Dec '13/Jan '14

Lynn Lake

The transplanted town

By Aaron Fitzpatrick

What happens to a single-industry town when that lone resource is exhausted? Often, when the town’s only employer decides to move along, residents leave too, deserting their homes and properties in the process and leaving a ghost town in their wake. But that was not the case when Sherridon, a small town in northern Manitoba, faced dwindling mineral reserves at its nearby copper mine in the 1950s. The mine’s owner, Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd., was shifting its focus northward to its new Lynn Lake nickel operation. The firm had every intention of maintaining close ties to both the region and its local workforce, so when the new mine took on Sherridon employees, these residents brought with them not only a desire for work but their transplanted homes as well.

Sherridon was born from the gold rush of the early 1900s. Stories of finds sent thousands of prospectors to Manitoba, to seek their fortunes.

While most firms did not strike gold, rich stores of copper and nickel abounded. Phillip Sherlett, a Cree hunter and sometime-prospector who had helped spread the gold fever in Manitoba, made the initial Sherridon copper discovery in 1922, and when his claims lapsed in 1924, they were picked up by Carl Sherritt and Dick Madole, trappers who had previously staked claims in the area. Bob Jowsey, who had already struck out looking for gold in the area a decade earlier, would return and, in 1927, take over the property, helping found the town with the newly incorporated Sherritt Gordon Mines Ltd. Production began in April 1931 and would proceed with periodic suspensions until the mine closed in 1952.

With the exhaustion of the ore body approaching in the mid-1940s, Sherritt Gordon sent prospectors in every direction to make new finds. To the good fortunes of the firm and its employees, they struck a large nickel deposit a mere 120 miles to the north. They called it Lynn Lake, so named for Sherritt Gordon’s chief engineer Lynn Smith. The problem, then: How best to handle the relocation of over one hundred full-time employees?

The solution was to physically relocate the town itself. The remote northern Lynn Lake site lacked usable roads, so new construction would have required the conveyance of manpower and equipment through a wilderness route that was nearly impassable by most vehicles.

To sidestep this problem, arrangements were made to uproot the workers’ homes and cart them off to Lynn Lake, across 165 circuitous miles of treacherous terrain. As Sherritt Gordon president Eldon Brown put it, “Sherridon won’t become a ghost town; we’ll take the ghost with us.”

The task was far from simple. It involved the use of the Linn Tractor, an all-terrain vehicle spawned from the mind of American dog and pony show impresario H.H. Linn. Aside from being a fascinating and successful showman, his tractor proved to be his most lucrative and far-reaching achievement, having been used in the 1930s and 1940s by workers in the construction of the Panama Canal. The Linn Tractor was a gargantuan machine with an incredibly broad base, thus allowing it to cover most any terrain. An optional snowplough attachment took two days to install. Despite the advancements of diesel engines in the later years of its use – in particular during the period of the Lynn Lake relocation – the Linn Tractor had a top speed of 20 kilometres per hour.

Travelling only in winter to avoid flooded ravines, the tractor moved slowly but surely. Each one-way trip took nearly 75 hours. Over three years, the company managed to cart 120 housing units from Sherridon to Lynn Lake. By 1952, Sherridon was all but abandoned.

Naturally, more construction followed and the town is now accessible by air, rail or over an all-season road. While the Lynn Lake nickel mine closed in 1976, the residents have not left. The town now claims to be the sport fishing capital of Manitoba. And with a rich nickel resource left to be mined, it is far more likely that mine developers will be sinking shafts than that the locals will be picking up and beating a path out of town.

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