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Now and Then: Shake, rattle and boom - remembering the days of uptown blasts

Living in Flin Flon in the 1940s and 1950s era was a blast - figuratively and literally. There were, of course, the regular underground blasting procedures that go with any hard rock mine including the regular 5 p.m.
hospital
The addition to the Flin Flon General Hospital under construction in fall 1951, showing the rock cut and air compressor in the lower right corner. - PHOTO COURTESY FLIN FLON HERITAGE PROJECT

Living in Flin Flon in the 1940s and 1950s era was a blast - figuratively and literally.

There were, of course, the regular underground blasting procedures that go with any hard rock mine including the regular 5 p.m. underground dynamite blasts that gave the Uptowners a bit of a shake. Only mining town kids can tell the tales of the warning sirens and the mighty whump of a massive dynamite charge deep in the bowels of the Precambrian rock. Cool!

There was another element of blasting that came to be a normal way of life for those of us living Uptown - near Main Street. This area is literally built on the great escarpment of the oldest and hardest rock on the planet. Thus, any new construction usually required – you guessed it - drilling and blasting and more drilling and blasting.

The arc of time in the early ‘50s gave our family an opportunity to witness and, in my mother’s case, endure many long summers of sound that would tend to drive one - shall we say - around the bend.

Our little house was located across the street from what was to become the new addition to the general hospital. This was a major drill cut into the greenstone that can be witnessed even today by the length and width of the new hospital addition that faces Church Street.

The construction of the hospital first required the removal of the St. Ann’s Church manse and a house that belonged to Mrs. Howatt. Done. Then, it was time to bring in the noisemakers.

Back in the day, the process was to have a gang of men operate the diamond bit drills that bored vertically into the rock to create “charge holes” for the dynamite that would then be wired to the plunger for the big moment of “boom”.

Actually, there is more to the process of noise than that. The drills operated under compressed air, which was provided by a nearby diesel powered air compressor. Somehow, the manufacturers of this device forgot to provide an effective muffler. Thus the roar went on undiminished while it merrily provided the pressure to give voice to the drills which rattled against the greenstone.

Despite the racket, this was a great time for us Church Street kids, as we could watch the progress of the drilling (not that exciting for today’s kids, who are used to staring at screens). The real fun for the kids came with the preparation for blasting. We’d watch as the sticks of dynamite were fused with blasting caps and dropped into the drill holes. All the charges were linked by wire to the plunger which we’ve all seen in the western movies when the bad guys - sorry, let’s not get off track.

The next step would be to witness the laying of the heavy woven steel-cable mats on the blast site. This was to prevent having rock shards flying off in all directions.

Now, the big moment - the plunging of the plunger.

Were the residents given warning? No. Were the kids told to clear out? No. We just stood around and watched the action as the foreman cleared the site and…down went the plunger followed by a series of muffled whumps. Dust would fly and the heavy mats would lift a foot or two into the air. Houses would shake and teacups would rattle in the kitchen cupboards.

Then, it was back to the ordinary tasks of lifting the mats, bulldozing the rubble into trucks and then unmercifully starting up that roaring beast of an air compressor. Back to the rattling racket of the drills for another cycle of creating charge holes.

All things good and bad must come to an end and the racket finally subsided late into the summer. My mother was relieved - for the winter, at least. For it was the following year that the new post office was to be built across the back lane from our little house-on-the-side-of-a-rock on Church Street. More drilling and blasting. Mother said it was time to pack the suitcases and take the train south to the farm for the summer. That was cool too.

Got any comments or reflections on this column? Contact Vincent at vincent.murphy@sasktel.net.