Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mining, Oil and the Military


The first mining venture to accomplish and maintain operations of any size was that undertaken by the Japanese fishing firm of Awaya, Ikeda & Company Limited at Ikeda Bay, Moresby Island. The report of the Department of Mines for 1907 comments very favourably on operations of this firm, stating that it was employing "more than one hundred men . . . in mining, mine construction, and prospecting," that it had erected "a large and substantially built wharf capable of receiving the largest of the coasting steamships," and that a 36-gauge tramway had been built connecting the wharf with the mine workings.

The Queen Charlotte News of April 4, 1908, carried a letter from this firm stating that, including the cost of the wharf, mining camp, tramways, tunnels, and the old sternwheeler "Dawson," which had been converted into a bankhouse and office, over $60,000 had been spent at the Ikeda Bay mining project.

This company was also the first to install telephone lines on the Islands connecting the mine-site with the hotel at Jedway, 4 miles distant.

The outcry against Orientals, and Asiatics generally, which was being raised in British Columbia about this time was probably one of the reason why in 1910 the Ikeda firm sold out to a Vancouver syndicate for the reputed figure of $250,000. Under the new directorate that investment possibilities were exploited and a good deal of publicity was given to the venture. However, during the war years of 1914 to 1918 the shortage of labour and the monopoly of transportation facilities by the Imperial Munitions Board made the going difficult. By 1920 this enterprise, which began as one of the most energetic and promising on the Islands, had closed down.

Following World War I a few placer leases were issued, mostly for claims lying along the sandy north and east shores of Graham Island, but no large scale development of these has ever taken place.

Oil Prospecting

For many years prospectors on Haida Gwaii have been intrigued by signs of oil seepage's at various points. When George M. Dawson made his comprehensive geological survey of the Islands in the summer of 1878 for the Dominion Government, he noted bitumen oozing from the beaches of the Tar Islands, just off Ramsay Island in Juan Perez Sound. Oil-boring operations were begun at Tian Head on the west coast of Graham Island in 1913, and though this was not a successful venture, it is still believed that vast beds of oil may underlie certain sections of the Islands. In 1949 interest in the oil possibilities of the North Pacific islands was again renewed, and exploration work was undertaken by the Royalite Oil Company, the initial drilling to be 5 miles north of Queen Charlotte City. Although this first test well has subsequently been abandoned, prospecting of the area continues.

Military Bases

When in 1936, the international situation became more threatening, the Dominion Government began seriously to consider its Pacific Coast defenses. Up to that time the Royal Canadian Air Force had only the one station, that of Vancouver, on the western seaboard. It was then decided to establish an advanced base on the Islands. A suitable site was selected on Moresby Island, at Alliford Bay in Skidegate Inlet. An area of about 160 acres was purchased in 1937, and the following year the development of a seaplane base was begun. This work was still in progress when the Second World War broke out.

The base at Alliford Bay was ready for operations early in 1940, and in May the first aeroplanes were flown north from Vancouver to the new station. Here, with replacements of twin-engine flying-boats in 1941 and long-range Cansos and Catalinas in 1943, routine work continued until the end of the war. This consisted of anti-submarine patrols, transporting personnel and supplies to many spots on the coast, and photographing vital areas. Thus for five years the station was a key point in the Dominion's West Coast defenses. It was finally closed in September, 1945.