’59 Trail, Part Six


The ’59 Trail.
The ’59 Trail,
Unknown artist
Newspapers.com, reproduced with permission

Part 6 of my uncle, John Alldridge’s 1959 report from Canada’s Far North for the Birmingham Mail – Jerry F

Flin Flon, North Manitoba

This is a country where hard fact and fantastic fiction are often partners.

One day in 1914 a party of prospectors set out from The Pas to look for gold in the wilderness.

There were five of them: all young, keen, incredibly tough and incredibly patient. Their leader was Tom Creighton.

They had been out there for some weeks without sighting another human when, following a game trail for food one night, they came across a paperback novel left by some unknown wanderer.

The title of the book was “The Sunless City.” The author was an Englishman, J. E. Preston-Muddock. And it told of the hair-raising experiences of a gay adventurer called, incredibly, Josiah Flintabbety Flonatin ‘Flin Flon’ to his friends — who built himself a submarine and descended into a bottomless lake.

He found himself in an underground world where gold was so common that the people of that world – who came equipped with tails and were unmercifully bossed by their womenfolk — regarded it as so much junk.

For months “The Sunless City” was all the reading they had on the trail. They read it and re-read it until they knew it backwards: and until old Flin Flon became like one of the family.

There was just one thing that annoyed the prospectors — the last few pages of the book had been torn out. So they never did find where old Flin Flon emerged into the light of day again.

A year later those same five prospectors were working a claim a hundred miles north of The Pas. In the middle of it was a cone-shaped hole that widened out to about ten feet across at the top.

Jack Mosher, panning out a spadeful of dirt from the hole, saw gold winking up at him and came whooping over to Tom Creighton. Tom observed dryly that this must be the very place where old Flintabbety made his escape.

Jerry F, Going Postal
Tom Creighton.
Tom creighton, discoverer of Flin Flon Mine,
Unknown photographer
Newspapers.com, reproduced with permission

Then Tom had his great idea. When they registered the claim why shouldn’t they honour their old friend and call the strike “Fin Flon”?

They did. And that is why the flourishing township of Flin Flon can claim to be the only town in the world to be named after a character in a book.

Tom Creighton’s share in that fabulous strike was worth a quarter of a million dollars. “Fabulous” is the only word. For since that lucky day the mine Tom discovered has produced more than 680 million dollars worth of metal. Not the gold which he came looking for (although 106,000 ounces of refined gold were extracted last year) but high-grade zinc and copper besides sizeable amounts of cadmium and selenium and silver.

Last year 119 million pounds of slab zinc and 91 million pounds of refined copper went away from here on the thousand-mile trip by railway across to Montreal.

With copper selling at 25 dollars an ounce that is an awful lot of dollars. Enough, anyway, to satisfy a growing town of 14,000 which can claim one of the highest incomes per head of any town in Canada.

I can’t think of a town with a worse site than Flin Flon. It is bald, bare, rock, most of it. And the houses in the older part of the town —which is barely 30 years old — are built wherever room can be found for them to cling.

You go upstairs to the front doors. For many are built on stilts. And since pipes can’t be drilled into the rock, water and sewage is carried away in covered wooden “sluice-boxes” running downhill, which have to be heated in winter to keep them from freezing solid.

As for roads well, to quote the mayor, an energetic young haberdasher called Frank Dembinsky: “We don’t build roads in Flin Flon—we blast ’em.”

Jerry F, Going Postal
Main Street, Flin Flon toda.
Main Street in Flin Flon,
Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Flin Flon depends on its mine and on its minerals. And the mine depends on Flin Flon. These must be some of the most-favoured miners in the world. I never met one who didn’t drive to work in his own car and rent his own summer cabin.

They work hard – there are no time clocks. And they play hard, too.

In summer there are ten-pound trout to be picked out of the lake (anything under ten pounds they throw back!) and in winter a steam-heated ice-hockey rink.

Last winter when the Flin Flon Junior Bombers reached the all-Canada finals in Winnipeg, half Flin Flon raced over 500 miles of gravel road to cheer them on.

They come from every European nation including Iceland. They are predominantly young. And the town is full of children.

In Flin Flon a man doesn’t just buy his house: he builds it. A gang of his friends and work-mates get together and run it up between them.

They pool their skills. In return for a few crates of beer provided by their host, they are prepared to work all day Sunday on the job.

Over and over again I heard them say: “In Flin Flon you need never be without a friend.”

Between them they have built a town from scratch: a town still young enough not to have forgotten that your neighbour can still be your friend.

I think Tom Creighton found more here than just a pot of gold. As for Tom, he died in 1949. In Flin Flon they still talk about him in something like awe.

He was more than just a prospector. He was one of the last of a race that is passing — the prospectors who, carrying their own packs, travelled by canoe and dog team and ventured into country where only the Indian and the Eskimo had gone before.

A little village near the mine he discovered bears his name. And in the cemetery here at Flin Flon stands a headstone with a name and the words: “Here lies a man.”

That is the highest tribute the North can pay.

Reproduced with permission
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Jerry F 2023