Few signs of native occupation of this district remain today. However, it is known that the Nass River Natives used to hunt and pick berries in this area. The Native term for the head of the Portland Canal was "Skam-A-Kounst" which roughly translated means "safe house" and probably refers to a place they could retreat to when the fierce Haida's invaded their villages.
In 1896 David Du Bose Gaillard, (after whom the Gaillard cut in the Panama Canal was later named) explored the Portland Canal for the US Army Corps of Engineers. He built four stone storehouses, which were probably the first masonry buildings erected in Alaska.
Two years later, after Gaillard's expedition, a large group of prospectors arrived from Seattle bound for the Nass headwaters. The venture was a failure, however, one man, DJ Rainey stayed and did further prospecting in the Stewart area. Before long, he was joined by other settlers and in 1902 the two brothers, Robert M and John W Stewart came to settle and develop a town which was to be called after them. Hyder was first called Portland City and then renamed Hyder after a geologist, F.B. Hyder.
Stewart, as a gateway to incredible mineral wealth, 2 miles away from Hyder was soon to take on the appearance of a boom town. In 1906, gold seekers came to discover the vast mineral wealth. By 1910 there was a full main street of stores, including four blocks, a population of 10,000 - 4 steamers a week, two very large wharves, 4 newspapers, many hotels and every kind of business. However, Stewart's dreams of expansion and of establishing permanent port facilities at the terminus of a transcontinental Canadian Railway never materialized. Due to economic strife and the war years, Stewart shrank and the population dropped to as low as 17 people. In 1919 The Stewart-Hyder area came into prominence with the discovery of the enormous and fabulously rich Premier gold and silver mine. During the next decade the Big Missouri Mine was staked, prospected and producing, as was also the Riverside Mine. However, in 1929 the crash, followed by WWII spelled doom for several large mining operations. Mining continued and the whole area is dotted with numerous mines. The Big Missouri Mine suspended its operations during the 2nd WW and finally closed down in 1948. The huge Premier Mine closed down in the early 1950's.
A road cut in the hillside links Stewart to Hyder, Alaska. Most of the town has been destroyed by 1928 fires, and due to the decrease in population little re-building has been done. Today only the thousands of pilings over the tide flats, on which much of the town was built, remains as an indication of Hyder in its early days.
Although it had been prospected back in the 1930's, it was not until the late 1950's that the massive ore body of copper was developed at what was to become the Granduc Mine. In 1964 the Granduc Mining Company undertook to drive a tunnel 11 miles (17.6 km long) the longest tunnel in the world driven from one end to provide access to its Leduc Copper ore body. In 1965 an avalanche occurred on the Leduc Camp where men were working on the tunnel. Mountains of snow roared down killing 27 men and wiped out the camp. However, work from the opposite side of the tunnel resumed and in 1968 it was completed and production commenced. This again revitalized Stewart and many new homes were built and workers came into the town. Again owing to a depressed world market, the mine was again hit with severe cutbacks.
The following extract is taken from an early settler's first impression of Stewart just after World War 1: "To me it was a wonderful sight, coming as I did from a city to such a peaceful spot. I arrived by steamer to make my home in this small mining town of Northern British Columbia. So small it was barely on the map, a pretty little place, very much in its wild state, surrounded by snow capped mountains with only the Canal as an opening to the outside world and being a new vision of God's country. It was slowly being built up by the various people who came to try their luck, most of whom were interested in mining which was the principle asset and the little place was proud of its old timers who had come and gone predicting great summits for it's future."