Manitoba mining towns go boom or bust as industry taps resources (CBC News Manitoba – November 29, 2013)

Lynn Lake, Thompson tell tale of two mining towns dealing with very different fates

A Manitoba town with a thriving mine is hoping to avoid the fate of another mining town not far away, which recently saw a mass exodus of people. Thompson is enjoying the benefits of a thriving nickel mine operated by Vale, but even the mine operators know that won’t last forever.

“All mines have a finite life, regardless of how good the resource is,” said Mark Scott, the manager of mining for Vale. That’s why the company, Thompson’s city leaders, First Nations groups and local business owners have come up with a diversification strategy called the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG) to bring variation to the town’s economy.

“It’s important to make sure the economy can stand on its own two feet when life after Vale Manitoba operations eventually does arrive,” said Scott. Life after mining has already arrived in Lynn Lake, 322 kilometres away. Christine Shortt has lived in Lynn Lake for 55 years. Shortt works at the Bronx Motel in town and said the town is markedly different than it was when mining was at its peak.

“If you didn’t get into the bar or the legion at a certain time, you just didn’t get in,” said Shortt. “[That was] the good old days. Now, you can have any seat you want.”

Lynn Lake’s last mine shut down more than a decade ago. Since the mines began closing the town has seen its population shrink from 3,500 to 675 people.

So many people have left, the town has been forced to tear down or set fire to abandoned homes. The town’s Mayor, James Lindsay, explained the empty houses have become targets for vandals, overridden with pests and have become fire hazards.

Even the town’s airport has been affected, unable to attract carriers to bring air service to the location.

“Mine’s gone away [and] all of a sudden we were fending for ourselves pretty much,” said David Campbell, a town councillor for Lynn Lake. “All the help that we used to get, all the politicians who used to come up here, it seems to have disappeared. And it’s hard.”

The town is still struggling to stay alive, and has attracted a few new people in recent years.

Eugene Shin bought the Lynn Inn two years ago, but the British Columbia native says it hasn’t been easy. He started with a staff of 14 and is now down to four employees.

“Doing small business in a small town is a tremendous pleasure, but it also presents its challenges as well,” said Shin. “We’ve leaned out as much as we can. We’re trying to do everything we can to survive here.”

Shin said he hopes the town can capitalize on natural resources of a different sort going forward.

“Tree topping is an industry here — commercial fishing for some people. There is an industry here available,” said Shin.

Mayor James Lindsay believes the town would be an ideal fit for the information technology sector.

Back in Thompson, Mayor Tim Johnston is working to secure a more stable future for his town. He wants to see it developed into a Northern service centre.

“The key for our community is to become that diversified service centre,” said Johnston.

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