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Remembering a lost mining town
New web-doc tells the story of ghost town survivors

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 31, 2011

HAY RIVER - You can't go home again, but for most of us, there still exists, at the very least, a place we can call our hometown, despite how unrecognizable it may be now.

NNSL photo/graphic

Welcome to Pine Point, a new web documentary available online at the website of the National Film Board of Canada. It is an interactive look at the lives of several people who lived at the Pine Point mining town near Hay River between 1964 and 1987, the year the town was demolished. - photo courtesy of National Film Board of Canada

When it comes to former denizens of the Pine Point mining town which was demolished and burned to the ground in 1987 after owner Cominco closed the mine about the only thing people can do is point to a map, or dig up the trunk of Pine Point collectives they've kept after all these years. That, and replay images of the town in their heads.

But how are accurate are those memories? Does it matter, really?

That's the subject of a new web-based National Film Board of Canada documentary called Welcome To Pine Point, the latest project by the award-winning former creative directors of Adbusters Magazine, Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge collectively known as The Goggles.

Ostensibly a nostalgia-tinged look back at the lives of a handful of people who called the mining town home from 1964 to 1987, Welcome To Pine Point is more about the collective effort of former residents to keep the town's memory alive in the absence of any remaining infrastructure.

"I wouldn't call it a moonscape because there is life there but the town site is overgrown; some weeds and grass, and lots of raspberry bushes, too, but there's nothing really left there," said Ryan Silke, a director with the NWT Mine Heritage Society.

Simons' and Shoebridge's documentary started as a book about the dying art of scrapbooking. During the course of their research, they stumbled upon Pine Point Revisited, a website created by former Pine Point resident Richard Cloutier.

"Both of us were really captivated by it," said Simons of the site, an obsessively curated online museum bursting with photos and screen captures of other Pine Point tokens. "We knew there was something emotionally that we were drawn to."

Simons and Shoebridge met with Cloutier, one of several characters who, it is clear from the documentary, still regret the sudden death of their hometown. Cloutier, in turn, put them on to other "Pine Pointers," as they're called.

"That was when they realized it could be something more than just a book," said Simons.

The web documentary, available at www.nfb.ca, combines sound and video clips taken during the mine town's life, interviews, untold amounts of photos, music, and narration provided by Simons. The end result is a haunting piece about a time and place that remains only in the minds of those who remember it.

"Because their town was removed, I think people hung onto their artifacts and their badges and their photographs," said Simons. "Their proof is what they had left, so it was actually quite easy for us to get material for the project. People kept it tucked away in a safe place and they knew immediately where to get it."

Not everybody was so eager to share, said Shoebridge.

"There was a couple people who said it was too emotional for them to open up those doors again," he said. "They found it really hard to see images of the town after it had been removed. It sort of took their breath away. They had such a great memory of the place. They were able to sort of put it on a shelf and manage it that way."

Welcome To Pine Point doesn't profess to tell a definitive account of, well, anything. That's the point. People's memories especially their nostalgia-tinged memories of their hometowns are as subjective as it gets. So when Cloutier claims in the documentary that he once shovelled 32 tonnes of zinc in a single day, Simon, via his narration, asks, "And who are you to judge?"

The unreliability of memory is a theme common to everybody's story, said Simons.

"I got an e-mail from an 80-year-old couple who say that they responded to it as well, and they were from South Carolina," he said.

"I think people are able to understand that it's a very human thing about memory how it's not always the most trustworthy factor that you can pull up. It does have rough, fuzzy corners and everybody's able to control and limit and pull things from their memory. It's a very human, universal story that way."

Simons and Shoebridge performed the web documentary, using pre-recorded sound clips for the narration, at a documentary film festival in Amsterdam and hope to do the same in Hay River or Yellowknife.

"There's certainly been talk that that makes sense, bringing it up there," said Simons. "That's the logical place to do it."

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