that Lopes began with Brasco as a bricklayer in 1996 and had quickly risen to supervise construction projects all over the world. The lawyer called the attempt to get the deer “a naive impulse” by a man who was trying to be macho in an unfamiliar setting.

He submitted letters of reference for Lopes from Brasco, another company and a Kitimat union.

Wright, in confirming the proposed sentence, said that given the circumstances, the fine and donation was the “appropriate penalty.”

Wright noted that it was not possible to ascertain how badly injured the deer was. He also noted that Lopes did not have a criminal record and his employer had praised his work in many parts of the world.

Andreas Handl, who runs Kitimat’s Kingfish Westcoast Adventures, was scheduled to appear in a Kitimat court Thursday, Sept 3, but the appearance was adjourned until October.

He is charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act with harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle and hunting wildlife while swimming, as well as causing unnecessary pain and suffering under the Criminal Code.

Kitimat chemo clinic closes for up to a year, staff shortages across the Northwest hampering cancer treatment

The Kitimat General Hospital Chemotherapy Clinic will be closed for the next nine to twelve months due to staff shortages and a proposed restructuring of cancer care across the northwest, Northern Health tells Northwest Coast Energy News.

northernhealth100Contrary to local rumour that the complete oncology clinic had closed, other aspects of the cancer clinic will continue to operate, according to Dr. Jaco Fourie, the Terrace-based medical lead for Northern Health oncology. Other cancer care procedures including blood work and other tests and local care by trained general partictioners will continue in Kitimat for the next year.

Dr. Fourie said that the chemotherapy clinic at Kitimat General actually closed about three months ago when the oncology nurse left due to health reasons. Kitimat patients are generally treated in Terrace or Prince George and sometimes in Prince Rupert or Smithers. Sources in Kitimat’s medical community says that in the spring a nurse would drive to Kitimat from Terrace for some chemotherapy procedures but that nurse is now not available.

Dr. Fourie said that staff shortages are a chronic problem in cancer care across Northwestern BC. Last week chemo procedures in Terrace had to be postponed or transferred due to a staffing problem at Mills Memorial Hospital.

Two sources on District of Kitimat Council confirmed to Northwest Coast Energy News that council has been discussing the problem of the chemotherapy clinic privately for the last couple of weeks and have requested a meeting with Northern Health in early September.

In the Northwest, the problem is that with just one oncology nurse in many locations qualified to administer chemotherapy, there is no back up in case that nurse is not available. As well, to maintain qualifications the nurses have to administer a minimum number of procedures and in some cases re-qualify as procedures are changed and updated.

The work pressure due to staff shortages is also intense across the northwest and many staff leave the northwest due to burn out, Dr. Fourie said.

Northern Health is now working on a new system where there would be at least three nurses in each location, one full time, one part time and one casual who could be on call. Some of those nurses would likely also have to work in other fields of medicine.

District of Kitimat and local medical sources say that the call for two nurses to be available is part of a province wide plan to upgrade cancer care and bring the northwest practices closer to the system used in the Lower Mainland and across Canada.

Dr. Fourie said that Northern Health is studying the cancer care situation in the northwest and will issue a report in the coming months.

At least one Kitimat medical source questioned the need for two nurses, especially given the problem of attracting staff to the region, noting that using one nurse has worked well for years (when staff was available). The source added that one oncology nurse in Kitimat would be better than none if the province insisted on having two or none at all.

The source also questioned the safety of sending chemotherapy patients to Terrace, especially during the winter months, given that for those without access to drivers, public transportation is not always an option to get to appointments in Terrace and back to Kitimat.

Dr. Fourie noted that Northern Health is concerned about the situation in Kitimat with a possible growing population if industrial development goes ahead and is looking at expansion of services in the District to meet those growing needs.

Kitimat’s unknown role in the First World War

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.

The War Kitimat under construction in New Westminster (Canadian War Museum)
The War Kitimat under construction in New Westminster (Canadian War Museum)

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)

Flag for Lloyd Belge line
Flag for Lloyd  RoyalBelge line

In 1919, the War Kitimat was sold to the Lloyd Royal Belge S.A. line of Antwerp, Belgium and renamed the Serbier.

On January 12, 1920, the Serbier, on a  voyage from Cartagena and Oran to Antwerp with zinc ore and general cargo on board, sprang a leak in her engine room during a “raging gale” in the Bay of Biscay and sank  80 nautical miles (150 km) off Penmarc’h, Finistère, France at 47°38′N 6°10′W. Her Capt. A. Canfrère and the crew were rescued by the French ship SS Docteur Pierre Benoit.

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.

Related links
Poplar Island: A History as Thick and Colorful as the Trees

Emergency Shipbuilders of World War I

World War One Standard Built Ships

World War One Standard Built Ships (this is a different site to the one above)

Vessels Built by B.C. Marine Railway Co

The Ship’s List (database of ships, link is to Lloyd Royal Belege entry)

 

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.