Hougen Group

Cassiar

The future of a mining town is usually guaranteed. It will become a ghost town. So it was with Cassiar, a company-owned asbestos mining town in Northern British Columbia. After 40 years of operation the mine closed in 1992.

Early prospectors had seen asbestos in McDane Mountain in the Cassiars as far back as the early 1870s. Native people told goldseekers about the wooly hill to the north. They talked of birds that built their nests of white fluff that could withstand the heat of fire.

Famed Yukon prospector Anton Money visited the remote region in 1923 and saw veins of asbestos. He wrote that although transportation seemed far away from this isolated corner of the wilderness, this could be an important discovery. He was right.

In 1950, two prospectors, Victor Sitler and Hyrum Nelson and two equipment operators from Lower Post, BC staked the first claims on McDane Mountain. Then the renowned Alec Berry a Conwest Mining man in Whitehorse heard about it. Pretty soon his company Conwest Exploration sent a geologist from Toronto to Watson Lake with instructions to “get up there and buy it”. This event led to the formation of Cassiar Asbestos Corporation.

In 1952 Conwest decided that a mine was feasible. A tent town was built to accommodate Cassiar’s first 250 pioneer miners and construction workers. In 1953 the company’s first production mill was in operation, eventually producing more than 4000 tons of ore a day. It was shipped by truck over the grueling Cassiar highway to Watson Lake, then to Whitehorse for loading on to the White Pass railway. A Cassiar transport division with headquarters in Whitehorse was established and a fleet of trucks carried 24 tons of bagged fiber the 350 miles to the railway.

It was a heady time, but it came to an end in 1992. The shutdown was driven by diminished demand for asbestos and huge costs after converting from an open-pit mine to an underground mine. Cassiar which once had a population of 1500 is gone. A few houses were sold off and trucked away, but many were bulldozed and burned to the ground. Today the ghosts walk the land were once a thriving mining town existed.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin