Presenting the Vision

Cover of Canadian Geographical Journal, Nov 1959 Issue

The Government of Canada and Alcan promoted the Project in displays, publications, and presentations worldwide. As a result, the construction years saw a constant stream of dignitaries and media.

The Project was highlighted by Canada at the Brussels World’s Fair, 1958 and at the Triennale di Milano, the international design fair in Milan, 1957.  The Project made the news across North America including the Canadian Geographic Journal (November 1959), Maclean's (1958), the National Geographic (September 1956), and the Saturday Evening Post (February 1957).  Famed Canadian documentary photographer Malak Karsh, hired in the 1950s by Alcan to take photographs of Arvida and Kitimat, came to Kitimat in 1959.  Many of his photographs were published in Alcan literature and textbooks on Canada.

The plant officially opened August 3, 1954 with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, tapping the first ingot.  Dignitaries attended all of Kitimat’s major opening events including those for the highway and railway.  Kitimat hosted visits from many government officials including Premier W.A.C. Bennett, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and Governor-Generals for Canada Vincent Massey and Roland Michener.   Many have memories of Prince Philip coming to open the smelter:

If you look in the photographs you see Prince Philip touching the first ingot poured, JB Whitton was part of the large party that trundled around with Prince Philip and showed him the various things so he gave me his movie camera and said, “Look, I want you to take movies,” so I did.  The casting machine and furnace in the casting room had been tried out for the first time the day before Prince Philip arrived and they got molten aluminum all over everything.  It was a mess.  So they had to clean that up and so they figured, “Hey, we’re not going to take the risk, of doing this again when Prince Phillip flips the switch,” so they got some cool ingots and they stuffed them into the casting machine.  … I got all this recorded on a movie.  Prince Philip touched [the ingot] and then turned around and spoke to Powell … and Powell spoke to DuBose and DuBose spoke to Dutch Turney and Turney spoke to Calhoun and Calhoun spoke to Serge Segouin who was in charge of casting, and Serge sort of stiffened up and he ran round to the other side of the furnace and everyone sort of waited and the machine started up again.  Three more ingots came out and then there was a horrible silence and then some steam started to rise up out of the conveyer and then fifteen minutes later some genuine ingots, hot, just poured, and by the grace of god they didn’t put it all over the floor, they put it into the moulds.  They didn’t leave until they had genuinely poured metal from Kitimat Works into the ingots.”  (Bill Moore)

I had a twenty-dollar a month shack with paint daubed all over the walls and when Prince Philip was coming to pour the first ingot, J.B. Whitton took a tour around the hill and cocked an eye at our two houses as he went by and he says to his driver, “Get those places fixed up….This carpenter Howard Bush was dealt off to come and make the front of our house look a little more presentable.  He didn’t want the Prince to see people living in shacks.  So Howard went all out.  He got us screens for the windows.  He built a porch on the front with a roof, and he put a door in the back in a little stoop which we never had fixed and I tell you, but inside?  Forget it.  Old broken down linoleum on the floor…  (June Coultan)

One of the people that I had working for me … was sort of our maintenance person because some of the places that we were trying to put people in needed quite a bit of attention.  And so we had a maintenance crew.  I looked at the Delta King and it was getting awfully shaggy.  I went to the crew that I had working with me and I said, “We can’t let Prince Philip see that ship looking as shaggy as it looks, why don’t we put a coat of paint on the north side of it here?”  I forgot he would be arriving in a Grummon Goose and so he would be able to gradually taxi up to the docks and so he’d see the ship on the shaggy side as well as the bright side.  So we got the [town] side painted and I said “We just want to touch it up, here there and everywhere.”  … In two days we’d sprayed the side and dressed it up.  (John Pousette)

The historic "First Pour".  Prince Philip inspects the first ingot with President R.E. Powell (right) and General Manager A.W. Whitaker, Jr. (left). 

There was this big car…brought up to Kitimat.  It was probably a Daimler or a Mercedes…it was a really big, long, black car.  It was brought up…to convey Prince Philip from the dock to Alcan to pour the first ingot….I’ll always remember they had a school bus – one of the orange school busses down at the wharf you see for the other people to go on, and…he didn’t go in the car.  He just sat on the front seat of the bus to everybody’s consternation.  Everybody had to follow him onto the bus.  Well, really and truly, he was sitting a lot higher and could see more anyway.  But it was quite funny…later they had lunch up at the Alcan [guest] house, where the dignitaries came and stayed.  It was down near the wharf and it was up on the rise and it had a drive that you went up to get to the building and [Prince Philip] walked up the driveway and of course all of us who were there had lined the drive to have a look at him.  He came and he walked up and he talked to people and I think he was quite interested in these people living in the back of beyond … Our Malcolm,…he got a lot of mosquito bites and…He was really allergic…I’ll always remember, Prince Philip looked at him and said ‘What happened to you?” I think he thought he’s been in a fight or something, and Malcolm looked up through these two little slits and said, “A bug bit me”.  Prince Philip looked a little startled to say the least, patted him on the head and went up further.  I don’t know whether he thought, my god…how big are these bugs?  (Cathy Baxter)