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Ministry of Energy Mines and Responsible for Core Review

Coal in Northwestern British Columbia - An Overview

Paper 1986 - 5


by T.G. Schroeter, G.V. White and J. Koo

View Entire Paper (PDF, 4.3MB)

In coastal British Columbia coal was first discovered in 1835 at Suquash, on northwestern Vancouver Island, and shortly afterward at Nanaimo.  Later that century coal from the Queen Charlottes was used for fuel for steamers servicing the west coast of North America.  As railroads began to penetrate the northern interior of the province in the early 1900s, exploration for coal increased in anticipation of finding a commercial deposit close to the proposed rail route.  It was, in fact, the period between 1900 and 1912 which saw the most concerted and successful exploration for new coal deposits in northwestern British Columbia.  Coal exploration centered on the route of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway being built from Prince Rupert to Prince George, which passes through the Bulkley River Coalfield, and in the Groundhog Coalfield in anticipation of a railroad being built from Stewart approximately 200 kilometres to the coalfield to rival the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.  The Grand Trunk railway, forerunner of the Canadian National Railway, which runs from Prince Rupert to Hazelton, was completed in 1913. The Bulkley River Coalfield was at that time accessible by road from Hazelton. In 1918 the railway began using coal from Telkwa in its locomotives. Between 1918 and 1984, the Telkwa deposits saw intermittent production and nearly 447 890 tonnes total was produced (Table 1) for domestic uses from seven small underground mines and two small open pits. No other production from northwestern British Columbia has been recorded, and only limited coal quality data exist for many of the coal occurrences.

Promises of a railroad from Telegraph Creek to the Dease Lake goldfields during the Klondike gold rush prompted exploration and led to the discovery of several small coal occurrences in that area.

During the 1920s the demand for coal decreased because of the conversion of ships to fuel oil. This, however, was offset by a growing demand for domestic and industrial heating coal. By the late 1950s, railroads had converted completely to diesel, and domestic users to oil and natural gas; coal exploration in northwest British Columbia ceased. Thus most of the published inventories on coal in the northwest comes from information gathered prior to 1960.

Recent interest in the coalfields of northwestern British Columbia has resulted in successful exploration programs; significant new information on the Telkwa and Klappan coal deposits is now available. Crows Nest Resources Ltd. has outlined mineable reserves of 21 760 000 tonnes of high volatile A bituminous coal at Telkwa (Crows Nest Resources Ltd., 1985) and Gulf Canada Corp. has outlined inferred resources exceeding 1 billion tonnes of anthracite at Klappan (Gulf Canada Resources Inc., 1985).

Completion of the Ridley Island coal terminal at Prince Rupert in 1984, and the upgrading of the Canadian National Railway line between Prince George and Prince Rupert to transport coal from the northeast coal development have greatly enhanced transportation and handling services available in the northwest. 

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