Hyder, Portland Canal

Hyder, Portland Canal

by | Dec 15, 2021

Hyder is a small community at the mouth of the Salmon River, on the western shore and near the head of Portland Canal, about 75 miles (121 km) northeast of Ketchikan and 2.5 miles (4 km) south-southwest of Stewart, British Columbia. Portland Canal is a fjord approximately 71 miles (114 km) long and forms part of the southern border between Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The Nisga’a called the inlet Kʼalii Xkʼalaan, with xkʼalaan meaning ‘at the back of (someplace)’. The upper end of the inlet was the ancestral home of the Tsetsaut who were decimated by war and disease until the last few survivors were taken under the protection (as slaves) of the Nisga’a. The fjord was first charted by Captain George Vancouver in 1793 and named in honor of William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. During the American-Canadian Boundary Dispute, the placement of the international boundary along Portland Canal became a contentious issue because of the Klondike Gold Rush and Canada wanting to retain a seaport. In 1896, Captain David du Bose Gaillard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received orders to build four masonry ‘storehouses’ along Portland Canal. The reason for these buildings is uncertain, but it appears to have been related to asserting territorial ownership over Portland Canal. Gaillard left Washington, D.C. immediately and requisitioned the lighthouse tender Manzanita in Oregon, hired 22 workers, and with all supplies, except masonry, and proceeded to the head of Portland Canal where he supervised the construction of Storehouse No. 4, also known as the Eagle Point Storehouse with interior dimensions of 10 by 15 feet (3.0 m × 4.6 m) and stone walls 12-18 inches (30 – 45 cm) thick. Three other storehouses of similar construction and size were built respectively at Halibut Bay, on the west side of Portland Canal; at Lizard Cove, Pearse Island; and at Manzanita Cove, Wales Island.

The Salmon River is a braided glacial stream that starts at the terminus of the Salmon Glacier in British Columbia and flows south for 14 miles (22 km), across the Alaska-Canada boundary, and then to the head of Portland Canal. The river was named in 1868 by Staff Commander Daniel Pender, a hydrographer for the Royal Navy, and captain of the Beaver. In 1898, metal-bearing lodes, chiefly of gold and silver, were found in the upper Salmon River basin on the Canadian side of the boundary, and similar discoveries were made on the Alaska side of the boundary by 1901. In 1907, a mining community was established at the mouth of the Salmon River and named ‘Portland City’ after the fjord. The ore discoveries received relatively little attention until 1909 when a small boom was started in the Canadian mining district that resulted in the establishment of Stewart and about 12 miles (19 km) of railroad. In 1914, Portland City residents were notified by the U.S. Post Office Department that there were too many communities named Portland, and the town was renamed Hyder, after Frederick Hyder, a Canadian mining engineer who was brought to Portland City in 1914 to examine some claims. Hyder was the only practical point of access to the silver mines and the community became the main port for miners by 1917. In 1918, a commercial ore body was found at the Premier Mine, and as a result, many claims were staked on both sides of the international boundary. The boom years for Hyder were the 1920s when the Riverside Mine on the U.S. side extracted gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten. The mine operated discontinuously from 1924 to 1950, and it developed more than 6,000 feet (1,829 m) of underground workings mainly during World War II. Other properties on which mills were erected during this period were the Silbak-Premier, Big Missouri, and Dunwell, all of which are in British Columbia. Premier became a large gold mining camp that operated from 1918 to 1953 and was a large employer in the area. The camp included huge bunkhouses, generators, ore concentrators, cookhouses, and machine shops all built on the remote hillside. The Premier mine had one of the longest cable aerial tramways in the world reaching 12 miles (19 km). The upper terminal was at Premier and the lower terminal was at the Stewart harbor and crossed the southeastern tip of Alaska at Hyder. In 1928, the price of silver dropped and activity began to decline, and by 1932, the only remaining operations were the Silbak-Premier and the Riverside mines, which operated intermittently and on a small scale. By 1956, all significant mining had ceased, except for the Granduc Mine on the Canadian side. In 1987, the Premier mine was reopened as an open pit by Westmin Resources.

Rich mineral deposits lie within the Coast Mountains, but the difficulty of
exploring and mining these deposits is exemplified by the Granduc Operating Company in exploiting a copper deposit near Leduc Glacier in British Columbia. The copper deposit was first discovered in 1931, exploratory and development work occurred in the 1950s from a camp at Leduc Glacier. The Leduc camp had four bunkhouses, a dining hall, a recreation hall, an auditorium, offices, and a powerhouse. It was designed to be a self-sufficient camp because it was only accessible by planes landing on a runway on the Leduc Glacier. The mine was established in 1964, but it took until 1971 to get the copper deposit into production. The main problem was how to transport ore from the mine at the Leduc Glacier through rough ice-covered terrain to a dock near Stewart. This was done with an access tunnel 11 miles (18 km) long that passed beneath Berendon, Frank Mackie, and Leduc Glaciers to allow ore to be moved from the mine at the west end of the tunnel to a concentrator mill at the east end of the tunnel near the terminus of Berendon Glacier. From the eastern portal, the ore was concentrated and then transported by truck along an access road that follows the margin of Salmon Glacier, then crosses the international boundary and descends along the Salmon River to a dock at Hyder. The two portal mining camps were initially supplied by tractor-hauled sled along routes that passed over Salmon, Berendon, Frank Mackie, and Leduc Glaciers. Crevasses restricted the use of these ice roads to the winter months when snow cover made safe crossings possible. Over 80 feet (25 m) of annual snowfall have been recorded at the eastern portal camp which creates an extreme avalanche hazard. In February 1965, an avalanche destroyed the western portal camp near Leduc Glacier with 26 fatalities. The camp was never rebuilt because it was clear that the site could never be protected from future avalanches. The Granduc continued to operate from the eastern end of the tunnel for nearly 20 years. The price of copper fluctuated in those years and the mine would open when it was high and close when it was low. The Granduc proved in those years to be the economic powerhouse in the area. Production continued until 1984 when the mine was closed due to low copper prices. During that time, 420 million pounds of copper was produced. In 2010, Toronto-based Castle Resources Inc. acquired a 100% interest in the Granduc property and, since that time, has been advancing the project with the objective of resuming production. Read more here and here. Explore more of Hyder and the Salmon River basin here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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