CONTRIBUTION · 10th February 2011
At a recent Committee of the Whole meeting, Mayor Joanne Monaghan showed up with a letter and an interesting story about Kitimatís past. She presented us with a copy of this letter from Walter Schmidt a week later.
Dear Ms Monaghan
The recent article in the Vancouver Sun showing you standing in a snowy landscape was quite interesting. It did however open the question: how many people in your town are familiar with Kitimatís background - history? How many people including you realize that Kitimat faced a total economic disaster in 1954. I will try to give you all the seemingly unknown details.
First the known (?) details. In the 1950's the western world lived in a cold war situation with Russia. The USA dramatically increased the production of Fighter planes which required thousands of tons of aluminum. Alcan agreed to cooperate by constructing a huge smelter in Northern BC. They decided on Kitimat. In order to supply the huge amount of hydropower needed for the smelter, a generating station had to be built. The answer was Kemano. A twin transmission line would be constructed over 8o km of snowy mountain peaks.
Finally the plans called for a powerhouse; inside Mount Dubose because the military planners wanted to be sure that in case of war the production of electricity would be safe.
In 1951 the precursor of todays CSIS discovered some documents that indicated that Moscow planned to totally destroy the powerhouse in 1954. They did not want to inflict merely some damage during the construction period but by destroying the power supply a few months after the Smelter was in full production, hundreds of workers would lose their job. Kitimat would become a ghost town.
The RCMP took immediate action. 3 experienced undercover agents were sent to Kemano. Later it turned out that at least one dozen Communist agents had infiltrated the work force. After a few months one of the three RCMP agents got killed and a replacement was needed. I was summoned and asked whether I would be willing to replace the murdered agent. I did have the necessary qualification and at my age risk was not an issue (ambition was). I joined the two agents although I never met them personally - between 1952 and the end of 1953.
A few weeks before my return to Vancouver an attempt on my life failed - it merely intensified my investigation. During my stay at Kemano my work was done and I had the satisfaction of knowing that all of the saboteurs would be arrested and that the 1954 "dooms day" had been averted.
Should you decide to publish some of the above details - please feel free to do it.
Sincerest wishes for 2011 - for you and for Kitimat.
The Historical Record
Comment by Louise Avery, Museum Curator on 17th February 2011
Of note and in response to Mr. Schmidt's letter, some historical information is perhaps required here which may call into question some of his recollections. On the Kemano Project tunnel, a wildcat strike over wages and working conditions ran for two weeks in 1952. Morrison Knudsen (MK) fired all 280 strikers and escorted them out of Kemano with the assistance of the RCMP, but replacement workers refused to scab. Finally, MK met the strikerís demands. A charter was signed on August 14, 1952, and the Tunnel and Rock Workersí Union of British Columbia, Local 168 was formed. In those days of the Cold War, concerns were everywhere regarding Communism. Unions as socialist - for the people - were often targets of that fear. There is one good source, "Light at the End of the Tunnel" (1992), which recounts in detail this strike of 1952.