East Coast railroad magnate Charles Melville Hays knew a good port when he spotted one, and in 1906 he staked out the western British Columbia community of Prince Rupert, its namesake being the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Co. Hays' vision was to use the deep, natural harbor he'd found in the wilderness just south of the Alaska Panhandle as an economic anchor for a grand city that would rival ports further south-such as San Francisco or Vancouver.
Hays worked quickly, completing the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Winnipeg, and employing a New York City firm to design and lay out the new city's street grid. Hays was a visionary who early in the century believed there was a huge future in trade between North America and Asia, and in 1912 he traveled to Europe to secure additional financing for his new port city.
Unfortunately, Hays booked return passage on the ill-fated White Star Line flagship Titanic. Survivors later celebrated Hays as being one of the few wealthy passengers who acted heroically, working to get women and children onto lifeboats. As the Titanic's fate became clear he refused a place in a lifeboat and perished, and was mourned across the continent.
Prince Rupert never lived up to Hays' grand plans as World War I and the Great Depression swept the town into the backwaters of the Canadian wilderness. The city's harbor saw limited use by the fishing, mining and timber industry. And during World War II, it was a major staging area for allied warships and merchant marine vessels.
Today, however, the modern Port of Prince Rupert is working hard to bring Hays' vision to life, thanks to exports of natural resources from Canada's north and west--and, more recently, imports of raw materials for manufacturing industries and steel plate for pipeline construction.
As the port's stylish Web site points out: "The shortest sea route between Asia and the U.S. Heartland is through the Port of Prince Rupert." Prince Rupert's harbor is also the deepest in North America, and its growth is tied in with the Canadian National railroad, which absorbed Hays' Grand Trunk railroad shortly before World War II.
For now, the Port of Prince Rupert's gaze is fixed on Asia. While these shipping lanes cut through the Aleutian Islands, there is little trade between the port and Alaska, said Eugene Ludwick, the port's vice president for marketing and development.
"Sometimes it's easier to ignore Alaska than it is to cooperate on waterborne trade. The...