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From the tallest to the trash heap

Robertson's Shaft due for demolition next year

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 30/03) - Beginning in less than 18 months, the work will begin to reduce Yellowknife's tallest landmark to little more than a capped-over hump in the ground.

At 76 metres, Miramar Con Mine's Robertson's Shaft is the tallest building in the NWT. It can be seen up to 50 kilometres away, and has led many a wayward boater home after becoming lost in the maze of islands outside Yellowknife Bay.

But as the closure date for Con Mine draws nearer the certainty that it will be dismantled, shipped out and sold for scrap appears all the more real.

"We'll see what value we get but you don't get a lot of value for salvage when you're up in the North," said Miramar manager, John Stard.

Nonetheless, the mine's abandonment and restoration plan calls for the entire mine site, including Robertson's Shaft, to be cleared and levelled. Stard said work on the shaft will begin in late 2004 or even earlier.

He predicts it will take less than six months to dismantle it.

"Maybe less than that," said Stard. "If it's a demolition it won't take that long."

Stard didn't rule out leaving the landmark be if some interested group approached the mine and offered to purchase it for posterity, but the company would have to think about it.

The company is obligated to restore the mine site to industrial standards, as outlined in the federal government's mine reclamation policy.

Too big to salvage

Mike Vaydik, vice-president of the NWT Mine Heritage Society, said keeping the shaft for posterity would likely be too tall of a task whether his group took part in it or not.

"That's a monster building," said Vaydik. "Even if you took all the equipment out it would still be a major piece of infrastructure. I don't know who could look after it.

"As a society we're becoming aware that you can only accept stuff that you can afford to look after."

Not only is Robertson's Shaft the tallest building in the NWT, its hoist, which brings both miner and ore to and from the surface, is the largest single lift friction drive in North America. The shaft that descends beneath the structure drops down to 1,859 meters underground.

It was named after the late Bob Robertson, who worked at the mine for 36 years, beginning in 1938. The shaft was officially opened in 1977. Robertson died last October at age 88.

Peter Arychuk, co-owner of Air Tindi, said due to technical advances over recent decades, especially with GPS units, which pinpoint locations using satellites, pilots are rarely inclined to use Robertson's Shaft as a marker back to town -- although they can for some distances.

He did say, however, that it serves as a useful beacon for boaters. He also thinks it should be preserved because it's a ready reminder of Yellowknife's gold mining heritage -- which will come to an end once Con shuts down in 2005.

"I'm not that fond of tearing everything down," said Arychuk.

"I'd be more inclined to see them use it as a tourist attraction to show the people that come to town how this town was built..."

"But I guess that's at somebody's expense other than ours."