50 years on, Flinty still an icon

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

article continues below

Jonathon Naylor Editor Like a member of the Queen's Guard, he stands silent, motionless, seemingly oblivious to everything around him as he gazes straight ahead. His right hand shields his line of vision from the sun, his left hand clenches a shovel. Red-rimmed glasses rest on a round nose, a light grey fedora crowning a bald head. With his wide, child-like eyes, feeble smile and clownishly big feet, his appearance falls somewhere between whimsical and downright farcical. And yet as awkward as he may look, he seems right at home. For five decades the Josiah Flintabattey Flonatin statue has been as a greeter of visitors, a delighter of children and a symbol of a city that exists only through the grace of luck. This year, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark statue affectionately known both near and afar as Flinty. 'Flinty is a big part of our identity,' said Tim Babcock, a city councillor who grew up here. 'No matter where you are, people recognize Flin Flon because of two things: the Flinty statue and the Bombers. He is a focal point of the community and an ambassador for our city.' Atop perch Constructed of fibreglass in 1962, Flinty stands 24 feet high atop his rock-lined concrete perch at the entrance of the Flin Flon Station Museum. He was the first visual depiction of Josiah Flintabattey Flonatin, the protagonist of The Sunless City, the novel that gave Flin Flon its unforgettable name. Legend has it that prospector Tom Creighton found a partial copy of the sci-fi novel in the woods. See 'Statue..' on pg.7 Continued from pg.1 When he went on to strike gold north of the 53rd parallel, the claim was named 'Flin Flon' in honour of Flonatin. Flin Flon historian Gerry Clark said physical descriptions of Flonatin in The Sunless City are vague enough that the statue could have taken on a different appearance. 'But the problem is, of course, we've all seen that caricature of Flinty, so it's pretty darn hard any longer to think of him as looking any other way,' Clark says. If the story of how Flin Flon got is name were not intriguing enough, the origins of the Flinty statue add a whole other layer of fascination. Somewhere around 1955 or 1956, a man working on a federal tourism strategy, John Fisher, visited Flin Flon. He had dreamt up the idea of a statue that would tell the story of how the community was named. No one took the bait until 1961, however, when local businessman Norm Tyson began promoting Fisher's idea. But who would design the statue? What would Flinty look like? Tyson took a gamble and asked one of the most famous cartoonists in the world, American Al Capp, to lend his artistic talents. While the artists behind today's comic strips stay largely behind the scenes, Capp's Li'l Abner had made him a big-time celebrity. He was profiled in Time magazine, spoke at universities and guest-hosted The Tonight Show. Against all odds, and after several attempts, Tyson made contact with Capp, who was so captivated by the offer that he couldn't help but oblige _ and at no charge. Next, money was needed. To that end, the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce and the Trout Festival Association helped raise $4,000. Reimer Displays of Winnipeg was soon hired to build the 15-ft. statue based on the Capp drawing. Before Tyson knew it, Flinty was on his way home aboard a large trailer. On June 29, 1962, as part of the opening ceremonies of the Trout Festival, officials formally unveiled the statue just off Highway 10A across from the Gateway Drive-in. Among the dignitaries were provincial Mines Minister C.H. Witney and C.P. Wood, an American who had been working on the original exploration camp at Flin Flon Lake in 1916. Capp's playful interpretation of Flinty _ pudgy and bespectacled with a loud green jacket _ quickly won over citizens. Photos and stories of the statue appeared in newspapers across North America. Capp passed away in 1979, but his legacy, of course, lives on. Interestingly his daughter, Julie Cairol, does not remember her father ever telling her about Flinty. But she said the story suits him to a tee. 'He was always delighted to participate in anything like that,' Cairol told The Reminder in 2009. Over the years Flinty became more than just a symbol of Flin Flon; he became a veritable tourist attraction. Each year dozens, perhaps hundreds, of visitors have their photo taken with Flinty. And he is one of the first stops whenever residents give out-of-town friends a tour of the community. Flinty is so synonymous with Flin Flon that his image has been part of logos for the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce and rec-league hockey teams. He has appeared on hats, t-shirts, figurines, postcards, souvenir spoons and collectable coins, and has even been used to sell fried chicken. The local post office has a special rubber stamp, bearing Flinty's likeness, used to cancel stamps on letters mailed from Flin Flon. It is used only at the customer's request. A Flinty costume, owned by the Chamber of Commerce, has been donned at a range of community events, including the treasured Trout Festival. Time took its toll on the statue itself. In 1989 it underwent extensive renovations and, amid some controversy, was relocated to an even higher perch at the museum entrance further east down Highway 10A. For former mayor Dennis Ballard, the statue conveys a positive message about Flin Flon. 'I think it maybe says that we're an easygoing people, that we're not all caught up in ourselves,' he said. 'People take themselves too damn seriously all the time and I think it says, 'Flin Flonners, we've got a little lightness in our hearts.'' Today, Flinty is again beginning to show his age. Patches of paint have worn away on his face, shoes and body, and rust is emerging on the rims of his glasses. At some point he will have to undergo another round of restoration work, but there are no firm plans as of yet. But physical flaws aside, Flinty is still Flin Flon's guardian, diligently watching over us. After 50 years, he remains an icon as unique as Flin Flon.

© Copyright Flin Flon Reminder


NOTE: To post a comment you must have an account with at least one of the following services: Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ You may then login using your account credentials for that service. If you do not already have an account you may register a new profile with Disqus by first clicking the "Post as" button and then the link: "Don't have one? Register a new profile".

The Flin Flon Reminder welcomes your opinions and comments. We do not allow personal attacks, offensive language or unsubstantiated allegations. We reserve the right to edit comments for length, style, legality and taste and reproduce them in print, electronic or otherwise. For further information, please contact the editor or publisher, or see our Terms and Conditions.

comments powered by Disqus

Summer POLL

Have you started making summer plans?

or  view results