When covering the 10 best Canadian ghost towns to visit, this is coming from a fan of anything to do with the pioneering spirit of yesteryear. Just like the United State of America, Canada’s earliest history witnessed adventurous explorers daring to head west so they could get to know the country’s massive landscape even better. Also like the U.S., Canada has its fair share of communities that managed to stand the test of time while others started off with promise, only to fall victim to abandonment that would render it to become a ghost town.
Like the U.S., Canada has some ghost towns that are in a state of arrested decay while others have a restoration program in place. When in arrested decay, various buildings and historical sites will be mostly left alone as remnants of what used to be. While in this state, there is no attempt to restore a building back to its former glory. However, there are measures in place that at least tries to keep it standing as if it’s frozen in time.
Some of the ten best Canadian ghost towns covered are either in arrested decay while others are carefully preserved as communities that are routinely revived in an effort to keep the past alive as close to the timeline in which it once upon a time thrived. The majority of the towns sprung up when the Klondike Gold Rush was at its peak between 1896 to 1899. Over one hundred thousand prospectors were determined to make their way to the Yukon, which is now recognized as one of Canada’s two designated territories.
The Yukon Territory is located in the Canadian Northwest, bordering the top of British Columbia as well as the bottom of Alaska. It is the only USA state that borders Canada to the north instead of the south. It was also America’s newest addition to its nation after it was purchased in 1867 from the Russian Empire but didn’t officially become a state until 1959, the same year Hawaii became one as well.
10 Best Canadian Ghost Towns To Visit
#10 – Dorreen, British Columbia
Once upon a time, Dorreen, British Columbia housed three hundred people when it was at its prime as a mining and agricultural community. There is a caretaker still residing throughout the year at the hamlet. During the summer months, nearby cottage owners join in on the preservation of a ghost town that sits at the foot of Mt. Knauss, which is just under thirty miles northeast of Terrace. Because of its isolated location, the abandoned collection of buildings that stand along the Skeen River has been able to stand the test of time.
Ideally, approaching Dorreen by foot or an all-terrain vehicle is the best way to appreciate the history and scenery of a town that has so many wonderful ghost stories of its own to tell. Dorreen is technically private property but the owner does give permission for the occasional visitor to check it out but respects the historical site enough to not tamper with its environmental surroundings. This means avoiding over-using the trails that offer access to the ghost town.
Access to the ghost town of Dorreen can be accessed by a trail that leads to a collection of houses, the railway station, and the general store. There’s also an old farmhouse that’s owned by a Vancouver writer named Alisa Smith. Dorreen is situated on the Skeena River and still has a few people living in the area, namely during the summer months. While Dorreen was in its prime during the early 1900s, it served as a close-knit thriving community while the gold ore mine was in operation in the mountains above the town. After it was shut down in 1953, there weren’t enough new settlers to keep Dorreen alive as a community so it was abandoned and became a ghost town. Everything that belonged to the settlers was left behind.
#9 – Uranium City, Saskatchewan
At the northern tip of Saskatchewan’s provincial border, Uranium City sits on the northern shores of Lake Athabasca as an eerie ghost town that once upon a time was on the brink of becoming a city. It sits just south of the Northwest Territories border. The founding of Uranium City began after S. Kaiman found athabascaite in 1949 while he was researching radioactive materials in the area. By 1952, the provincial government decided to set up a community to service the mines in the Beaverlodge uranium area that were developed by Eldorado Mining and Refining. As of 1954, there were fifty-two mines that were in operation, along with twelve open-pit mines. At the time, the residential community in Uranium City lived in tents.
Learning from the mistakes made by Northern Ontario when it carved a series of small mining towns that were short-lived, Saskatchewan opted to pass the Municipal Corporation of Uranium City and District Act in 1956. The idea was to copy what Arvida, Quebec had. In 1960, Eldorado Resources made a deliberate initiative to set up staff housing instead of using its campsite.
By 1981, more than two thousand people lived in Uranium City, which showed so much promise as a thriving community destined to become a city. Unfortunately, the mines closed in 1982 which led to the town suffering an economic collapse. People began to move away in droves as there was no longer a reason to stay. On October 1, 1983, the Uranium City Act was repealed, reducing the community to an unincorporated northern settlement. By 2003, the local hospital officially closed. Less than one hundred people call it home now.
#8 – Ball’s Falls, Ontario
Ball’s Falls, Ontario, is a historical ghost town that is now part of the municipality of Jordan in the Niagara region of the province. Long before the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority designated the site as a conservation area to be preserved, it was a bustling town founded in 1807 by John and George Ball, two brothers who were United Empire Loyalists. Their family history includes a 1690 purchase of land in New York’s Mohawk Valley that first had them migrate there from the County of Norfolk, England. When the American Revolution took place, the father of John and George Ball, Jacob, moved north, along with most of his sons.
Together, they fought with the Butler’s Rangers and Queen’s Ranger militias as loyalists during the remainder of the Revolutionary War. In 1783, the Crown handed the Ball Family a grant that lead to the purchase of land in 1784. Twenty-three years later, John and George purchased 1200 acres of land from Thomas Butler so they could first establish a grist mill and sawmill at the lower falls belonging to the municipality of Twenty Mile Creek. The upper falls witnessed a woolen mill built.
During the War of 1812, the community served as a hub of activity by the military and it began to flourish as a town that had a collection of tradesmen able to accommodate the needs of the residents who lived there. The early 1850s showed promise but after the Great Western Railway installed a railway at Cornwall, this marked the beginning of the end for a community that was still named Glen Elgin at that time. After the land was sold by Manly Ball in 1962, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Area switched the town’s name to Ball’s Falls and set the site up as a tourist attraction.
Speaking from personal experience as someone who has been there, visiting Ball’s Falls is worth it. The Ball’s Falls Centre for Conservation serves as an information center to help visitors understand the area’s history. A collection of permanent and temporary galleries, as well as interactive displays and exhibits, are housed here that also include archaeological findings. As a ghost town, Ball’s Falls still has the original family home still standing, along with an operating gristmill, a lime kiln, as well as a blacksmith shop, a carriage shed, and a restored church.
#7 – Balaclava, Ontario
Head about ninety minutes west of Ottawa, Ontario and you’ll encounter the ghost town of Balaclava. Of the more than two hundred ghost towns in the province, Balaclava is best known for its rundown sawmill that sits along a shallow river and is surrounded by rotting tree logs, machinery pieces, and wagon wheels. For years, this ghost town has been a popular destination for tourists and photographers alike. Balaclava got its name from the Battle of Balaklava which took place during the Crimean War in the 1850s.
As a community, Balaclava thrived because of the sawmill, which was built in 1855. Baclava’s role in history included the first environmentally-based lawsuit to take place in Ontario. The Richards Family bought the sawmill in 1868 but were taken to court in 1911 after complaints were filed by a nearby grist mill that the Richards were dumping too much sawdust into the river. the grist mill won, forcing the Richards to pay two hundred American dollars in restitution. This resulted in the addition of a sawdust burner.
As was the case for many Ontario-based communities, the depletion of timber supply in the area witnessed the sawmill unable to keep up with production demand. This resulted in the closure of the mill, as well as Balaclava’s general store. Today, there isn’t much left of Balaclava other than the sawmill, which is privately owned. There have been threats of tearing it down by the owners as they want to keep trespassers off their property.
#6 – Millbridge and Millbridge Station, Ontario
Situated in Eastern Ontario, Millbridge and Millbridge Station began as neighboring communities in the mid-1800s before it was eventually abandoned in the early 1920s. Together, they had three hotels, a rail station, sawmills, and all the amenities needed for communities to thrive. However, what it lacked was decent farmland. It was enough to give people cause to move on, turning these two communities into ghost towns. Many of the structures are still standing. Millbridge is about a ninety-minute drive northwest of Kingston.
It was one of many communities that fell victim to the Hastings Colonization Road, a poorly constructed and managed stretch of highway that resulted in one of the highest rates of community abandonment. When traveling along this road, Millbridge is one of many ghosted settlements travelers will encounter. There are still people who live here but usually as a seasonal retreat only. For visitors, viewing this remnant of the past includes a number of original buildings that are in a state of decay, including a church, schoolhouse, and Hogan’s Hotel. However, the hotel is a private dwelling so it doesn’t offer opportunities for unannounced visitors to step inside.
#5 – Anyox, British Columbia
Once upon a time, there was a company-owned mining town in Anyox, British Columbia. Located on the shores of Granby Bay in coastal Observatory Inlet, it sits less than forty miles southeast of Stewart. It sits just over ten miles east of the tip of the Alaska Panhandle. This removed valley was a major hunting and trapping area for a native Canadian tribe before the Europeans moved into the area.
They were members of the Vancouver Expedition that surveyed the area in 1793. The story had it the region had an abundance of gold, prompting the Granby Consolidated to buy up as much land as it can in 1910. That gold was indeed found, resulting in Granby building a town just two years later. By 1914, Anyox had nearly three thousand residents while the mine and smelter were operating at their peak. During this timeframe, copper and other precious metals were also mined from Anyox’s nearby mountains.
In order to access Anyox, it had to be by ocean steamers, which traveled along the British Columbian west coast between Vancouver to its south and Prince Rupert to its north. Onsite railways were built to help accommodate a growing town that had a very large population. There were also machine shops, sporting venues, and a hospital. In 1918, Anyox became the first wooden tennis court built in Canada. This was also where a hydroelectric dam was built that stood 156 feet high. At the time, it became Canada’s tallest dam. For Anyox, it seemed the community had everything going for them until the Great Depression drove down the demand for copper.
By 1935, the copper mine in Anyox was shut down and the town became abandoned. There were salvage operations in the 1940s that removed most of the machinery and steel from town. The 1942 and 1943 forest fires consumed what was left of the wooden structures that once stood proudly in Anyox. Mining activities continue in Anyox and its surrounding area and there have been efforts by the current owners to jolt some life back into the remnants of this Canadian ghost town. While it may not look like much now, it’s the eerieness of a town that once upon a time stood as a vibrant community that sends a haunting reminder that not everything lasts forever.
#4 – Bankhead, Alberta
Usually, when tourists come to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, it’s to enjoy the Canadian Rockies. Among historians, Bankhead is a must-see ghost town that once upon a time had one thousand people call it home during the early 1900s. It sat next to the Bankhead Banff coal mine operations site as a bustling community until the mine itself shut down in 1922. No longer finding a reason to say, the people moved out and Bankhead became a ghost town.
Visitors especially enjoy the interpretive walks as they explore the remains of what was. Surrounded by incredible mountainous scenery, it’s easy to get caught up in a world that seemed to be so much simpler than what we experience now. Bankhead was a development situated at the base of Cascade Mountain and was noted for its abundance of high-quality anthracite coal reserves.
The Canadian Anthracite Company first set up a coal mine in Anthracite, Banff in 1886, which was to access the reserves belonging to Cascade Mountain. However, the difficult slanted coal seams within Cascade Mountain led miners below the water table that often caused flooding into the mine. This put an end to the mine’s operation at Anthracite in 1904. However, the Canadian Pacific Railway had a desperate need for anthracite coal so it formed the Pacific Coal Company and began its own mining operations in Bankhead, Alberta, in 1903. This led to Bankhead’s growth as a thriving community that enjoyed all the luxuries it could access at that time.
Bankhead was a modernized town that had more going for it by 1905 than the nearby municipalities of Banff and Canmore. However, this all changed as of 1922 when the mine was officially closed. No official reasons were given other than speculation it was no longer profitable. By 1926, many of the buildings in Bankhead were moved to Banff, Canmore, and Calgary. What’s left of Bankhead shows remnants of an abandoned coal mining town that once upon a time had so much going for it.
#3 – Kitsault, British Columbia
The majority of the time, ghost towns are thought to be communities belonging to the earliest pioneers of nations like America and Canada. However, British Columbia’s Kitsault is an exception to this rule. Once upon a time owned by an American mining company known as Amax Canada Development, the people of Kitsault were given until October 31, 1983, to pack up their bags and move out of the company-owned homes they lived in as soon as the prices crashed.
This Northern British Columbia ghost town was built to accommodate over one thousand residents including ninety houses, two hundred apartments, as well as a collection of amenities. Kitsault got its name from Gits’oohl, which in English is translated to “a ways in behind.” Located as a remote oasis in British Columbia, the construction of Kistault was completed in 1980 as a community that showed so much promise. Over one thousand people lived in Kitsault with the hope to build a future from a recently revived mine. However, it wasn’t meant to be as everything shut down in 1983 and the population was forced to leave town.
What makes Kitsault so unique is how young it is compared to the typical concept of a ghost town. It’s also been well-kept by caretakers who refused to let Kitsault fall as so many other ghosted towns have in the past. If there is ever a community of a bygone era to visit, this is it. When Kitsault was built, it relied its future on a metal known as molybdenum. This was used in steel construction and its value peaked in the late 1970s, prompting Amax to reopen a mine it once ran previously.
The remote location was intended to become an urban oasis as it sat over five hundred miles north of Vancouver. Unfortunately, the value of molybdenum crashed before anybody really had a chance to completely settle. Amax promptly shut down its mine in 1982, then ordered the residents to move out. Much of the infrastructure and objects in the community were left behind. When visiting Kitsault, books can still be seen on the shelves belonging to the public library, as well as toys left in the daycare. Grocery carts still sit in the supermarket, as well as the medical supplies belonging to the hospital that was built there.
There was hope to somehow reopen the Kistault mine but that never happened. Instead, a medical product entrepreneur named Krishnan Suthanthiran purchased the entire town from Amax in 2005 for about seven million dollars. A restoration project had since begun to upgrade Kitsault. There are caretakers appointed to maintain the community that does allow a few tour groups to visit each year. As for the public wishing to go for a drive to visit Kitsault on their own, this is not allowed. The town remains closed to the public as it continues to sit at a standstill while its current administration debates what kind of future they really want to have for it. So for now, it sits as a carefully preserved ghost town.
#2 – Val-Jalbert, Quebec
One of the best-preserved ghost towns in Canada belongs to Quebec’s Val-Jalbert. It was founded in 1901, near Chambord, as a community that thrived on the town’s pulp mill. However, shortly after it was closed down in 1927, it was abandoned after a 1929 order was issued to board up the houses owned by the mill company. What makes Val-Jalbert worth the visit isn’t just the town itself but the scenery that surrounds it.
Quebec has some incredible waterfalls in the area, including Ouiatchouan Falls. This is even taller than the infamous Niagara Falls. Val-Jalbert is located at its base as the local pulp mill favored this location as a prospective community. Founded by Damase Jalbert, he died only three years after Val-Jalbert was founded. It was actually named after the Saint-Georges-de-Ouiatchouan River but was changed to honor the town’s founder instead.
When the demand for newspapers in America and Great Britain was at its peak, Val-Jalbert thrived as a pulp and paper mill that catered to their needs. Both the ghost town and Ouiatchaucan Falls are the top attractions that lure visitors to come to pay a visit. While Val-Jalbert was at its peak, nearly one thousand people lived in homes that were considered ultra-modern at the time. The community was well-planned and well-constructed. In 1949, Val-Jalbert became the property of the Quebec government after the mill company that owned it went bankrupt.
In 1960, it officially became a park where over seventy of its original buildings still stand. The condition of these abandoned homes and businesses makes recognize Val-Jalbert Canada’s best-preserved ghost town. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Lac St-Jean region, thanks to the dedication to keep this ghost town as close to pristine condition as possible. As a tourist site, Val-Jalbert’s fully restored buildings are also accompanied by actors and historically-themed shows that portray an era of what life was like during its heyday. There are ninety-four buildings here that invite visitors to take a step into the past while at the same time enjoying the scenic waterfalls that add to the appeal of this beautiful Canadian ghost town.
#1 – Barkerville, British Columbia
Before the Klondike Gold Rush played an integral role in Canada’s expansion as a nation, it was the Cariboo Gold Rush. In 1861, Billy Barker from Cambridgeshire, England was the first to strike gold in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia. His gold claim was the richest and most famous of them all. He used the money to spring up Barkerville and it was a community that was practically built overnight.
When word of mouth got out about Barker’s gold claim, it spawned a flurry of eager prospectors to head west and into British Columbia’s rugged terrain. Prior to the construction of Cariboo Wagon Road, the only way people could haul supplies to Barkerville was either on their backs or in a pack train. Because of this, the cost of even basic items was extraordinarily high. It wasn’t until the installment of the road that would Barkerville be able to receive larger freight wagons.
The location of Barkerville sits about fifty miles east of Quesnel, British Columbia. When the community reached a population of five thousand people, more than half of them were Chinese. The start of Barkerville as a community consisted of makeshift cabins and tents before more permanent buildings such as general stores and boarding houses were erected. Barkerville was the hub of activity for transients and miners that also had its own drug store and barber shop that doubled as a ladies’ hair salon.
Wake-Up Jake Restaurant and Coffee Salon are one of Barkerville’s highlights, as well as the Theatre Royale, and the Cariboo Literary Society. There is also St. Saviour’s Anglican Church, a Gothic splendor that’s still in use today. During the summer months, it holds church services and is also used as a music venue.
What was also popular in Barkerville while it was thriving as a community at the time were the horseraces and prizefighting. While in its prime, the influence of the Chinese population played a prominent role in Barkerville for nearly one hundred years. It was here they established a series of businesses, including the Kwong Lee Company of Victoria, one of the general stores in Barkerville.
Unlike the rest of the stores in the community that went bankrupt shortly after the gold rush was over, Kwong Lee survived. That survival was due to the company’s decision to build a chain of general stores throughout British Columbia. In Barkerville, the Chinese also had Tai Pain, which was their concept of a nursing home. This community within Barkverille also had its own judicial system that had disputes settled without the involvement of the provincial court.
In 1868, Barkerville was mostly destroyed by fire but was quick to rebuild. By 1880, there were enough children in town to build its own schoolhouse. However, the community’s overall population was beginning to decline after the gold rush was over. Before the turn of the twentieth century, Barkerville became a ghost town with only a few residents left. It did experience a revival during the Great Depression in the 1930s but it was brief at best.
By 1959, this renovated ghost town became Barkerville Historic Park. Today, it’s now referred to as Barkerville Historic Town and Park. Among the fans of western movies, 1980’s Harry Tracy, Desperado was filmed here. What puts Barkerville at the top of the ten best Canadian ghost towns to visit is how alive it still is as a community. Although nobody lives in Barkerville anymore, it thrives on tourism as a living museum I can personally vouch is definitely worth the drive from Quesnel. This is one of the largest ghost towns in North America and one of the best preserved.
10 Best Canadian Ghost Towns To Visit article published on BigCityReview.com© 2023
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