Hastings Arm, Observatory Inlet

Hastings Arm, Observatory Inlet

by | Feb 13, 2022

Hastings Arm extends north from Observatory Inlet for 14 miles (23 km) into the Coast Mountains and ends at the mouth of the Kshwan River, about 23 miles (37 km) south-southeast of Stewart and 17 miles (27 km) northwest of Kitsault, British Columbia. Hastings Arm was named by Captain Daniel Pender in 1869 after Rear Admiral George Fowler Hastings who was the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Station at Victoria from 1866 to 1869. The Nisga’a name for Hastings Arm is K’alii Kshwan meaning ‘up river water teeth’, which is a reference to the legendary Tseemsim, who was the grandfather of the Nisga’a, cupping his hands to take a drink from the Kshwan River and finding it so cold it hurt his teeth. The Kshwan River starts at an elevation of about 2,150 feet (655 m) at the terminus of the Kshwan Glacier, which descends from the Cambria Icefield, and flows generally south for about 9 miles (14.5 km) to the head of Hastings Arm. Observatory Inlet is approximately 31 miles (50 km) long, running south-southwest from Hastings Arm to Portland Inlet at the mouth of Nass Bay. The inlet was named in 1793 by Captain George Vancouver who anchored HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham in Salmon Cove, about 10 miles (16 km) south of Hastings Arm, and established an astronomical observatory in order to calibrate his navigational chronometers. The Coast Mountains are a major mountain range in the Pacific Coast Ranges of western North America, extending from southwestern Yukon through Southeast Alaska and virtually all of the coast of British Columbia south to the Fraser River. The mountain belt consists of three subdivisions known as the Pacific Ranges, the Kitimat Ranges, and the Boundary Ranges. The Kitimat Ranges lie between Portland Canal to the north and the Bella Coola River to the south and are bounded to the east by the Intermontane Belt. The Cambria Icefield area is situated along the boundary between the Kitimat Ranges and the Intermontane Belt where Jurassic and Tertiary plu­tons called the Coast Plutonic Complex have intruded mainly Lower and Middle Jurassic stratified rocks of the Stikinia terrane. Pleistocene glaciations carved out Hastings Inlet and sea level rise drowned the deglaciated fjord. A common feature of many fjords is one or more shallow sills which often represent terminal moraines of ancient glacier advances. Hastings Arm has a maximum depth of 1,007 feet (307 m) and is separated from Observatory Inlet by a sill with a depth of 167 feet (51 m).

The oral histories of the Nisga’a tell of a great flood that covered the earth and to prevent being swept away, the people saved themselves in rafts and canoes, and took refuge on the four highest peaks in Nisga’a territory. The Nisga’a once practiced a balanced reliance on hunting, fishing, and plant gathering. Some traditional foods included crabs, black cod, halibut, salmon, herring eggs, seals, sea lions, clams, pine mushrooms, lowbush cranberries, and mountain blueberries. They traveled by canoe and on foot to hunt and fish and to trade with neighboring First Nations. The Nisga’a lived in rectangular-shaped houses made out of cedar planks. Their homes were often painted elaborately, decorated with family crests on the outside and with ceremonial objects, such as masks, on the inside. Cedar was also used for totem poles, canoes, baskets, hats, staffs, masks, rattles, baby cradles, drying racks, bowls, and body armor. The Nisga’a first encountered Europeans when Vancouver sailed into the Nass River estuary in 1793. The Nisga’a entered into a trade relationship with the Europeans, exchanging sea otter pelts for metal objects such as pots and knives. By the 1800s, the Hudson’s Bay Company began establishing trade posts along the Northwest Coast. The mouth of the Nass River soon became a hub for material exchange. Interaction with European traders introduced changes to Nisga’a traditional life with the introduction of different tools and weapons. This interaction also brought new and deadly diseases to the Nisga’a, such as smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, and measles. These diseases significantly reduced the Native populations throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. A gold rush in British Columbia in the mid-1800s brought more outsiders into Nisga’a territory, including miners, explorers, and settlers. Christian missionaries also arrived during this period. They converted many Nisga’a and prohibited many traditional ceremonies including the potlatch. In 1871, when British Columbia joined Canada, most of Nisga’a territory was declared Crown land and the Nisga’a people were forced to occupy reserves around the Nass River.

The first prospectors were drawn into the Alice Arm and Hastings Arm area at the beginning of this century, lured by reports of gold discoveries. The first larger ore body found in this area was a pyrite and chalcopyrite deposit in Observatory Inlet. This deposit was not developed until 1914 when the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company started to mine these minerals and founded the Anyox Copper Mine which was to become the largest copper mine at this time in the British Empire. There were no major mining operations located on the shores of Hastings Arm or in the Kshwan River valley because most of the shoreline is made up of the granitic rocks of the Coast Plutonic Complex in which valuable mineral deposits are very sparse. The only mine to ever operate in the upper reaches of Hastings Arm was the Saddle claim which produced about three tons of ore in 1929. However, prospectors moved into the Kitsault valley at the head of Alice Arm and staked a large number of claims, but the Dolly Varden mine was the only operation to recover a considerable amount of ore. From 1919 until 1921, 36,609 tons of ore concentrate, which yielded 1,304,409 ounces (36,979 kg) of silver, were shipped from the mine. The mine tailings, which are the ore waste typically in the form of a mud-like material, were dumped into the Kitsault River and then carried to Alice Arm. Early prospecting also revealed molybdenite deposits but little attention was given to these until 1929 when an English manufacturer of special steel was the first to show interest in this property. In 1930, the property was optioned by Dalhousie Mining Company, but no work was done until the mid-1950s when Kennco Exploration Ltd. finally started developing the property. They conducted preliminary examinations until 1960 and consequently formed the British Columbia Molybdenum Ltd. to start mining the deposit in 1967. The mine was active until April 1972, with a daily throughput of 6,000 tons. During this operation, the mill tailings were simply discharged into Alice Arm. The mine tailings discharged into Observation Inlet at Anyox and into Alice Arm at Kitsault also affected Hastings Inlet. Mine tailings can have negative impacts on subtidal benthic invertebrates through physical disturbances, smothering, chemical contamination, and changes in sediment characteristics and submarine tailings disposal has been prohibited in parts of the world. Studies in Hastings Arm and Alice Arm have shown that natural sedimentation by glacier-fed rivers will quickly bury the fjord substrate, and therefore ceasing or prohibiting submarine mine tailings disposal in an area can remove the source of harm and potentially allow natural recovery of the seabed and its invertebrate community. Read more here and here. Explore more of Hastings Arm 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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