Llamas and all
Mining drew him North; love of NWT has kept him here

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 21/00) - Sitting with Glen Zelinski in the living room of his home at Prelude Ridge near Yellowknife, one could never predict the intriguing tales of adventure soon to be heard.

There are stories of week-long snowmobile voyages across the North, tales countless fishing trips and weekend getaways to Cambridge Bay, of owning mules and llamas and breeding pigeons.

This man has done it all.

His unrelenting pursuit of a career in the mining industry led Glen and his family to head North 20 years ago.

"In 1980 there was work all across Canada for tradespeople, so you really had a choice of where you wanted to go.

"The choices were endless, so we made the decision to move west," said Glen, a native of London, Ont.

That summer, he travelled throughout western Canada to explore options for employment in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.

Then he decided to take his journey even further, to the Northwest Territories and Yellowknife.

"We really just immediately fell in love with the terrain and upon arriving in the city we found it very unique."

After a number of successful interviews at Con Mine, Glen decided it would be a good idea to consider taking advantage of the opportunities there.

He returned to Ontario, and soon made the decision to move the family North to live, at first, at Con Camp.

"It was almost like living in the country, the whole Con Camp atmosphere. In those days there was probably close to 200 people there," Glen remembers.

His job as a welder for Con mine turned out to be a good career move. A few years later, he became general maintenance foreman at the mine.

After moving from Con Camp to Yellowknife, he came to realize that most of the mining supplies used there were transported from the south.

Going into business

That prompted his decision to set up a mining supply service in 1990, Frontier Mining and Industrial Supplies.

"We were into many things. We were selling equipment for drilling underground, we manufactured things like incinerators, building conveyance systems, bulk sample facilities, crushing facilities ... whatever the industry needed."

In fact, Glen invented a small incinerator specifically for use at mining exploration camps.

The model was designed to be very compact, so it could be transported to exploration camps on a Twin Otter, but could also be expanded on an as-needed basis.

"There really was a need for it at the time and it's still being used. I think there are about seven of them up in the North now," he said.

In 1997, he made the difficult decision to sell frontier to EMCO Ltd., an Ontario-based company.

"With the things that were happening around the North, all of the growth in the North, so the time was right to sell," he said.

But a part of him did not want to sell the company he created. He had devoted seven years to its creation.

"It's like your baby. I built this thing from zero. It was definitely a difficult decision."

When he sold the company, he also sold the rights to the incinerator he had designed.

Promoting mining

But Glen moved on. He became actively involved in a Community Mobilization Program which sent mining professionals into various communities around the North.

"We were doing presentations and in a lot of cases we were training people to help people understand the mining concept, camp life and that sort of thing."

He became very deeply involved in Community Mobilization's mining initiatives and spent most of the last three years travelling and training.

"It was very unique in the sense that it was an opportunity to help Northerners become part of what was happening up here."

Just four months ago, Diavik Diamond Mines offered him a position, asking him to help design a training strategy for them. He accepted, continuing an association with mining that has now spanned three decades.

"I'm very much enjoying what I'm doing right now, so I think it's something that I will keep doing and keep enjoy doing.

"The mining industry is very intriguing, it's a small world and it's a career that has tremendous opportunities -- whatever you set your goals at, you can do it. I have found it a lot of fun," he said.

Extended family

Not only has Glen had an exciting and rewarding career, he has also been blessed with a rather large circle of loved ones. Besides his daughters Glenna and Melanie and wife Debbie, Glen has several unusual family additions.

Visitors entering the driveway of his Prelude Ridge home are greeted by his two golden retrievers, Luke and Haley. Off to the right are three llamas, Ben, Troy and baby Genella.

The story of how Glen came to own the llamas first began with a mule named Old Gus.

In his Frontier Mining days, Glen was never keen on buying advertising.

"I said that if I'm going to spend money to advertise, I'll spend money on something the community can enjoy, something fun," he said.

He decided to do something unique that had some significance to the mining industry -- that's where Old Gus came into the picture.

"I had never owned anything bigger than a dog ... but I decided on the mule because I could use it in parades and at Raven Mad Daze, and mules have a history in the mining industry."

But Old Gus was never very fond of Glen. And after he passed away, Glen decided to try his luck with llamas.

"I heard they were pretty docile and have quite the character, so I pursued it," he said.

The llamas adjusted well to the North, as they are natives of the Andes mountains and can adapt to cold temperatures. In the past few years, Glen and his family became quite attached to them.

"They're doing very well and we do whatever we can to make them comfortable."

The Zelinski family also breeds pigeons and owns a cat as well. He and his wife Debbie are avid travellers, having visited many small communities around the North. They have embarked on countless fishing expeditions to the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, snowmobile trips to Cambridge Bay and have spent a considerable amount of time hunting as well.

"I'm very committed to the North ... I love it and my intentions are to retire here. I have no reason to move down south, we have our home here and this is where we will stay."