Lynn Lake Renewal

Written by Walt Rhodes
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Walt RhodesWhen the orange airplanes descend on towns and cities across the Canadian landscape there is a sense of assurance. We are often greeted by townspeople and air traffic controllers with “Welcome back” or “Sure glad to see you guys.”

Our sighting affirms their feeling of renewal. Conducting a survey from the same towns for over six decades has led generations of Canadians to mark us as their unofficial official start of spring. Gone are the cold, short days of winter, giving way to warm temperatures and endless daylight.

There is one town, however, where we rarely see anyone, and as the black clouds and mist hover over this same town, having blocked our progress for two days, hope seems to be waning at a once bustling place. Lynn Lake, Manitoba, is a tiny sub-arctic hamlet of less than 500 people. It sits below tree line but the trees start getting smaller and so do the economic opportunities. Things were so depressed that in 2013 the town started burning down the abandoned houses. But it was not always like this.

Faded outfitter signs inside the terminal showing anglers in 1970s fashion hefting fire hose-sized northern pike and baggage carousels that stopped turning long ago tell a different story. When I first landed here in 2009 the since-passed airport manager regaled me with stories of a packed terminal and three-times-daily-nonstop flights to Winnipeg on 737s. I blurred my eyes inside the terminal and tried to use my imagination but the ghosts of past passengers didn’t dance.

When a rich vein of copper ore near Sherridon, Manitoba, was nearly depleted the mining company sent prospectors north. One of the world’s largest nickel strikes at the time was found in the late 1940s, setting the stage for the founding of Lynn Lake in 1950. The town was named after Lynn Smith, chief engineer of Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd. Nearly all of the buildings of Lynn Lake were simply moved the 100 miles north from Sherridon on winter freighting sleighs.

Gold was later discovered too, and the town prospered. A rail line was cut in from The Pas and an all-weather road was later established. The population reached over 4,000 residents. But then the economics of mining began to swing, with the last load coming out of the ground in the early 1990s. With no other industry, the town started to die.

There is evidence that change could be coming based on our fuel stop this year. We heard that the mine assets were sold and feasibilities studies are taking place. Improved extraction technology and the price of gold could be drivers that put the mine back in production.

Tonight’s forecast hints at improvements along our route over Lynn Lake. Admittedly, I wondered if the sense of renewal we felt there is real or is it as fleeting as daylight after the summer solstice in this land of the midnight sun.

In 1949, nearly the entire town of Sherridon, Manitoba was moved by freighting sleigh to Lynn Lake, Manitoba over 160 miles of cat train trails. Photo Courtesy of Joey Barnes, KingOfObsolete.ca.

In 1949, nearly the entire town of Sherridon, Manitoba was moved by freighting sleigh to Lynn Lake, Manitoba over 160 miles of cat train trails. Photo Courtesy of Joey Barnes, KingOfObsolete.ca.

The once bustling terminal building of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, in 2009. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

The once bustling terminal building of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, in 2009. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.