New Pine Point paper released

by Emma LeClerc

In a new paper for the journal The Extractive Industries and Society, “From Cutlines to Traplines: Post-Industrial Land Use at the Pine Point Mine,” Emma LeClerc and Arn Keeling explore the legacy effects of mining on local economies and landscapes. Pine Point is a massive open pit, lead-zinc mine on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. It began operations in 1964 and shut down in 1988, leaving 46 open pits and a network of abandoned roads and cutlines.


One of the many cutlines around the former Pine Point mine, still open some 25 years after mine closure.

Local land users from Fort Resolution were displaced from traditional land use near Pine Point throughout the mine’s operation. However, our research shows that since closure, local land users have actively adapted hunting and trapping practices to maintain the Aboriginal mixed economy at the abandoned site and surrounding areas. In spite of their grave environmental concerns about the state of the poorly reclaimed mine, local land users have re-appropriated the site to hunt and trap. Many have even used some elements of the degradation to benefit land use by establishing traplines in abandoned cutlines. The complexity of land users’ interactions with the abandoned landscape shows that local land use is dynamic and continues to be shaped by mining long after closure.

This active maintenance of the land-based economy has implications for how we think about the long-term effects of mining and abandonment, in particular. Because mining transforms landscapes, it continues to affect the land-based economy long after extraction operations cease. LeClerc and Keeling argue that mining operations seeking to meaningfully engage with local communities must address impacts on local land use at each stage of an operation, including closure and abandonment.


New paper explores legacies of Pine Point Mine

Hot off the press: in the latest issue of the international journal Environment and History, abandoned mines researchers Arn Keeling and John Sandlos critically examine the failures and contradictions of mega-project resource development in the Canadian North, through the case of the Pine Point Mine in the Northwest Territories. Based on archival research and our own exploration of the Pine Point landscape, we write that “while the mine and planned town built to service it flourished for nearly a quarter century, the larger goals of modernisation, industrial development and Aboriginal assimilation were unrealised.”

Operating from 1964 to 1989, the Pine Point mine provides important touchstones for contemporary debates about northern resource development, economic stability, and environmental sustainability. At the time of construction, the mine was heralded as a catalyst for an economically depressed region, and the federal government poured nearly $100 million in direct subsidies for infrastructure to support the mine. This included construction of the Great Slave Lake Railway from northern Alberta to the southern shores of Great Slave Lake, to transport ore from Pine Point to the Cominco smelter in Trail, B.C.

An street in the abandoned town of Pine Point (J. Sandlos)

Today, the abandoned mine and town at Pine Point present a remarkable landscape: shorn of all buildings, all that remains the former town of 2,000 are cracked streets and sidewalks. Similarly, the mine operation has been dismantled, leaving behind a lone powerline and an extensive landscape of open pits, waste piles and haul roads. The once productive landscape is derelict, slowly being recolonized by vegetation and animals. (The social history of the former town has been explored in an imaginative recent multimedia exhibit hosted by the National Film Board, “Welcome to Pine Point.”)

In the article, we examine the rationale behind the mine’s development and its impact on local First Nations communities. Our interpretation of this history draws from political ecology to argue that “the forces of mega-project development joined with modern mining’s technologies of ‘mass destruction’ to produce a deeply scarred and problematic landscape that ultimately failed in its quest to bring modern industrialism to the Canadian sub-Arctic.”

John Sandlos and Arn Keeling, “Claiming the New North: Development and Colonialism at the Pine Point Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada,” Environment and History 18, 1 (Feb. 2012): 5-34.

Re-visiting South Slave communities

In May, John and Arn returned to the South Slave areas to discuss early findings from their oral history and documentary research at Pine Point. In addition to this poster describing our results, we met with community members in Katl’odeeche and Fort Resolution to get feedback on the project and “next steps.” Special thanks to community members who joined us for these events, and to Victoria in Katl’odeeche and Rosy in Fort Resolution for helping us organize them.

Original page image from "Pine Pointer," September 1986

So far, our research has been focused on the thousands of documents we collected from the national archives in Ottawa and the NWT archives in Yellowknife. Using digital cameras, we collected information related to the development of Pine Point, analysed the information, and wrote a paper, soon to appear in the journal Environment and History.

In the summer of 2010, we collected over 40 oral history interviews from people in Hay River and Fort Resolution, discussing their memories of the Pine Point mine and town, and life in the region after the closure of the mine. We’ve transcribed these interviews, and sent them to the interviewees to be verified. The interviews provide amazing insights into the history of the area, and will be deposited with the communities to keep for their own archives. Meanwhile, we’re going through the transcripts in more detail to understand the impact of the Pine Point mine and its closure on the region.

Let us know what you think so far!

Pine Point communities poster

Abandoned Mines Project on Google Maps

Abandoned Mines Project Map
The Abandoned Mines Project is studying the history of five abandoned mine sites: Keno Hills Mine (YK), Giant Mine (NWT), Port Radium (NWT), Pine Point (NWT), and Schefferville (Quebec). In some cases, nearby communities that were affected by the mine area also marked on the map.

View Abandoned Mines Project Map in a larger map