Kitimat's municipal area spans some 242.63 km² (93.69 sq mi) by design — this area is one of the few locations on the Canadian Pacific coast that has substantial room for affordable growth. The city population in 2006 was 8,987 people and the community anchors the largest Northwest British Columbia population conjointly with the city of Terrace in the Kitimat Valley. Both urban centres are within the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine. Kitimat was designed and developed in the 1950s as the Provincial Government attracted Alcan to develop a world-scale hydro-electric facilities which would support one of the world's most power-intensive and sustainable industries of all time: the aluminum smelting industry. The company built a dam, 16 km (10 mi) tunnel, powerhouse, 82 km (51 mi) transmission line, a deep sea terminal and smelter. The company was also responsible for designing and constructing the city of Kitimat which did not exist prior to Alcan coming to British Columbia. The Kitimat Arm has been home to the Haisla First Nation for centuries prior to Alcan selecting the Kitimat Valley as its manufacturing centre and community base. The company was interested in creating a sustainable future for itself and used the services of an award-winning city planner Clarence Stein in order to ensure the community design could handle substantial future growth. Kitimat benefits today from this extraordinary planning and from its Garden City design concept. A number of important considerations were upheld by Stein: industry to remain well separated from the community with large areas for expansion; overall a small footprint for looped streets surrounding an urban City Centre Mall but linked by over 45 kilometres of walkways enabling connection to and from all areas of the community. The design by Stein also ensured substantial greenspace areas and future expansion concepts which have been upheld by the city planners. The fact that Kitimat's natural environment is a predominant feature cherished by citizens today is publicly acknowledged through community branding: Kitimat has been and will remain "A Marvel of Nature and Industry".
The name Kitimat is a Tsimshian reference to the Haisla First Nation "People of the Snow" who are the original inhabitants of the Kitimat Valley. The reference refers to the large annual snowfall found in coastal temperate climates.
Aluminum producer Alcan and Eurocan Pulp and Paper are the main employers in the municipality. Other core activities include the import of petrochemical products (Methanol and Condensate), metal fabrication and industrial engineering. Over $16 Billion in pending investment is proposed for Kitimat over the next decade including large and small scale green energy projects. This includes the Haisla Crab River/Europa Run-of-the-River Project, the Banks Island Wind Power Project, and the Kitimat LNG Gas Combined Cycle Plant to be developed in partnership with the Haisla on Haisla Industrial Development Lands at Bish Cove. Additional developments planned include the Kitimat Port Development project which features world-class break-bulk port facilities and Alcan's US$1.8 billion expansion and upgrade of its Kitimat aluminum plant to 400,000 tons/yr. Important trade related projects that are essential to Canadian energy markets that have identified Kitimat as the strategic gateway for energy trade include Pacific Northern Gas's Pacfic Trail Pipeline, Enbridge's Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan's Northern Leg Pipeline. The latter two may or may not be in competition with one another. Additionally, Pembina Pipelines are assessing a line that would carry important products to Alberta that are necessary for the massive Oilsand expansion projects that generate Canadian Oil Exports.
Although the time was not appropriate to undertake the project, Alcan decided to wait until the post-World War II boom, when light metals were coming into demand.
In the 1950s, after signing the agreement with the British Columbia government for land and water rights, Alcan undertook arguably one of the most ambitious Canadian engineering projects of the 20th century. The project required, not only the damming and reversal of the Nechako River drainage basin. It also included boring a 16 km (10 mi) tunnel straight through Mt. Dubose to the generating station, also built into Mt. Dubose.
The large volume of electricity produced in Kemano is transported 80 km (50 mi) across mountains via a custom built twin circuit transmission line. While the line was under construction so too was the future town of Kitimat.
All the construction undertaken by Alcan came out totaling around 500 million dollars, which today would be worth around 3.3 billion dollars. The construction included the employment of over 35,000 workers during the 5 years it took to build the dam. It also included a small community at Kemano, the 250,000 tons per year aluminum smelter, a deep sea port that had to be open year-round, a complete townsite built to house 50,000 people and a highway to connect the city of Kitimat to the outside world.
As a result of this large project, other companies also saw the potential of the area and so industry developed further in the Kitimat valley.
The Provincial Government of British Columbia had performed extensive evaluations of the potential for hydroelectric generating capacity late in the 1920s, identifying the Eutsuk/Ootsa/Nechako drainage basin as a potential for creating a sizable reservoir. Unable to finance the development, the government sought a private industry to underwrite the construction and development of power generation. The Aluminum Company of Canada was interested in the project, since smelting aluminum is an energy intensive process. The company was not in a position to take on the project until after the Second World War, when the post war demand for light metals made the expenditure viable.
In the 1950s, after signing an agreement with the British Columbia government for property and water rights, Alcan undertook the Kitimat/Kemano Project, the damming and reversal of the Nechako River drainage basin. It was arguably one of the most ambitious engineering projects of the 20th century, because it required not only the construction of Kenney Dam, but also the boring of a 16 km (10 mi) long tunnel straight through Mt. Dubose of the Coast Mountains to the generating plant which was also built into the mountain.
The power generated was delivered to the newly constructed smelter located at the mouth of the Kitimat River, approx. 80 km (50 mi) across the mountains, carried by twin transmission lines. Further up the Kitimat River, the townsite of Kitimat was carved out of the old growth forest. The company invested over 500 million dollars and employeed over 35,000 workers over the five years required to build an earthen dam, a hydroelectric generating station inside the mountain, followed by a small community at Kemano, a 250,000 tpy aluminum smelter, a deepwater port open year round, a complete townsite designed for a population of 50,000 and a paved highway to the outside world. The project opened the northwest to heavy industry and provided substantial employment and growth opportunities. As a result of Alcan's project in Kitimat, other industry has developed in the Kitimat valley.
The project was a marvel of the time, setting innumerable records and changing the face of the province, but it was not without its controversies. Aboriginal groups, farmers and residents of the Nechako lakes district as well as politicians have long opposed the contractual release of provincial resources with the proceeds going to a Corporation. Many individuals and groups protested the flooding caused by the creation of the new reservoir, with the destruction of homesteads, villages, burial grounds and millions of board feet of prime timber, as well as the disruption of prime fish habitat on the Nechako and Fraser rivers. The City of Kitimat is currently in court proceedings with the major employer of the community.
In the late 1980s, the company began work on Kemano Completion Project which would have doubled the generating capacity of the reservoir system. The Provincial Government of the day called a halt to the project for a variety of reasons, Alcan had already bored a second tunnel through the mountain and extended the generating station within the mountain. With an investment of over 500 million in the project, the company and government went to court. Alcan eventually settled with the government by signing the 1997 KCP agreement.
In the near future, Alcan's modernization project will increase production from 250,000 MT/Yr to 400,000 MT/Yr.