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Grand Vision

Times Community Newspapers, Jason Jacks - March 2, 2005

In stark contrast to the American Wild West ghost town image of dirt roads and crumbling brothels and brew halls, Kitsault's collection of tidy streets and manicured lawns hugging the rocky shoreline of a Canadian fjord is downright suburban.

"It's a modern ghost town," said John Wheatley, the town's caretaker for almost two decades.

However, more interesting to this neck of the woods is that this abandoned mining community, put on the market last fall by a Phoenix-based copper company, is now owned by someone from Fairfax County.

Krishnan Suthanthiran, 55, a Springfield businessman and president of Best Medical International, a locally based health care products manufacturer, bought the British Columbia town last December for something under its $7 million (Canadian dollars) asking price.

"The fishing is great. And the scenery in British Columbia is just wonderful," he said.

Right now, Suthanthiran said his plans for the town are "wide open" but could include transforming it into either a high-end resort town, corporate conference facility or movie lot or simply renovating its homes and reselling them.

"There will be a day when it will no longer be a ghost town," he explained.

And what did this Canada-educated businessman, who first read about the town's sale while attending a conference in Halifax last September, get for his money? Well, a town, of course: 92 single-family homes, 200 apartment units, a trailer park, a pub, 22,000 square feet of retail space, two recreation centers and a nicely equipped hospital.

According to Rudy Nielsen, president of Niho Land and Cattle Co., who acted as a consultant, Kitsault's buildings, minus a few leaky roofs, are in surprisingly usable condition.

"The heat was kept on in the buildings, and the lawns were maintained," he said. "Some buildings are deteriorating. But they have been empty for 20 years."

In the early 1980s, a Canadian mining company built Kitsault about 500 air miles north of Vancouver to support its employees working at a nearby molybdenum mine. However, when the mine shut down after just two years, Kitsault's 1,200 residents left to find work elsewhere.

And in a hurry, evidently.

The town pool is still filled with water, its library is stocked with books and many of its homes remain furnished.

"Oh, it was an active town," recalled Wheatley, who lived in Kitsault before becoming its caretaker. "It had a volunteer fire department and curling ice. If you have a fire department, you're a pretty active town."

Active, yes, but remote, he added.

"It's a three and a half hour drive from the nearest town. And that's a three and a half hour drive really gettin' it, too," he said in describing traveling on the one gravel road into Kitsault.

In April, Suthanthiran, who acknowledged he will have his hands full renovating the town, is traveling to British Columbia to meet with local developers to discuss Kitsault's transformation. The first phase of which should be under way this spring or summer.

"Ultimately, the town will be prosperous,” he said. “And we want to be the fuel for the fire."