The town of Stewart, British Columbia, is located at the head of the 90 mile long Portland Canal, named, like so much of the Pacific Northwest, by the English explorer, George Vancouver, this time for the Duke of Portland. The word “Canal” is a holdover from the earlier Spanish, meaning “channel.” In fact, the Portland Canal is a natural fjord, supposedly the fourth longest in the world. Here’s a view from the channel’s terminus at Stewart, looking southwest in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. It is Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.
We arrived in Stewart mid-afternoon Tuesday and set up in the Bear River RV Park, just outside of town. After Vancouver’s visit in 1793, the upper reaches of the Portland Canal were not explored again by Europeans or Americans for over 100 years when, in 1896, it was explored by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crew. Two years later, gold was discovered in the area and in 1902, the Stewart brothers arrived. But the original settlement here was not named for them at the time. It was given the name Portland City and soon became a bustling port with a population of around 10,000. By the 1920s there was a sawmill, a power plant, hotels and regular shipping services. While there is still an active timber operation here…
… it was mining that brought so many people north, specifically, copper, silver and gold. At one time, there were more than 150 properties being worked in the area.
The town is now a mere shadow of its earlier glory days with a population of fewer than 500 people living here year-round. Here’s the main street, 5th Avenue, on a busy afternoon.
The original town of Portland City was mainly built on pilings out in the harbor in order to reach the deeper waters. We drove around to the northwestern side, from which I took this photo, looking back into Stewart:
And here’s a view from the same vantage point, looking the other way toward the distant Pacific:
Continuing around the harbor’s northwest side, we came to the southernmost and easternmost settlement in Alaska – Hyder, population 87 in 2010. What? Alaska already?
The United States purchased the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867 and, in the process, inherited a border dispute with the United Kingdom over the boundary between Alaska and Canada that was finally resolved by arbitration in 1903 with the Portland Canal being agreed upon as the dividing line, thus resulting in the splitting of the Portland community into two towns: Stewart in Canada and Hyder in Alaska. The residents on the U.S. side had wanted to retain the name of Portland City, but the U.S. Post Office Department said there were already too many Portlands in the United States, so the town was named, ironically, for Frederick Hyder, a Canadian mining engineer. There is still a post office in Hyder with service twice per week via seaplane pickup.
We noticed a common theme during our drive around Hyder: many of the “buildings” have double roofs, that is, pole barns erected over the roof of the main living quarters, like you see above with the post office. I suppose this is done to support the heavy snowfall they get here. The two residences in the photo, below, are actually on opposite sides of the street, but I think they would be more functional and pleasing to the eye if they were next to each other like I have photoshopped them:
We drove from Hyder out past the pilings that are the remnants of the original settlement of Portland City where I took this photo looking back toward Stewart:
In between the photos in this post of Stewart and Hyder, we drove the entire length of the Granduc Road (70 miles, round-trip) that was the access to the majority of the mines in this area, the subject of my next post. From the above causeway, we drove back to Stewart.
There is no border control going from Canada (Stewart) into Alaska (Hyder), but there is one going the other way, as you can see in the photo, below. Judging from the signs on the American side, I’m guessing there’s a lingering resentment over the 1903 Alaska-Canada border settlement.