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Pine Point welcomes residents home25-year anniversary brings Pine Pointers home from near and far
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 12, 2013
"I was sitting here when the first campers rolled in," said Calvin Lizotte, organizer of the Pine Point 25-year reunion that took place over the weekend of Aug. 3 in the now-abandoned community.
More than 350 Pine Pointers came home for the big event.
"It was pretty emotional. Seeing this happen has been our dream for a while and to see it come true is really something."
Pine Point sprang up in the early 1960s to service Cominco's nearby lead-zinc mine. At its peak, its population reached 1,200 and was enough to maintain a commercial sector as well as both a primary and a secondary school. The last class graduated in 1988 when the mine was shut down and the town was closed along with it.
Many residents moved into the surrounding communities of Hay River and Fort Resolution, while others preferred to try their luck farther south, and still others moved back to whence they had originally come, sometimes on different continents. Still, many came back for the August long weekend to see what is left of their hometown and each other.
"It started a couple of years ago when the girls started talking on Facebook and then it was handed over to us to make happen," Lizotte said laughing to his fellow organization committee member Frank Lafferty. "For all of us who grew up here it was always in the back of our minds to come back as a group."
The theme for the reunion came from the story of how one resident had painted a sign asking the last person to leave town in 1988 to turn out the lights. Lafferty said it was only fitting that the lights come back on for one weekend to welcome everyone home.
Campers had originally been encouraged to set up on the sites of their former houses, now slowly being reclaimed by grass and trees popping up through the pavement. But Lafferty said that idea was quickly abandoned in favour of everyone being in the town centre and close to each other. Now a Hay River resident, Lafferty has a cabin at Pine Point he uses regularly.
"When people started showing up, I was busy trying to organize everyone and I just sent a few people down towards my cabin," he said. "When I got back there a few hours later there was a mini-village that had sprung up all around it."
This set the tone for the rest of the campers who congregated around remembered landmarks such as the grocery store and the hotel. While there is nothing left above ground, the basement of the latter remains fairly intact, complete with furniture and scattered paperwork in its gloomy recesses.
"My mom and sister used to work here," said Lafferty. "It's just crazy that they spent time in these rooms and now there isn't much left."
Despite the less-than-tender attentions of years of vandals, much of the basement complex of former storerooms is still intact. Lafferty said the exterior walls and foundation were built as if for a bunker and he wasn't surprised to see them entirely unchanged.
While some did recall fondly the structures that no longer exist, most returning Pine Pointers held fonder memories of each other than anything else.
"It was wonderful," said Elio Tortone, back from 25 years in Argentina to see his former co-workers and neighbours.
"I spent the best part of my life here, seven years, and my kid grew up here until she was four. She still remembers some of it."
Tortone said his best memory was that of playing goalie for a local soccer team, aptly called the South American Connection.
Everywhere people were bumping into each other, and after a few moments of awkwardly trying to recognize each other, would invariably fall into long and convoluted discussions of whose cousin had moved where and whether they were back for the weekend.
The children running around between the adults were evidence that - if only for the weekend - Pine Point didn't need buildings or proper roads or anything but its people to exist.
"This place will never die," said Cheryl Wood, who was trying to organize an updated class photo with 11 of her fellow returning graduates. "It's in our hearts."