Three decades of Trout Lake memories relived

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Jonathon Naylor Editor The sun shone brightly and warmly. Children squealed in energetic delight. Hot dogs sizzled on the smoky grill. The ambiance was a far cry from the foreboding tunnels and rather modest offices to which the workers of Trout Lake Mine had grown accustomed. But that was the point as past and present employees gathered, perhaps one last time, to pay homage to the now-closed mine. 'It was a good place to work,' said Karen Yeo, one of about 250 people who gathered for a farewell barbecue at the Rotary Wheel this past Sunday, July 8. 'It was like a big family. For me it was like having a ton of big brothers.' The barbecue was a cordial affair as music blared and kids played in a bouncy house and whisked down an inflatable slide. A dunk tank saw Hudbay officials, as well as union official Blair Sapergia, drop down in a massive splash as baseballs struck an activation lever. Inside the Rotary Wheel, food and beverages were served as guests glanced over an array of historical photos from Trout Lake's 30-year run. Nostalgia For Larry Willerton, who was at the mine for 27 years before retiring in 2008, it was an afternoon of much nostalgia. 'When I went out there they always said we had five to seven years of mine life,' he said. 'But an old friend of mine...who was a geologist at the time told me I was going to retire there, so basically I stuck to that theory and I did retire there.' Willerton operated a 'jumbo', a machine used to drill holes in the ground that would be blasted away. Later in his career, he trained employees. Willerton recalls not only a close-knit environment, but also the global tonnage records workers set for mechanized mining. He said he and his coworkers were aided by the latest in mechanical technology. 'We kind of got all the goodies at the beginning because it was such a magnitude of a mine,' Willerton said. Of course no one ever took their eye off of safety, something Don Logan knows well. Long retired, he spent 17 years as a development miner at Trout Lake, several of them on the safety committee. 'It was pretty (good) as far as safety,' said Logan, now in his 70s. 'I had a few close calls, (but) most miners in time have the odd close call.' Perhaps it was the inherent dangers of the job that helped draw the crew of Trout Lake together. Or perhaps it was something else. Yeo, who spent 12 years at Trout lake as a maintenance planner, recalled how workers would keep the atmosphere light by playing pranks on each other. See 'Every...' on pg. 11 Continued from pg. 6 'Everybody had a really casual demeanor, where you went to work and you had to have a little bit of fun,' she said. 'It wasn't totally serious.' Now transferred to Hudbay's engineering department, Yeo doubts the climate at Trout Lake will ever be duplicated. 'It was out kind of away from everybody else, and it was a small group that tended to stay,' she said, 'so you got to see the same people out there all the time, more so than other locations where you don't see those people all the time. 'When you leave there you really miss the people.' A key development in the history of Trout Lake had nothing to do with zinc or copper. In 2001, vacant space within the mine famously became home to Canada's first legal, large-scale marijuana grow-op. A Saskatoon-based firm, Prairie Plant Systems, grew the pot under a multimillion-dollar contract with Health Canada. Willerton said the landmark project caused no disruption that he could see, as it was far removed from areas of mining activity. At one point, Willerton trained the workers who grew and maintained the weed, though they departed in 2009 after a new lease agreement could not be hammered out. Trout Lake officially entered production just west of Flin Flon in December of 1981 and formally wrapped up on June 28 of this year. Discovery Granges Exploration Ltd. discovered the Trout Lake ore body in 1976 under the waters of Embury Lake, known locally as Trout Lake. A joint venture consisting of Granges, HBMS (now Hudbay), Manitoba Mineral Resources Ltd. and Outokumpu Oy formed to develop and mine the property. With HBMS designated as the mine operator, road construction to Trout Lake began in July 1980. The first round of the main decline was blasted in October of that year. Underground development and construction of the surface facilities proceeded simultaneously. Continual exploration repeatedly extended the life of the copper-zinc mine. Five years on, Trout Lake was still going strong. Then 10 years on. Then 20. In the 1990s, there was enough untapped potential at Trout Lake to warrant the paving of the road between the mine site and the Perimetre Highway. But in recent years it became clear Trout Lake's time was nearly over. There was talk of closure in 2011, but, in one last extension, operations stretched into the first half of 2012. Trout Lake ended its run as the third most successful mine in Hudbay history, behind the Flin Flon Mine and Leaf Rapids' Ruttan Mine. All told, it produced about 24.16 million tons. While more than 30 contractor jobs have been lost, Hudbay will not lay off any of its workers as a result of the Trout Lake closure.

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