Anthropocene Encounters in the Northwest Territories

Huge stacks of abandoned drillcore from 25 years of exploration work at Pine Point.

Project Team: Tanja Hoffmann, Hayley Saul, Emma Waterton

Project Support and Funding: The Leverhulme Trust and the Landscape Research Group

Life in the Anthropocene is characterised by encounters with ubiquitous manifestations of human presences. This project looks to engage with Pine Point, a forcibly abandoned mining town on the south shore of Great Slave Lake in the territories of the Deninu Kué and K’atl’odeeche First Nations and homeland of the Fort Resolution and Hay River Métis Councils. These First Nations territories and Métis homelands encompass a portion of what is now known as Canada’s Northwest Territories. Established in 1964, the town of Pine Point was planned and built by Cominco Mines Ltd. to house workers for the nearby lead and zinc open pit mine operation. At its peak, Pine Point was home to a population of 2000 people consisting primarily of mine workers and their families. In 1989 Cominco closed the mine and the town along with it. Though a drastic reduction in base metal value was the economic driver of the mine’s demise, so too was the groundwater. Efforts to stem the unrelenting ingress of water into the open pit mines overpowered the technology and budget required to keep it at bay. Beginning in 1988, Pine Point’s schools and other public buildings were bulldozed and houses were loaded onto flatbed trailers and moved to the neighbouring town of Hay River or the First Nation community at Fort Resolution. Yet Pine Point townsite continues to thrive through the active memory-making of its former inhabitants, even as the townsite itself is slowly and certainly being reclaimed by the earth. 

The project is part multispecies ethnography and part autoethnography since one of the Centre researchers (Tanja Hoffmann) was born and raised in Pine Point until her family left in 1983. Despite the forced dislocation from the townsite, there remains a thriving online and occasionally on-site Pine Point community where heritages of memory, identity, and erasure intersect in a unique Anthropocene landscape. Nostalgia and possibilities of return battle with the reality of living in a polluted mine site. Levels of ground water contaminants from abandoned tailings ponds has rendered large portions of the landscape unsafe for multispecies (including human) habitation. 

This project aims to engage with the active Pine Point community, and the Anthropocene landscape of Pine Point itself, to explore questions of nested Anthropocene pasts, presents, and futures. For example, how are factors of on-site pollution interacting with climate change to inform multispecies relations? What are the legacies of active Pine Point heritage-making in terms of multi-generational identities? Does forcible removal incite a different kind or intensity of place-based heritage? What new multispecies histories are emerging at the mine site’s pits and tailings ponds? How might a biography of groundwater inform understanding of heritage making in mining towns? And with reference to post-industrial heritage, is there an ethical responsibility to reoccupy damaged places to contain human impact, or to hasten their repair?

Sustainable Development Goal/s