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Can Bitcoin Save a Canadian Ghost Town?

The Canadian mill town of Ocean Falls on British Columbia’s central coast has seen its population shrink from 5,000 to just a handful of residents, becoming a ghost town, but Bitcoin mining might be bringing back the good old days.

Ocean Falls is a community on the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada. Formerly a large company town owned by Crown Zellerbach, it is only accessible via boat or seaplane, and is home for a few dozen full-time residents, with the seasonal population upwards of 100.

It became the classic tumbleweed ghost town of western movies after the paper mill which supported a buzzing small community, finally shut down in the late 1970s, seeing the town’s population desert Ocean Falls for more lucrative prospects.

Since then it’s remained home to a few, only buoyed by some seasonal interest during a few months in the Canadian summer. But that’s changing. From this summer, sounds began to emanate from the old deserted mill; the first heard in almost half a century. These were not the buzz of a saw though, but the distant hum of electricity; the sound of Bitcoins being created.

Ocean Falls has now become home to a mini Bitcoin mining industry, utilizing the dam which used to provide the mill’s 13 MW of power, enough also to power the two nearby towns of Bella Bella and Shearwater. The electricity was always more than enough to supply the power needed for the three towns, so now the surplus is being put to good use.

The idea was the brainchild of Kevin Day, a crypto enthusiast who first came across the name Ocean Falls watching a documentary in the State capital of Vancouver eight years back. His newly acquired interest in crypto later drove him to consider mining Bitcoin, and the ghost town came to mind once again.

Day started up the company Ocean Falls Blockchain (OFB), telling his investors he would be buying 6 MW of energy from Boralex, the private utility that owns the dam, by the end of 2018, bringing in about USD 5.7 million in annual revenue from the Bitcoins created. Plans were to then expand out from Ocean Falls with predictions that OFB would have over 17,500 Bitcoin mining units by 2012 by increasing its energy consumption to 30 MW of power.

In true Canadian pioneering spirit, Day shipped in hundreds of Bitmain Antminer S9 mining units and a half ton transformer, transported from Vancouver by truck, then barged up the river the rest of the way. He then constructed his lab using the paper mill complex as an operations area then installed huge fans for cooling. The project was born and the mill brought back to life.

It’s unlikely that a handful of computer operators will bring the old town back but there is life in the place now. Keith Cockell, son of one of the original dam operators in the 1950s and 1960s, is back in town and doing his father’s job now. He likes what he sees:

“There’s been a lot of years where we’ve been waiting for someone to come along… the day we fired up, the miners started going, there was the humming, and I said to Kevin, “It’s a good feeling seeing that extra power being used”.”

Toni Ziganash, who runs a boarding house from the old bank building in town, would love to see a local economy bringing back the public:

“We have a very ageing population here, and when I say ageing, that means 70 and up. So there’s not a lot of energy. There’s not a lot of enthusiasm for anything new, to tell you the truth… So I would just like to attract some younger people to come in.”

Day pulled his server’s switches in July. It remains to be seen what awaits Ocean Falls, and if this could be the start of something special, revitalizing an economy frozen in time.

 

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