June/July 2011

The Flin Flon copper deposit

By Correy Baldwin

Tom Creighton and his prospecting team | Archives of Manitoba: N25242

In 1915, prospector Tom Creighton brought his prospecting team to the shores of Ross Lake, Manitoba, where he had found a promising ore deposit. The deposit would eventually come to support one of Canada’s most important and prosperous copper mines. However, when it came time to naming the property, Creighton’s mind was not on copper, but on the more glamorous gold – and adventure novels.

The site reminded him of a paperback adventure novel that he had come across earlier while on a portage – The Sunless City by British writer J. E. Preston Muddock. In the novel, a prospector named Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin pilots a submarine through a bottomless lake to a magical land where gold is so plentiful that it is used to pave the streets. Creighton named the site Flin Flon’s mine, shortening the name of the main character, and thereby sparing the future city of Flin Flon from having a more unusual title.

It was not copper but gold that originally brought people to the area. Two years earlier, Creighton was part of the team that discovered gold in the quartz veins of nearby Amisk Lake, also known as Beaver Lake. The resulting gold rush brought over a thousand men to the remote area, and the town of Beaver City sprung up.

But Beaver City’s days were numbered. The demand for gold would wane in the wake of World War I, when base metals were required for munitions and armaments. After 1914, prospectors were more often on the lookout for copper than gold. By 1918, Beaver City was all but abandoned.

Creighton himself began venturing further east. In December 1914, he visited a local trapper named David Collins, who showed him samples of a sulphide ore that he had gathered on his trap line on the shores of nearby Ross Lake. Collins took Creighton to the site and after examining the deposit, Creighton staked a claim.

Creighton then returned to Beaver City to contact his fellow prospectors, the same members who had discovered the gold at Amisk Lake: brothers Dan and Jack Mosher, and Leon and Isadore Dion. They were joined by a sixth member, Dan Milligan. Together they returned to the site, which they would name the Flin Flon property, and staked 16 claims. Reports vary on whether the team was originally interested in the ore’s trace gold or in the copper-zinc sulphide, but it was the copper that eventually became the focus.

The group did not have to look far for an initial investor, as Dan Mosher already had financial backing from a Toronto businessman. Jack Hammell had invested heavily in Beaver City, which was quickly becoming a ghost town, and he was searching for investments that would bring in larger returns. Mosher invited Hammell to assess the value of the Flin Flon property. The sheer size of the deposit impressed Hammell and, given the rising price of copper, he quickly backed the venture.

Developing a mine, however, would not be so easy. Although plentiful, the ore was low grade and the copper-zinc mineralization was too complex to be separated without considerable expense. The site could not be developed without access to a smelter, but the location was remote and transporting the ore by winter sleigh and summer barge to The Pas and then by rail was not financially feasible.

But Hammell was convinced that a mining venture would pay off and he began raising funds and looking for investors. He would persevere until the late 1920s, when development began to seem feasible, thanks to the Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Company (HBM&S).

HBM&S invested heavily in the project, constructing a smelter, a rail line in 1928, a hydroelectric power plant on the Churchill River in 1929 and, finally, a mine. In 1930, production finally began. The Flin Flon Mine was as prosperous as expected and the area continues to be an important mining centre to this day.

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