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New life for ghost town

Daniel Girard, Toronto Star, January 26, 2005

VANCOUVER—It's a ghost town being brought back to life.

Kitsault, a deserted mining community in a spectacular part of northwestern British Columbia, has been sold, complete with about 130 hectares of land, 92 homes, seven apartment buildings, two recreation centres, a shopping mall and a hospital.

"It's exciting to know that the lights are going to come on again," said Rudy Nielsen, president of Niho Land & Cattle Company, which appraised and marketed the town, about 800 kilometres by air northwest of Vancouver.

The new owner, Kitsault Resort Ltd., B.C., wants it to become a year-round "destination resort" with activities ranging from sports fishing to heli-skiing, Nielsen said. The homes and apartments are likely to be sold off individually and there's a possibility of a time-share vacation scheme and maybe even a spot for a movie studio, he added.

The buyer, an unidentified land developer from Virginia, specializes in sub-divisions. He paid an undisclosed price for the town.

Kitsault, which had an asking price of $7 million when it was put on the block in September, was built in the late 1970s for about $50 million to house workers and their families at a nearby molybdenum mine.

The gate was locked in 1983 after then-owner, Amax of Canada Ltd., closed the mine — barely two years after the town was finished — as prices for the product, used to strengthen steel, sunk and the facility became unprofitable.

Since then, caretakers have kept buildings heated in the fall and winter to prevent mould and cut the lawns in spring and summer. Minor repairs were also carried out.

American copper giant Phelps Dodge Corp., which got the mine and town as part of a 1999 acquisition, put Kitsault on the block because it had no plans for the site.

The mine, located about eight kilometres from town, was not part of yesterday's sale.

Touring the town last fall was like visiting an episode of the 1960s sci-fi television TV show, The Twilight Zone. There was water in the indoor swimming pool and books lined library shelves. Empty beer glasses sat on the bar of the Maple Leaf Pub. Many apartments were fully furnished and pens were still chained to the counter of the Royal Bank branch.

Nielsen, 63, a real estate consultant for 40 years who specializes in ranches, vacation properties and land across B.C., called the isolated town — reached only by a partial gravel road, boat or float plane — "one of the most unique places I've ever visited."

"People's eyes will really open up when they see the snow-capped mountains, glaciers and clear water," Nielsen said. "It's a gorgeous place that few have ever explored."

The new owner will begin meeting with area First Nations and government agencies next month before ironing out a detailed business plan and redevelopment scheme, he said.

Former Kitsault residents Ben and Betty McCormick, both 56, who lived there with their two daughters from 1980 to 1983, said the town is ideal for a resort.

"I expected something like this to go ahead a lot sooner," a two-hour drive southeast of Kitsault.

"It's just too beautiful a place to abandon and just let go to waste," Ben McCormick said from his home in Rosswood, B.C.