Kitimat, BC
Demographic Factsheet:

Population: 8,335 (2011)
Population change (%): -12.6% (2001 to 2006)b, -7.3% (2006 to 2011) [see above chart for detailed portrayal]
Population density: 34.7 per km2
Land area (square km): 320 km2
Participation rate: 65.2%
Unemployment rate: 9.5%
Average after-tax household income for Drumheller families: 33,931$ (2005)
Homeownership rate:
Average selling price for a single detached home:
Average residential property taxes:
Private dwellings: 3,630
Ambitiously dubbed “Western Canada’s Emerging Energy Hub” and “Tomorrow's City Today”, Kitimat, a town at the head of the Kitimat Arm of the Douglas Channel, British Columbia’s widest, deepest fjord, situated on the northern Pacific coast of B.C., is familiar with predictions of opportunity for growth and future development. Kitimat is a “seaport community” and a district municipality, as well as a member municipality of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine regional government. The municipality, which covers approximately 320 km2, is located about 1,400 km northwest of Vancouver, 635 km west of Prince George and about 50 km south of Terrace via provincial highways.
In 1870, shortly before the first population surge which began in the early 1900s, Kitimat had been identified as strategic terminus for three transcontinental railways, which concerned similar generous land provisions to investors interested in exporting mined resources. Shortly thereafter a “land boom” occurred, a wharf and hotel were constructed and a road to nearby Terrace was cleared. However, in the absence of land deals, these promises were abandoned in favour of Prince Rupert, where most of the settlers moved on. A provincial reserve prevented further piecemeal development and by 1941, only a small amount of European settlers remained. Few then would have estimated that by 1956 so-called “modern Kitimat” would reach a population of 9,729.
Kitimat was formally incorporated in 1953, arising out of the “authorizing documents” of the 1950 British Columbia Alcan Agreement wherein which the province agreed to cede ownership of the provincially held land to the Aluminum Company of Canada Alcan), a Canadian mining company and aluminium manufacturer. Although a freely elected town council was established prior to Alcan’s arrival, most of the town as it exists today was not yet occupied nor built. The potential for, and proximity of hydro power was a major factor for Alcan in selecting Kitimat as this site. The agreement permitted the company to develop hydroelectric facilities, which over time has provided Alcan with a perpetual source of power, on the nearby Nechako River in order to support the burgeoning, power-intensive aluminum smelting industry. Alcan proceeded to build the necessary industrial infrastructure, including the smelter plant for the operation, making Kitimat the site for one of the largest aluminum smelters in the world, and hired private contractors to develop the residential areas of the original townsite. The early development operation was one the most extensive of its kind ever to be executed by a single private entity. To this day, surplus power generated at Kemano is transferred to the provincial grid.
From the outset, Kitimat’s distinct geographic and economic competencies, philosophy and design have lent to its competitive advantage and rich industrial history. Kitimat benefits from its location in a deep, sheltered harbour 140 km from the open ocean, while concordantly being serviceable to Edmonton both by the Yellowhead highway and rail. The town, with an abundance of industrial land at tidewater in the expansive Kitimat Valley, was planned for and industrial-based economy capable of accommodating substantial growth. Indeed, “what began as a vast wilderness was transformed to an attractive city able to draw in workers and promote permanent home development”. During the 1950s, acclaimed city planner Clarence Stein, who had formed new towns in the United States, was enlisted by Alcan to design a townscape that would “provide the best possible modern community for its workers” as to draw and retain a steady workforce and “allow Alcan to avoid the high, and costly, turnover of labourers”. The award-winning layout incorporates elements of ‘Garden City planning’; a green belt, super-blocks, looped streets and neighbourhood unit concepts, systematically dividing the area into residential neighbourhoods, a town centre, a service centre, and an industrial area— thereby also allowing for subsequent industrial expansion.
To this day, the town’s planners have upheld Steins’ concepts and the town retain much of the above described features. The central business district houses all major stores, commercial buildings and government offices. On the other hand, an insufficient quantity of rental accommodation, along with company-held second mortgages, both as means to encourage married workers to settle in Kitimat, lead workers to purchase their own homes rather than rent. In Elder’s words, “Kitimat had been planned to accommodate the nuclear family represented in 1950s television sitcoms, not the single men who had built the town”. Recent efforts have been made to address housing costs and rental vacancy rates. Kitimat was planned for growth and was anticipated to hold over 50,000 residents, and some planners initially predicted Kitimat would become the third largest city in BC. To its detriment, however, it never reached its optimal projected population. The trend since 1991, according the municipality’s official plan, has been a decreasing population, with the most significant drop between 2001 and 2006. Being that, “modern smelters do not employ as many people as in the past and new technology is more efficient”; metal production requires a fraction of the manpower and energy it used to, and hence new jobs are not being created. Furthermore, to an increasing extent the population has become divided amongst Kitimat, Terrace, and the surrounding unorganized settlements. Many residents have moved on and stores such as the Hudson's Bay Company have had to close due to an inadequate consumer base. The vacancy rate peaked at 43.7 percent in April 1988.
An official plan from 2008 confirms that “Kitimat’s population has been driven chiefly by the growth and decline of export-oriented industry affected by global markets and provincial resource policy decisions”. Not withholding the above-discussed decline, industrial activity has continued and Kitimat retains a stable industrial work force, owing partly to its infrastructure. For one, its private sector port, meaning all seaport facilities are built, owned and operated by private enterprises, is the third largest port in Western Canada, after Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Kitimat's economy is primarily driven by specialized, large-scale, manufacturing plants which involve secondary processing of products derived from mining or forestry operations. Alongside Alcan, which the largest employer in the community, Eurocan Pulp and Paper and Methanex Petroleum, have recently established operations in Kitimat. Such industries continue to be town’s major taxpayers and employers. A number of international and energy-related projects are anticipated as the community and looks to add diversity to its “manufacturing and trade character”, add to trading capabilities, and enter into a “second stage of growth”. Since the 1990s, multi-million and multi-billion dollar energy projects by large oil and gas entities such as Enbridge, Encana, Kitimat LNG Inc., Kinder Morgan Inc., Pacific Northern Gas and others include a break-bulk terminal for export into the California building market, import export facilities, predominantly for Alberta energy-related products, involving pipelines and pipeline expansions, marine farms and marine terminals. Forestry, tourism, small business, port development, and international trade investments are also supplemental contributors to Kitimat’s economy. A modernisation of the Kitimat aluminium smelter was initiated in 2008, and would give the “capacity and potential to make Kitimat not only one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s largest wholly-owned smelters”, but also one of the largest, most cost effective, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly.
Despite fluctuations in growth and demand, Kitimat prides itself as “a well-planned, civically-independent city” with reputable recreational and leisure facilities, theatres, hospitals and schools, and, as many sources will suggest, insists it has never been a single industry “company town”. It is home to post-secondary institutions, including the accredited Northwest community College Kitimat Campus and Kitimat Valley Institute for Industrial Education. Also dubbed a “‘mecca’ for outdoor recreation pursuits”, Kitimat is uniquely characterized by its Pacific inland coast setting. It attracts tourists as well as community members to fishing, canoeing, hiking, hunting and camping amid its nearby mountains.

Dr. Leith Deacon PhD