Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What can we Learn from Pine Point?

An aerial of Pine Point before its 'removal' 

Google Map “Pine Point, Fort Smith, Unorganized” and prepare for a virtual trip to a faraway place. The location name is automatically proceeded by native script and you are taken to a remote section of Northern Canada, just below the Great Slave Lake and roughly two hours East of Hay River, Northwest Territories. A skeleton of small roads creates a grid between some small lakes beside a nearby rail line. The Fort Resolution Highway crosses to the South; just below that begins the massive Wood Buffalo National Park – further down, the Alberta – NWT border. You get the feeling that virtually nobody lives here.

And you’re right.

Hundreds of small settlements just like Pine Point line the highways and shores of Canada’s North, but what makes this one in particular a little different is its history as a once rural oasis turned desolate ghost town in a matter of days. So what happened at Pine Point?

Wikipedia, online knower of all things, has an entire page dedicated to Pine Point. In the true unapologetically frank style only Wikipedia could get away with, Pine Point is explained as a ‘single-industry town’ that closed when the local zinc mine shut down. Afterward, ‘All buildings were removed or demolished, and today the site is completely abandoned, although there is still evidence of the street layout.’ So, hey, total bummer. End of story?

Not really. What don’t you get from such a brash and condensed version of Pine Point’s demise is its story as a place where people once lived, went to school, worked and formed a community – however short this era may have lasted. Pine Point was the unfortunate product of a Federal social experiment designed to provide a group of people with cookie-cutter housing and a job all in the same place, and see what transpires. After the mine stopped producing, as mines tend to do when they extract non-renewable resources, there was no choice but to pull up shop. But by then, a strong community had formed: relationships, traditions, social circles….The end of Pine Point wasn’t only marked by the bulldozing of people’s homes, but the end of a life its residents would have understood deeply, many of whom were born and raised inside the small town.

A selection from the 'Welcome to Pine Point' website.
Today, little physical evidence exists to remind us of the once thriving village of Pine Point, but through the wonders of film and internet, the ‘lost mining town’ has been resurrected and re-formed through the voices of its ex-citizens. ‘Welcome to Pine Point’, an incredible interactive website dedicated to retelling the true story of Pine Point, is now fully accessible and complete with original pictures, sound, video and more. The website has since been maintained by Pine Points own Richard Cloutier, the same person who donated most of the material, while funding and technical production has been overseen by the National Film Board. A secondary website created by Cloutier, Pine Point Revisited, also includes information on his experience as part of this short-lived settlement.

With greater insight into the matters of Pine Point and the people who once called it home we can begin to see the mistakes of its very creation. Pine Point is not an isolated incident, but serves as an important lesson on how we build, and sometimes destroy, the places we live and the communities we nurture. Thanks to some dedicated individuals, we won’t forget Pine Point and what it has taught us: humility, sacrifice and the inevitability of time.

*Check out 'Welcome to Pine Point' here (click on the image below):





3 comments:

  1. Aaron, I found and read your blog with some interest, although I have to disagree with parts of it.
    I first moved to Pine Point when I was 10, graduated from high school while I lived there (I rode a school bus to Hay River as there was no high school in Pine Point at the time), worked at the mine over two summer breaks from university, and moved back again with my wife for a 6 year stint as an adult, transferring to another mine a couple of years before Pine Point closed. My two sons were born while we lived there.
    Pine Point was built in a different time, when all remote mines were started with their own towns. Today, many of these towns dot the landscape throughout Canada, having either seen the original operation morph into a new one(s) or surviving the closure of the mines (Yellowknife possibly the best example of the latter).
    Pine Point was not a Federal Government experiment, but one of the last of its kind. If the mine was to be built today, it would probably be a fly in, fly out operation with some of the staff residing in Hay River, Ft. Resolution, or other nearby communities. Such an approach would alleviate the tumult of the town disappearing, the modern equivalent of the mining ghost town.
    But is that truly worth the loss of community? Ten years before my parents moved to Pine Point they lived in another remote mining in northwest BC. To the end of their days, their closest friends were their friends and colleagues from that distant and isolated place. Pine Point Revisited is not an elegy, but a celebration of a unique time in the lives of Pine Pointers. I suspect, even with the advantage of hindsight, very few of us would want to forego that experience.

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  2. Hi Stephen,

    I thank you so much for taking the time to reply to my post. You have certainly lent some insight on the topic at hand, and I would be interested in learning more from you.

    My interest in Pine Point stems from some collaborative research on interactive media completed by my colleagues at The Parkdale-Activity Recreation Centre. How lucky I am to be in touch from someone who had a lived experience here. I have taken your comments into serious concern and would like to continue this process, with your permission.

    Would you be interested in doing an interview for my blog? It wouldn't be a large endeavor - basically, I would send you 5 - 7 questions to which you respond (2 paragraphs max per question) and include a few pictures. Let me know if you are at all interested in this - send me an email at aturpy@yorku.ca.

    Again, I thank you for your thoughtful response. I look forward to communicating with you in the future.

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  3. Enjoyed these posts and comments. I was a Pine Pointer who left the town in 1984. I have only fond memories of this place.

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