Written by Rod Link, this feature is one of a series recognizing the City of Terrace’s 90th anniversary and Canada’s 150th anniversary, through the Terrace Regional Historical Society, the City of Terrace’s 100th Celebration Committee, the George Little House and Heritage Park Museum.
It was an optimistic headline in the Jan. 10, 1990 issue of the now-defunct Terrace Review – Looking ahead to the 90’s in Terrace.
Through more than 1,200 words reporter, Tod Strachan, took readers on a journey into the next decade based on a conversation with Bob Cooper, a member of Terrace city council and Kitimat-Stikine regional district board member.
Cooper was involved in the forest industry and sat on numerous regional governmental and industry-focused boards.
He saw the development of Terrace as a service and business centre of the northwest, something which continues to this day thanks to its central location, dominant airport and highway connections both east and west, north and south.
Now, a quarter-century later, how did Cooper’s predictions fare?
When it comes to health care, Cooper foresaw Terrace finally being accepted as “the regional health care centre of the northwest ….”
“Whether by design or not, and whether the rest of the northwest likes it or not, Mills Memorial Hospital will continue to grow as a regional hospital,” wrote Strachan of Cooper’s vision.
How true, given the announcement earlier this year that after intensive lobbying, aging Mills will be replaced by a larger structure containing new services for the northwest.
Cooper foresaw the establishment of nuclear medicine at Mills and the purchase of a CT scanner – a unit that has since been replaced and which will now be supplemented by an additional CT machine and an MRI.
The new hospital, anticipated to cost in the range of $365 million, was announced by the now-former B.C. Liberal government and also promised by new NDP premier John Horgan during a visit to Terrace last year.
On this topic, Cooper spoke of continued improvements to CN’s line, work that has since taken place by twinning the track in key locations, and extending the depth of tunnels to allow rail cars to transport double-stacked containers to and from the growing port at Prince Rupert.
He was also correct in saying there’d be pavement into the Nass Valley, a bridge to Greenville in the Nass and a vehicle bridge spanning the Nass River to Gitwinksihlkw.
What he didn’t foresee, and which did take place, was the extension of the Nass Valley road system past Greenville to Gingolx at the mouth of the Nass River.
Cooper was on solid ground, noted Strachan, listing “better service buildings, a longer runway and landing limits that will be reduced even more” at the then-called Terrace-Kitimat Airport since renamed the Northwest Regional Airport.
All that has taken place, specifically with a much improved landing system that has done away with the airport’s historical reputation as an unreliable facility particularly during winter weather.
The airport continues to be improved as witnessed by the ongoing work to enlarge and modernize both its departure and arrival facilities.
Still unrealized, however, was Cooper’s assertion the airport would attract international traffic to “avoid the Vancouver congestion.”
As for Hwy16, one of Cooper’s predictions, more overpasses for traffic to eliminate CN level crossings, is about to come true with the start of a $37 million project to go over the level crossing approximately 45 km west of Terrace.
Back in 1990 Terrace was a forest-dependent community and Cooper was certain that would continue, based on the purchase by West Fraser of Skeena Sawmills here and the then-new Repap/Skeena Cellulose sawmill in Terrace.
But subsequent events driven by markets, the overall stability of forestry companies and the quantity and type of timber available for harvest overtook Cooper.
West Fraser closed down Skeena Sawmills here and closed down its Eurocan paper mill in Kitimat.
The company did sell Skeena Sawmills to a company based in China and it is now focusing on capital expenditures to mill second-growth timber.
Skeena Cellulose/Repap went through stop and start creditor protection and bankruptcy in the early 2000s despite significant provincial government financial support and after a limited period of local ownership, the facility closed and was dismantled.
The mill lands, stretching along Keith Ave. west of the Sande Overpass, now figure in an ambitious City of Terrace vision for a mixed commercial and residential development.
As with many other locals at the start of the 1990s, Cooper predicted a combination of the Shames Mountain ski development, a fully developed Mount Layton Hotsprings and the MK Bay Marina development at Kitimat as sure-fire foundation for a burgeoning tourism-based economy.
“Due to the completion of Shames Mountain we’ll see new hotels and motels in the area,” wrote Strachan of Cooper’s thoughts.
“Cooper also stands on a short limb in predicting the hotel complex at Mount Layton Hotsprings will be completed.”
Today, the reporter’s suggestion of a short limb is correct with Mount Layton’s pools closed and the promise of a year-round recreation hub unfulfilled.
Shames Mountain went through years of economic challenges with its private ownership structure subsequently morphing, assisted by provincial government debt forgiveness, into present-day enthusiastic community co-op ownership.
Cooper also spoke of an expansion to the city’s aquatic centre, a change which did take place back then. But consider that a precursor to the current $9 million project, which will radically improve the centre’s facilities for decades to come.
Kitimat and Prince Rupert
If Cooper was bullish on Terrace, he was equally so with Kitimat and Prince Rupert based on their industrial success feeding Terrace as a regional services and business centre.
He was partially correct in predicting Alcan’s Kemano Completion Project would be an economic boost although a bit off in the final outcome with Alcan now owned by Rio Tinto and the completion project eventually turning into a just-finished modernization of the company’s aluminum smelter.
“In Prince Rupert there are the Ridley Island and Fairview terminals for the overseas shipment of coal and grain,” Strachan said of Cooper’s project list.
As events and innovation have turned out, Cooper under-stated the appeal of Prince Rupert given its advantage of being closer by sea to what has become a burgeoning freight traffic with Asia boosted by the development of container shipping.
Local industrial lands
Cooper spoke of the Thunderbird, the name generally given to the undeveloped forested area south of the Northwest Regional Airport toward Kitimat.
“It could easily be this decade,” said Cooper. “And it’s probably going to be fairly major. Possibly a steel mill.”
On this Cooper was close – what has transpired is 2,000 acres just south of the airport now called the Skeena Industrial Development Park, a partnership of the City of Terrace and the Kitselas First Nation. Its major player is an economic development zone entity in China, which through a B.C. subsidiary has purchased approximately half of the acreage, and which is now clearing a portion of the land base.
No specific development plans have been released although early on, city officials were optimistic that an alfalfa processing plant would be a first user.
“And in the coming decade, look for a larger library, a continuing street improvement program, more residential housing on the bench and a new dog pound south of the tracks,” Strachan’s feature concludes.
That library expansion did take place, the city rebuilds approximately two streets a year, the animal shelter is part of the city’s Graham Ave. works complex and the bench now houses more than a few newer and new residential subdivisions.