Pine Point Mine – “This was our tar sands”

Tailings at Pine Point Mine near Fort Resolution, NT

Tailings at Pine Point Mine near Fort Resolution, NT

Lloyd Norn & Tom Unka

Near the community of Fort Resolution, there was once a mining community called Pine Point. With a population of 2,000, Pine Point had a hockey arena, a golf course, and a number of commercial enterprises, like a grocery store and a hotel. The Pine Point mine extracted lead and zinc and other minerals from the area from the mid-1960s until 1989. At the mine’s peak, only 17% of the work force was hired locally, the rest coming from across Canada and the world to work the mines at Pine Point. Today, the Pine Point is gone, leaving a series of roads, pits and unremediated tailings ponds behind. Lloyd Norn and Tom Unka, who both live and work in the area, share some of their memories and thoughts of Pine Point.

Lloyd Norn

“There was a double impact on the people of Fort Resolution. Ice conditions around the dam changed the caribou migration route away from the community. They also lost the fish in the river. Formerly this was a big inconnu spawning area. Also the run off from the tailings ponds areas entered the lakes. The shore line closest to the mine was a whitefish spawning ground. This was the most valuable fish that the people had. After the mine the numbers of fish declined as did the quality of fish.”

“The only thing that the mine areas are good for now are training people to go to the moon. There’s nothing living there.  The food chain of the area was broken long ago […] You won’t see much mice or rabbits. As a result you won’t see many fur bearers. There are some beavers there now, but not many lynx, marten, or others. There is the occasional wolf or bear – they are always around. A few moose too but it’s not the same. The place looks awful. Like a desert. ”

“I don’t think that money is going to help. Monetary compensation won’t help anything. Unless its channeled into training or some positive program. I would suggest just letting the land heal by itself [or] they could back fill the drainage trenches they cut to dewater the area. They couldn’t refill the pits but they could fence them and cover the tailings with more soil so that it doesn’t blow around. They could try and replant some grass and shrubs. [But] they have no legal obligation to fix what they broke.  Bonds for reclamation are only recent.  This was our tar sands, I guess.”

Tom Unka

“This is all karst formation. The groundwater is quite close to the surface. In order for them to get to the ore, they had this huge de-watering program. What they did was they put these huge boreholes on the perimeter of these pits here. They had these electric pumps that were pumping water at an astronomical rate. […]  They had these huge run-offs running back into the swamps that were flowing 4 feet deep, 12 feet wide, and just flowing like you’d find water running in the springtime. […] Some of the trap lines that the people from Fort Resolution were using, one of them being my father, he had to abandon half of his trap line because it was impacted by the dewatering program from this pit right here. There were other people that were affected. They had to move elsewhere, because of our dewatering program was flooding vast areas of land. Trees were dying, beavers were moving in. The whole area was starting to change at a real rapid pace. It really impacted some of the people that were using that area.”

“There was a lot of activities. In this pit alone there would be drills, electric shovels. There would be 20 trucks lined up. The noise was just phenomenal. I’m sure it impacted the animals in the immediate area. It was crazy the development that went on. Everyday they were blasting. There were 10 or 12 pits that were operating on a daily basis. To extract the ore they were blasting every day.”

“I’m sure there is a lot of impact to the animal movements. Sure a lot of the habitats were flooded and so on and so forth. But there was never any studies about these animals that were impacted. Nor the people, how they impacted the land users. That was never explored. So the extent of the impacts would be hard to say right now. I know that the moose had moved out of the area because of the development. And I’m sure the caribou, there’s caribou to the west of us, the woodland caribou, a threatened species.”

This area has been impacted for a number of years, and it’s only now reverting back to its natural state, as much as that is possible with all the rocks that were moved. Some of the stuff on the surface, the vegetation that’s coming back. The bumps are starting to stabilize. With that happening, and further development in the air again, there’s a lot of concerns with the land users and the people that naturally use the area and travel through the area.”

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About Sheldon

Sheldon Birnie grew up in Dawson Creek, BC, and received a bachelor of environmental studies from the University of Manitoba in 2011. He lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he is a freelance writer, and the editor of the Manitoba Eco-Journal.
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