Homecoming History: Roots of a mining town

Accounts of local history often begin in 1927, the year Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co., Limited (HBM&S) and Flin Flon were founded courtesy of the Flin Flon ore body.

In actual fact, the area’s history – and the events necessary for the eventual formation of Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach – date back further.

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Amisk Lake, situated along present-day Denare Beach, has at least two important historical stories to tell.

The serene lake has been utilized since the days of the Canadian fur trade. In the 1950s, explorers Harry Moody and Tom Welsh journeyed to the north side of Amisk Lake, where they found artifacts such as steel-bladed scissors and metal utensils.

Moody saw this as evidence that the famed fur-trading Frobisher brothers had set up a winter camp there in
1774-75. He later helped discover the actual site of Fort Henry Frobisher, an independent British post.

Saskatchewan’s first gold-rush mining town was located on the southern shore of Amisk Lake, within driving distance of present-day Denare Beach.

Beaver City, as the town was known, was established in 1914. Early residents lived in a row of tents and stayed nourished thanks to a couple of adjacent cookhouses. One imagines a cold, lonely existence for these pioneers.

While Beaver City was practically a ghost town within four years, the dollars and excitement it generated captured the imagination of prospectors during the heady days of the 1910s.

Tom Creighton, a prospector from rural Ontario, and his partners had discovered the Beaver City deposit. Creighton’s decision to remain in the area after the Beaver City mine opened would prove auspicious.

The year was 1915. As the familiar account goes, Creighton’s group registered two claims on land in northern Manitoba. It was the Flin Flon ore body.

David Collins, a Métis trapper from Bakers Narrows outside present-day Flin Flon, is acknowledged to have shown Creighton the claim. Collins is said to have received only several dollars’ worth of flour, lard and tea as compensation.

Collins’ granddaughter, Emilia McNichol, later told The Reminder that Collins regretted taking Creighton to the claim. At the end of his life, Collins was deeply concerned about the environmental impact of the “black smoke” produced by the eventual mine’s smelter.

Development of the Flin Flon ore body proved slower than Creighton would have liked. Elsewhere, two other prospectors experienced rapid success with their find.

In the fall of 1915, Fred Jackson and Sidney Reynolds were on a prospecting trip near present-day Flin Flon. While on a small peninsula on Schist Lake, they discovered an outcrop 35 feet wide over a lens of solid chalcopyrite.

Jackson quickly travelled to The Pas to register the copper claims. Exploration was soon underway with the first diamond drill to break ground in Manitoba. The results were encouraging.

At the time, the ore was the richest discovered in North America. And because of the First World War, the price of copper was high.

The property was christened the Mandy mine. With machinery hauled in from The Pas, mining at the site began in January 1916.

The book Flin Floncaptured the ambitious spirit behind the Mandy mine development: “The story of Mandy Mine was one of ingenuity beyond the ordinary resources of man in those early days, however, the urgent need for copper to fulfill the requirements of production in military equipment was sufficient to initiate preparations for surface mining of the promising property.”

Considered Manitoba’s first important producer of metals, Mandy mine was incredibly labour intensive. Ore was transported by horse and wagon to Sturgeon Landing, Saskatchewan, then on to barges to The Pas and finally by rail to a smelter in Trail, BC.

Mandy mine closed in 1920 following what the Manitoba Historic Resources Branch called a “brief but spectacular success.” This contributed greatly toward interest in developing the region’s natural resources.

Back at the Flin Flon
ore body, Tom Creighton and his partners waited a long time to see their claims become a mining and smelting operation.

A group employed by the wealthy Whitney family of New York optioned the site. Following feasibility testing that included construction of a pilot mill, HBM&S was incorporated on December 27, 1927 to mine the Flin Flon ore body.

Work pushed ahead to prepare the mine and processing plant for a 1930 production start. As Hudbay recounts: “The early years [saw] a frenzy of activity. As well as the sinking of mine shafts, development [included] the building of a concentrator, copper smelter and zinc refinery.”

Life in early Flin Flon was something out of a frontier novel. As Flin Flon recounts: “In 1927, just when the mining company was being organized, recreation at Flin Flon consisted of such spontaneous activities as gambling, and dancing. Since males far outnumbered females in camp, the cook shack was often the scene of men dancing together or alone, hoping for their turn to dance with one of the ladies. This recreation was valued by the workers who laboured ten hours a day, seven days a week.”

 

 

What’s in a name?

An oft-discussed aspect of the Flin Flon mine, even in the early days, was the name itself.

Flin Flon? What on earth do these two unusual words, joined together to form an unusual name, mean?

As many locals know, the name was borrowed from the protagonist of a paperback novel, The Sunless City by
J.E. Preston Muddock.

In the book, Flintabbatey Flonatin – or Flin Flon for short – pilots a submarine through a bottomless lake. Upon passing through a hole lined with gold, he discovers a strange underground world.

Prospector Tom Creighton is said to have found a copy of The Sunless City in the wilderness. In 1915, he and his prospecting party staked a large ore body that would become the basis of a new community.

They were reminded of how the lake near the discovery appeared bottomless, so they named the new ore body after Flintabbatey Flonatin.

The community surrounding the eventual Flin Flon mine took on the name as well. To this day, Flin Flon is believed to be the only community in the world named after a science-fiction character.

 

Look what you started

Hockey runs as deep in Flin Flon as the veins of minerals that first brought prospectors north of the 53rd parallel.

In early 1927, an amateur hockey team known simply as Flin Flon hit the (outdoor) ice.

The Flin Flon Bombers website summarizes this development succinctly: “It all began for a little fun and local area competition. Ice hockey, outdoors with some other surrounding teams. I am sure that back then they had no idea of what they were starting.”

The Flin Flon hockey club was formed to compete for northern honours in the sport. Managed by prospector Tom Creighton, the team enjoyed early success by capturing the Ross Hockey Shield for 1927-28.

The team would later take on other names, including the Kopper Kings, before donning that familiar exploding B as the Flin Flon Bombers, who 90 years later are still capturing the hearts of hardy northern hockey fans.

© Copyright Flin Flon Reminder

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