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Settling In: Highlighting 50 Years of Kitimat's History

Industry in Kitimat

When planning the town, the Aluminum Company of Canada maintained two basic principles:

  1. Kitimat would not be a company town. Diversification of the town economy would be promoted, attracting other industries to the port.
  2. Alcan would not remain in the "town business". Housing and commercial property would be sold.

The earliest planning documents listed a site for a pulp plant beside the smelter.  Eventually, Eurocan, a kraft paper mill, and Ocelot, a methanol and ammonia plant opened further inland beside the Kitimat River.  Both were attracted by Kitimat's deep-sea port to export overseas.

The Alcan Property Department had a large function in the early days - selling, developing, subdividing, and leasing land.  "Our biggest job was employee housing.  Everyone wanted houses much faster than they could be built.  The Property Department cleared and developed land, rushed the building of the first Municipal services, allocated land to housebuilders, processed applications for housing assistance and set up waiting lists." Kitimat-Kemano: Five Years of Operation, 1954-1959, Aluminum Company of Canada

Two Early Challenges For Smelter & Town

In May 1957, a power outage cost the company millions of dollars as five potlines froze.  No layoffs occurred - workers were shifted to chipping hardened aluminum out of pots with jackhammers and air compressors.  Homeowners were urged to cut their power use or face rationing, and schools had to operate on reduced power.  Night school classes were cancelled.

In October 1957, the world market price of aluminum plummeted and 1,200 workers of Saguenay-Kitimat and 500 sub-contractors were laid off.  The smelter's parent company Aluminium Ltd. called a halt to the smelter's expansion.  One union leader said the situation could "spell the doom" of Kitimat and could make Kitimat "the most modern ghost town in Canada."  Within months, Kitimat's population of 13,000 dwindled to 7,200.  Union leaders advised workers to sit tight.

Kemano Completion Project (KCP) Cancelled

In the late 1970s, Alcan began putting into place the second tunnel parallel to the first that would supply an additional 550 megawatts of power.  In an effort to provide for the environment and to complete requirements by the B.C. Utilities Commission, Alcan redesigned KCP over a twenty-year period of study.  Environmental outcry and political maneuvering cancelled KCP in 1991.

Ingots Awaiting Shipment

Ingots awaiting shipment to world markets on the Alcan wharf, Douglas Channel, Kitimat. 

Change of shift at the smelter

Change of shift at the smelter, 1960.

Construction of smelter lines numbers 1 and 2

Smelter construction on lines 1 and 2, summer 1953.