Suquash (Fort Rupert)South east of Port Hardy
Northern Vancouver Island’s first substantial European settlement came with the establishment of the coal mine at Suquash, and the subsequent development of the townsite at nearby Fort Rupert. Discovered in the early 1800s, the coalfield brought the Hudson’s Bay Company to the north island, and in 1849 a coal mine was established in Suquash, and a fort was built in what is now called Fort Rupert. The mine closed and was re-opened in 1908, and operated until the start of WWII. The focus in Fort Rupert then switched from mining to air combat, as the largest airfield on the north island was constructed next to the town. Post war, Fort Rupert adopted the typical north-island fishing/logging economy while continuing to provide support to the large airport nearby.
SettlementCoordinates: 50°38’22”N 127°14’54”W
Fort Rupert was and still is a historic Kwaqu’l (Kwakiutl) village by the name of Tsaxis with evidence of occupation reaching back as far as 6000 BCE. Coal was discovered in the adjacent area in 1849 and the Hudson’s Bay Company made the decision to open a coal mine in the area. A fort was established in present day Fort Rupert, as the harbour offered excellent shelter for ships, while still being adjacent to the Suquash coal field. The mine came online in 1851, but by 1852 Robert Dunsmuir had discovered the far superior coal seam in Nanaimo, and the HBC shut down operations in Fort Rupert in order to direct its attention to Nanaimo
Though the HBC pulled out of Fort Rupert, it left behind a contingency of workers at the Fort, due both to their investment in the location, and to its strategic site for possible future development on the north coast. In 1908, the coal mine resumed operations, this time under command of a private company, and the largest seam was almost fully exploited. As WWI came, many men left to join the war effort, and once again, operations were scaled back. By the 1930s the mine was largely in disuse, and any hope of restarting extraction ended with the start of WWII, when Fort Rupert was chosen for a large air base. RCAF Port Hardy operated out of the base from 1939 until the end of the war, and the airport continues to be used, as it is the largest airport north of Campbell River. Though many proposals to restart coal mining in the Suquash fields have been floated since the end of the Second World War, there has been no further development of the coalfields.
Fort Rupert continues to be a small, but generally stable community, with an elementary school, the Port Hardy Airport, a hotel, and several small businesses. The decreasing trend in resource extraction has shrunk the community to a degree, and airport traffic in and out of the Port Hardy airport is far less than its historic high. There is still a substantial First Nations community, Tsaxis, in Fort Rupert, and a company founded in the First Nation is currently exploring the idea of attempting to restart coal or other mineral extraction.