|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):