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Newsletter - February 2013

Yellowknife Heritage Week Edition

Welcome to the first newsletter of 2013 from the NWT Mining Heritage Society. This month Yellowknife celebrates Heritage Week (February 18 to 24) and there are a number of great events planned throughout the city. Be sure to check out a display of historic mining artifacts at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre.

We held a New Years members party on January 26 at the Baker’s Centre. It was well attended and everybody enjoyed the chance to meet and greet with old and new members, and were entertained by a historic photo slide show and an interesting mix of background music.

If you drove past Giant the last few weeks you may have noticed a diamond drill rig busy boring a hole adjacent to our buildings and outdoor display site. The drilling was commissioned by the Government to determine the stability of old stope pillars that exist close to the surface. The results of this drilling are not yet released but the crews have now packed up the drilling rigs and ceased work. We hope that the geotechnical evaluation will confirm there are no safety hazards associated with old stope workings beneath our site, that the fence will be removed, and we can continue development of our outdoor display.

On the donation front, we received numerous additions to our collection in recent months including a set of souvenir Yellowknife spoons. They were a wedding gift presented to Mike Murphy and Sylvia Adair in March 1951, by the shaft sinking crew at Giant Mine. ‘Dirty’ Mike Murphy was a miner at Giant and a popular hockey and baseball player.

Peter Bengts of the Mining Inspection Services of the GNWT donated a complete Drager BG174 Mine Rescue Pack in original case, obsolete rescue equipment used by the mines in the 1960s-1990s to provide a breathable mixture of air to rescuers. And thanks to Eva Henderson for a generous cash donation! The Society is currently planning its summer projects. Look forward to another Beer Barge party and other fun activities!

The Giant Mine Fire Truck

Our more popular outdoor exhibit is the old Giant Mine fire engine, a 1945 International Harvester KB5 truck. The Giant fire department was formed in 1950 housed in a station located in the yard adjacent to the recreation hall. It was here that a crew of men were always on duty in case a fire alarm was pulled. Because Giant Mine was isolated from Yellowknife, it was important to have their own fire protection equipment and this truck served the mine very well. Giant’s fire brigade was active into the 1980s but it was soon disbanded, ending a unique chapter in the mine’s history. Roy Feather, fire chief from 1951-1954, told us a story:

“I had two watchmen under me. They did their rounds every night of the week. Then on pay nights, they had to do their rounds, but also paid a little extra attention to the bunkhouses. If there was any problems, the fire men were paid extra to go on patrol as well. If there was a big fight or something and they let me know, then I send extra fire men in to help. I got involved in quite a few of those that got hurt quite badly…cuts and that. So I was there to give first aid as needed.”

Tramming Ore at Ptarmigan Mine, 1942

This story is extracted from a collection in “The Best Miners in the World: Stories from Canada’s Sullivan Mine”, published by W.R. Roberts of Kimberley, BC in 2004. It tells of Dory Arfinnson, an underground labourer at Ptarmigan gold mine outside of Yellowknife in 1942.

“When I started mining, I was making sixty cents an hour for an 8-hour day. Hell, if I wanted to go to a movie in Yellowknife, it would cost me three days’ wages. It was expensive to go see a movie. One time, I worked twenty-three and a half shifts on one pay day, no overtime. When I got the cheques, holy smokes, I thought I had really made some money. I made $117.50. Isn’t that something? And out of that to top it all off, I had to pay $1.20 for room and board a day. That came off the $4.80 I was making a day.”

“I thought we were really cutting the mustard and, I’ll tell you, we really put in our full eight hours. They expected, when you went underground, that you and your partner would pull at least a hundred cars. That was your set goal. And, boy, I’ll tell you, to pull a hundred cars, you really had to go. Some days you got a few more; some days you got a few less. My partner and I were expected to each push a 1-ton car down to the dump by hand and back to the chute a hundred times.”

“The dump was about a thousand feet. Some were closer, but not many. It used to be dangerous for the guys pushing the front car if the guy in the back was coming a bit faster. You would run right into the back of your partner’s legs. Not too many guys got hurt this way but a few did.”

“When the Ptarmigan Mine shut down and we were heading to Kimberley for work, the party was going for three days and it was still going when we left. We had all this money left in the recreation fund so we had a quick meeting and decided to throw a party. Hell, a quart of whiskey was four bucks, a day’s wages almost, so we had lots of whiskey.”

The Ptarmigan gold mine was staked in 1936 by Yellowknife prospectors Jack Stevens and John Morie. Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company of Canada (aka Cominco) bought the claims in 1938 and began development of the mine. Located 15 kilometers east of Yellowknife, the property was only accessible by taking Carl Jensen’s water taxi across Yellowknife Bay and hiking the road. It was a favourite place for Yellowknifer’s to visit. Tommy Forrest, the cook, made the best dinners.

Ptarmigan Mine produced gold from 1941 to 1942, when Cominco mothballed the site and sent all of its workers to mercury and tungsten mines in British Columbia deemed more important for war metal production. The mine reopened many years later in the 1980s-1990s.

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