My Take on Snow Lake - Feb. 9, 2018

Keeping Flin Flon’s history alive

Mining in the area of present day Flin Flon has existed since 1915. That was the year that pioneering prospectors Tom Creighton, David Collins and their partners found the immense copper-zinc ore body the community was built upon. In the years that followed, land was cleared, mines were constructed, businesses set up and families arrived … many of which stayed and put down deep roots in the area’s harsh Precambrian landscape. In doing so, those forbears contributed to the formation of Flin Flon and the history of the area.

Through a heritage-based web page and Facebook group, a small, but dedicated, group of individuals has worked tirelessly to preserve that history. Their endeavour – the Flin Flon Heritage Project – began as one man working on a book about his father’s life and snowballed into a archive that increases daily and currently sits at 28,000 images, 30 books, 20 family albums, maps, family stories and hundreds of newspaper and magazine back issues.

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One of the Heritage Project administrators, Doug Evans, unintentionally initiated the project in 2010, while searching through and scanning archival items in the basement of the Flin Flon Library. It was during this process that he became aware that the archives could not serve any useful purpose as they were. “The population of Flin Flon is now well into the fourth generation; most of the people who were familiar with the pictures and events preserved in the archive material were either dead or had left Flin Flon,” said Evans in a late January interview. He felt, if former residents were interested in Flin Flon’s history, a trip to the archives – as they were – would be a long, costly and fruitless journey north.

So it was that Evans began to gather photos; there were those from his father’s extensive collection, his own and those of his friends. He soon amassed close to 3,000, half of which were relevant to the history of Flin Flon. But still, they were useless to anyone interested in Flin Flon History unless they could access them without expense. The solution … put them on a website.

Evans, who admits to knowing little about such things, made some enquires at one of the Flin Flon luncheons held regularly in Winnipeg. He was referred to another former resident, Richard Lyons, who had a Facebook page featuring Flin Flon pictures. “Richard arranged a meeting with Ken Penner who operates a web hosting company,” said Evans. Penner set up the web page and when Evans suggested "The Flin Flon Heritage Project" as its name, that became the registered domain.

Shortly thereafter, Evans and others took part in a training session to become familiar with the program used to create and update the new website. “Phil Gies and John Hamilton, who were interested, also came to the training session,” said Evans. They were guided through the process of uploading items and the "project" was born. Former resident Ted Nelson also became a member and took on the intricacies of keeping the digital archives in order.  

Evans states that Phil Gies, who had experience with websites, worked out the coding used for entering and tracking information on the site, but they were soon overwhelmed. “We started with a few categories and subcategories, but as time went by and the collection got bigger and bigger, we had to keep adding categories; we are now up over 700 albums,” Evans explained.

At first the project seemed to grow slowly, but then yearbooks and Northern Lights Magazines (Hudbay) started coming in. Members John Scott, Maureen McCaig, John Hamilton, Phil Gies and Richard Billy set to work at scanning and inventorying these. But they had no idea what was coming.

Due to a concern that archives in the Flin Flon Library basement were vulnerable, committee member Don Peake took on the job of digitalizing the contents of the archives. “To date Don has scanned over 10,000 pictures and documents and is hard at work scanning the minutes of the town council meetings, starting at the inaugural meeting in 1933,” said Evans.

Notwithstanding the hard work and obstacles they’d already overcome, most of the pictures coming into the project did not have much in the way of descriptive information with them, so the group set up a Facebook page called the "Flin Flon Heritage Project (Official)" and posted pictures needing descriptions, with the hope that someone would be able identify the people and events in each photo. With the page’s membership at slightly over 1,000, this process has been working well. “We took to calling the followers of the page ‘The Boam Street Irregulars’ in a reference to Sherlock Holmes’ group of amateur detectives (and a well-known Flin Flon street),” said Evans. “There have been two unexpected, but wonderful, additional activities on this page.” He said these are the numerous contributions of photos and documents through the page, as well as it serving as a forum where people exchange news and discover old friends.

Through the website and Facebook page, the project has become known to former residents and their descendants worldwide. “We have received material from Norway, England, Australia, many parts of the U.S.A., and of course from every corner of Canada,” Evans remarked. “We were recently able to assist a man in Sweden, who was searching for a long lost uncle who had settled in Northern Manitoba and was called ‘Moose.’ From California came a collection related to the life of Harry Moroz, a famous goalie with the prewar Flin Flon Bombers. Ivor Ivorson, whose father was a Lutheran Minister in Flin Flon in 1939, sent us pictures from Georgia in the U.S. And just recently, a lady in Winnipeg called us to scan a collection of documents relating to the clearing of bush of the site of what would become the HBM&S plant in Flin Flon.”

Among the project’s treasures is a near complete history of the Mandy Mine and its famous ore haul by horse drawn sleighs, steamboats, and rail to Trail, B.C. The "Mandy" was established in 1916, and was the first productive copper mine in Manitoba. The project also has pictures of the original claim that became Flin Flon and copies of many out of print books scanned to PDF and posted on the website.

The project is registered with the government of Manitoba as a not-for-profit (NFP) under the name Flin Flon Heritage Project. Although there are hundreds of people who contribute to their work, the president of the NFP is Phil Gies, the vice-president is Beatrice Walker, the secretary-treasurer is Larry Brown and there are three directors – Les Oystryk, James Stephens and Doug Evans.  As well there is Ed Mason, a skilled photographer who restores damaged photos, Ken Penner, the group’s webmaster, and Ted Nelson, a retired IT expert. Most are former or current residents, or Flin Flonners as they choose to be called.

The website is located at: http://flinflonheritageproject.com/ and the Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/214476565550641/

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