by J.D.Arthur and J.D. Munson
When Tom Creighton sank his pickax into an outcropping on the shores of Ross Lake in the spring of 1915, the crazy prospector couldn't have been in a better place to find an ore body...or a worse place to put a city.
Creighton's discovery turned out to be one of the richest mineral finds in Canadian history, and it let to the construction of the largest copper mine in Manitoba.
The find also signalled the birth of Flin Flon, a city nestled on the Saskatchewan border about 850 kilometers from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Creighton's great discovery, followed in the late 1920's by the building of a mine and smelter, brought thousands of people North to face the challenge of "mining life".
The most daunting of their tasks - and still a challenge for Flin Flonians today - was building a city on the formidable rocks that were so alluring to the first prospectors.
Because there were few roads and few automobiles in the fledgling mining town, the first settlers squatted with in walking distance of the main mine shaft. Homes and businesses clung side-by-side on the rocks. Since nobody wanted to tunnel and blast through all that rock to put in sewer and water lines, above ground lines were the only logical way to go.
Soon after, long boxes encasing the necessary pipes laced the landscape, connecting each building to the main lines. The boxes were filled with wood shavings for insulation, but that wasn't enough to keep them from freezing by mid-winter in the harsh northern climate. The solution was to pump heated water through them, starting the beginning of December and continuing until April. It was an expensive proposition, but many of the lines still remain, adding to Flin Flon's frontier flavour today.
The town's population exploded following World War II, and as it's borders expanded, careful planning and better terrain eliminated the need for sewer boxes, in recent years many of the uptown sections have been rerouted underground.
A few of the original home-builders blasted full basements out of the landscape, but more often than not they'd just build around the natural hazards. To this day, it's not uncommon to open a basement door in a downtown Flin Flon home and come face-to-face with an outcropping. Homeowners have been known to chip away at their private rockfaces, carrying out the granite in hundreds upon hundreds of five-gallon pails as they carve out a new den or recreation room.
Because Flin Flon is in the heart of Northern Manitoba's lake country, city contractors must also deal with standing water hazards. Some basement in the newer areas of town, once in the middle of a swamp were dug with a dragline and back-filled with waste rock from the mine.
Travellers arriving in Flin Flon via Manitoba's Highway 10 are treated to spectacular scenery in many places as sheer rock rises up alongside a road blasted through solid bedrock.
There are other rock based challenges: Flin Flonians must bolt their utility poles to the bedrock instead of digging holes. And somehow they create lush lawns on top of bare rock. But every new day brings a new challenge to the people who live in The City Built on Rock.
The history of Flin Flon and the surrounding region is steeped in romantic adventure, as the entire area was settled by men and women in search of their fortunes in gold.
In 1910, a group of prospectors found gold in quartz veins on the west side of Amisk Lake. Members of this group were Jack and Dan Mosher, Thomas Creighton, and Leon and Isidor Dion - names that appear repeatedly in the history of the region. This deposit led to the development of the Prince Albert Mine that operated in 1937 and again from 1940 to 1942.
By 1913, people were coming from all over Canada to make their fortunes. This was the first major discovery of gold west of the Ontario border since the Klondike gold rush. More than a thousand men, and even two women, came to stake claims. The 'town' which sprang up was called Beaver City, and consisted of a row of tents and log cabins, as well as two cookhouses capable of feeding two hundred men at a time. Commercial fishing was also started on Amisk Lake in 1913. Freight was hauled by York Boat in the summer and by sleigh in the winter.
World War 1 and a subsequent outbreak of Spanish influenza contributed to the demise of Beaver City. When war broke out in 1914, one man was left as caretaker of Beaver City. After three years of looking after a deserted town, Angus McDonald was given the town as payment. Roderick McDermott is the last known surviving resident of the Beaver City settlement. Mr. and Mrs. McDermott still reside in Denare Beach.
Gold prospecting continued through 1914 and 1915. In 1915, Creighton, the Moshers and the Dions discovered the massive Flin Flon copper-zinc orebody and prospecting shifted from gold to base metals. The complex mineralogy of the deposit inhibited its development until the Mandy Mine was established along Flin Flon Lake in 1915. Eventually, the Mandy Mine became profitable and busy enough that no one returned to the gold claims. The community of Flin Flon came into existence as Beaver City disappeared.
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