Built from the Rock

The story of modern day Hudbay starts a hundred years ago in Northern Manitoba.

Near the turn of the twentieth century, mining areas in Northern Ontario with geography similar to Manitoba were already well under development.

Prospectors had been exploring the Canadian Shield as it stretched in a gigantic arc from northeast Saskatchewan through Manitoba and into Northwestern Ontario. The rugged, rocky Precambrian land held the promise of valuable minerals in the granite, volcanic and sedimentary rocks of the region.

At that time, the Manitoban mineral belt was only accessible by traditional water routes established for the fur trade. Before a railway was built to the region in 1911, few people ventured here – it was simply too difficult to access. The new railway greatly improved accessibility, made The Pas the logical starting point for most prospectors heading north to the Canadian Shield, and enhanced the potential value of any regional discoveries.

In 1914-1916, adding to the excitement in Manitoba was the geological survey of Canada, which mapped out the new region from Beaver Lake, west of Flin Flon to the new railway heading for Port Nelson on Hudson Bay in the west. The geological survey made people recognize that there was more to the region than once thought.

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Initial Discovery of the Flin Flon Deposit

During that time, prospector Tom Creighton was exploring the region; his gold discovery on Beaver Lake had started a gold rush to the area. But, the attention soon turned to base metals when in the fall of 1914, Creighton and his men were led by David Collins to a small outcrop of sulfide ore in the area due north of The Pas in what is now Flin Flon.

  • Flin Flon commemorating the city's 60th birthday
    Present day monument in Flin Flon commemorating the city's 60th birthday and describing the story of the mine's original discovery involving Tom Creighton and David Collins.
  • Tom Creighton with Leon J. Dion, Dan Mosher, Jack Mosher and Jack Hammell
    Tom Creighton with Leon J. Dion, Dan Mosher, Jack Mosher and Jack Hammell on the banks of The Pas River where it meets the Saskatchewan River. 1917.

Creighton, one of Canada’s pioneer prospectors, recognized the potential of the oxidized surface. He was right. The deposit proved to be the largest copper-zinc ore body found to date in Manitoba (estimated at the time to be 18 million tons). Creighton returned to the site with Jack Mosher the following spring to confirm his “find” and in September 1915 he staked his first claims in the area. It was the region’s most significant discovery, and inevitably become known as the ‘Flin Flon deposit’.

As far as can be ascertained from available documentation, Creighton and his men knew they had potentially found a very large low-grade copper sulphide deposit. Extensive diamond drilling would be necessary before the true value of the find could be determined.

Since this was beyond the group’s means, they sought outside capital from within the Canadian mining community. Over a number of months, several prominent mining executives travelled to Flin Flon to see the site for themselves, while samples of the deposit were sent to Toronto for testing, which were met with favourable results.

Between 1916 and 1920 (when the first mining of the ore body occurred) Creighton and his team worked to connect with the best financing syndicate to develop the site. A number of exploratory missions and deals fell through. In fact, there was no major exploration of the site during all of 1919, which explains the absence of journals and photographs from this period. It wasn’t until 1920 that development began.

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In the fall of 1914, Tom Creighton had a trap line that ran eastward through the bush towards Athapapuskow Lake. It was while on a trip to check his line that Creighton arrived at David Collins’ camp near Baker’s Narrows on Athapapuskow Lake, east of present day Flin Flon. Collins showed Creighton pieces of rock he had picked up from an area ten miles up from his camp, where the massive Flin Flon deposit was waiting to be discovered.

The Mandy Mine

News of the Flin Flon deposit discovery was quickly followed by the discovery of the Mandy Mine just a few miles south. Development of the Mandy Mine contributed more than any other single event to turning people’s attention to Manitoba’s mining prospects.

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    Workers posing outside the cookhouse in Camp #3 at Mandy Mine. 1920.
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    The S.S. Nipawin arriving in The Pas with a load of ore from Sturgeon Landing. 1920.

The Flin Flon ore deposit was mixed with other minerals, making its extraction a complex and delayed process. As the process to mine the Flin Flon deposit was explored, the Mandy Mine, with its rich 20 per cent copper ore, became the first producing copper field in Manitoba, mined from 1916-1920.

The discovery of a copper deposit so rich that it could be mined profitably in spite of tremendous obstacles fundamentally changed the direction of the province from sparsely populated areas based on agricultural and hunting economies to a North American mining capital. The ore was hauled by teams of horses, by barge, and by rail to Trail, British Columbia for processing.

Manitoba hit its stride under the footsteps of men seeking their fortunes. Widespread excitement about the area’s potential led to a host of new prospectors heading to the north. A rash of claim-staking and the discovery of several minor mineral deposits followed.

As written by the Manitoba Department of Cultural Affairs and Historical Resources, probably the longest-lasting impact of Mandy Mine was not so much its tangible economic contributions to the north, but the aura of excitement it created about the prospects for the Flin Flon region.

Source: The Mandy Mine, Manitoba Department of Cultural Affairs and Historical Resources

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The Whitney Family in Flin Flon

After unsuccessful efforts to develop the mine, in 1925 Creighton and his partners optioned their stake to a group backed by the Harry Payne Whitney interests of New York.

The Whitneys were one of the most prominent and wealthy American families, known for their extensive business holdings and philanthropy.

An extensive diamond drilling program was completed, proving the existence of an ore body at least 2,600 feet long and 900 feet deep. They needed to figure out how to feasibly process the complicated ore deposit.

After feasibility testing and building a pilot mill in Flin Flon, an investment group made up of the Whitney family, Newmont Mining Corp. of New York and Mining Corp. of Canada Ltd. incorporated Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting (HBM&S) in 1927 to develop the property.

In the next few years — aided by the simultaneous laying of railway tracks between The Pas and Flin Flon and the construction of a hydroelectric plant at Island Falls HBM&S subsequently sunk a number of mineshafts and built a concentrator, copper smelter and zinc refinery. In fact, at the time of construction, the mine in Flin Flon was one of the largest industrial development projects in the Western Hemisphere, second only to the Panama Canal in terms of scale at the time, according to some sources.

Production began in Flin Flon in June 1930. Eight years later the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol HBM.

  • hockey team
    The Carpenters, winners of the 2015 Hudbay Hockey Tournament

The Whitneys took a personal interest in Flin Flon and made direct contributions to quality of life in the town. Today the Whitney Forum is the local arena, central to life there. Home to activities from curling to hockey, each year, Hudbay’s annual hockey tournament is played out on the ice at the Whitney Forum.

Source: Company records

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How Flin Flon got its name

‘Flin Flon’ may seem curious as the choice for a town’s name, but it has genuine literary roots.

While prospecting near the Churchill River, Tom Creighton and his team came across a dime novel: “The Sunless City” — the story of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, a grocer turned explorer, who journeyed in a submarine (of his own design) down a subterranean river. Being miles from any library, everyone on Creighton’s team took their turn reading the novel.

When the time came to record the name for the new ore body, the nickname of the novel’s hero — Flin Flon — came to mind.

To honour the literary provenance of the town’s name, a 24-foot statue of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, designed by renowned cartoonist Al Capp, was erected in 1962 and still stands at the entrance to the city.

  • How Flin Flon Got its Name
    (Courtesy of National Film Board)

  • The Ballad of Flintabbatey Flonatin:

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Tom Creighton

Tom Creighton, credited as the principal discoverer of the Flin Flon deposit, was a well-regarded prospector known for being self-reliant, modest and quiet.

He had been a farmer, sailor, woodsman, hunter and trapper before turning to the occupation for which he will always be remembered — a persistent and resourceful prospector. His explorations carried him across Canada, from the lowlands of Hudson Bay to the mountains of the Yukon and the Arctic.

People who knew him spoke of his loyalty and great personal integrity. He was considered a true ‘man of the north’, and his legacy as the discoverer of the Flin Flon ore body lives long after his death in 1949.

Source: Northern Lights magazine, Men of the North, September 1958, Vol. 17 No. 3

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The Beginning, Discovery of the Deposit and Mandy Mine