New paper explores legacies of Pine Point Mine

January 29, 2012

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.