You are here: Mining Surplus » Articles » Stewart looks for upside with port, potential gold mine

« Back to Articles

Stewart looks for upside with port, potential gold mine

Vancouver Sun, By Derrick Penner

September 23,2015

Former boom town turned village hopes new terminal will bring jobs.

B .C.'s most northern tidewater port started out as a frontier outpost, swelled to boom town, but has since shrunk to a small village.
This summer, it was arguably as much home to tourists as to the prospectors who flow through on a seasonal basis to chopper in and out of the mountainous backcountry in search of the motherlode.
The resurgence of mineral exploration in recent years delivered a welcome economic boost to Stewart, but much of that dried up with the global downturn in mining.
"That's what happens in Stewart," said longtime resident Mary Jane McKay. "You get the ups and you get the downs.
"The ups will come again." In the "up" category is news that Pretium Resources has secured $540 million US in financing for construction of its recently approved and permitted Brucejack gold mine project about 80 kilometres north of town.
Also on the positive side is the construction of a new deepsea terminal, Stewart World Port, a $70-million private investment on waterfront land leased from the District of Stewart. It officially opened last week and is renewing hopes for an industrial revival.
The port's owner, Ted Pickell, patriarch of Fort St. John-based Arctic Construction, has long experience in the North, both in B.C. and Yukon, and is gambling on filling a strategic niche as the only terminal north of Squamish capable of loading and unloading break-bulk cargoes - materials too bulky to be put into containers.
"The interest we're getting in the port is absolutely phenomenal," said Brad Pettit, director of port operations and Pickell's son. "(We will service) things we'd never dreamed of, from mining to oil and gas, power projects."
Pickell coming to Stewart to build the facility helps Stewart realize a decades-long ambition to revamp its port operations, said Mayor Galina Durant. She is hopeful the port will bring jobs and new residents.
"We need to grow because we're a small town, we're a dying town," Durant said. "We need new blood."
The port opening was an emotional moment for Durant, a relative newcomer to Stewart, having moved to the community in 1996 from her native Russia, where she grew up in a small town close to the Arctic Circle.
Stewart was still a town of 1,600 back then, with a bank (that has since closed), two schools (only one is left) and a hospital with overnight beds. Now, the population is 496, she said.
In its heyday around the start of the last century, Stewart was a thriving centre of more than 10,000, but the derelict shell of the Empress Hotel downtown stands as a testament to its vulnerability to booms and busts.
Stewart World Port CEO Ted Pickell talks about why he wanted to pour $70 million of his own money into building a port terminal at
Nestled in the crook of the mountains at the top of the Portland Canal, the long slim fiord that snakes up from the Pacific along the U.S. border on the Alaska Panhandle, Stewart's fortunes have always waxed and waned with the prospects of mining.
In recent decades, it was the mighty Granduc copper mine, along with the Premier gold mine, that fuelled its prosperity as a town of over 2,000.
Since their closures in the mid-1980s and early-1990s, however, Stewart has dwindled. Just past the remaining school, rows of townhouses sit vacant, derelict and mouldering as the rainforest creeps back in on them. "I've watched (Stewart boom and bust) multiple times," said Robert McLeod, who is a Vancouver-based geologist and junior mining executive. He grew up in the town where he has deep ties, as his Scottish grandfather immigrated there in 1925.
"That's the nature of a resource town," he said. "It's cyclical. It is boom and bust."
McLeod is now CEO of IDM Mining, which is advancing another proposed mine, the Red Mountain project about 15 kilometres east of the town.
This summer, the company filed a project description with the B.C. Environmental Assessment office for its proposed mine. McLeod said they are about halfway through the assessment process for a mine that, while smaller than Pretium's Brucejack, would still create about 100 permanent jobs close to Stewart. IDM is busy raising the $76 million it would take to build Red Mountain. "That's the biggest challenge on any project now," McLeod said, but financing is easier to come by for advanced projects than greenfield exploration.
And the new port facility is helpful in IDM's plans, McLeod said, because it gives the company a cheaper, seaborne transportation route for bringing in materials and construction equipment, not to mention a boost to Stewart's human capital.
"The more economic activity that happens in Stewart, it helps all industries," he said. "There's more mechanics around, tire shops, supply of parts, skilled workforce."
For the time being, it is logging that largely sustains Stewart. Rust-coloured log booms dotted the milky-green glacial waters of its harbour as a crowd gathered on Stewart World Port's new pier waiting for its grand opening.
The Vancouver Sun was included on a charter flight of guests for the opening event, which included B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon "This (port facility) is the next big thing we've had," said Bob Eckess, an accountant and resident since 1968.
"The jobs to build (the terminal) made quite a difference last winter," and the port itself "could be the terminus for a lot of things."
McKay said, "I just hope everyone keeps busy."
Along with her husband, Bob, McKay runs Granmac Services, a six-bay garage, parts store and service centre. She said they are "close to retirement age," and with all three of their children still in town, still maintains optimism about the future.
"I would certainly hope things would get back on the up again," McKay said.