Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A TRIP TO FLIN FLON, MANITOBA


by: Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston

The name Flin Flon came from a British author, J.R. Preston Muddock, who wrote a science fiction book. The main character being a New York grocer and amateur scientist with the name Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. A copy of the book was found and read by prospector, Tom Creighton, in northern Manitoba in 1915. Shortly thereafter, while hunting moose in the Flin Flon lake area, he fell through the ice. Beneath the surface, the rock bed of the lake shimmered with what he recognized as a mineral treasure and Creighton staked his claim. He proposed the lake be named Flin Flon after the fictional character.

Back in the sixties and seventies, a trip to Flin Flon was a long and tiring experience, taking most of the day. It was about the same distance as travelling to Calgary, Alberta. The only difference being, we were heading north-east.

Everyone would get on the bus in the morning and not arrive in the mining city until night for a weekend double-header.

As we left the Province of Saskatchewan, and entered Manitoba, the thought of making that long tedious trip north up # 10 hwy, going through the forestry and around those many lakes as not very welcome. During the last hour, as we approached Flin Flon, the highway started to make many twists and turns. Everywhere you looked there was Manitoba precambrian rock.

I can remember one trip in 1967, we had a rookie goalie by the name of Ken Friesen. As we approached Flin Flon, he saw the airport search-light on the right side of the bus. After making another turn, it was on the left side. Ken let out a hollor and said, "How big is this Flin Flon? Man! They have two airports!" The whole bus let out a roar of laughter at his surprising assumption. After two or more trips to Flin Flon one gets to know all those turns. As the bus came around the last turn, at the city limits, a statue of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin welcomed us.

Many of the hockey players hated going to Flin Flon, because the local Bombers Junior Hockey Team were known for playing rough and fights always erupted during those games. The local boys got their toughness from working in the mines day after day, for $300.00 a month when not playing hockey.

The Bombers knew they had a good chance of winning the first game if they capitalized on our being tired from the long bus trip. They would really be rough at the start of the game, getting a fast start on the visitors. In my rookie season we had no problem with Flin Flon. We averaged 13 goals a game against them that year.

In 1974 Pats trainer Norm Fong was also the Regina Junior Rams trainer Norm suggested to coach Turner that he should try Big Bob Poley, (6’3”, 240 pounds) as their policeman for that season. Although he wasn't a great skater, the opposition took notice of his size every time he stepped on the ice. On the trip to Flin Flon, Big Bob and two other players were walking down Main street. Passers by would stop and look in awe, for they had never seen anyone that big in Flin Flon. For that matter, neither had the Bomber players.

The small city was built around the famous HBM&S Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company Limited, on the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border.


The first thing you would see as you left the Royal Hotel, was that everywhere you went you were walking on rock. The sewer pipes were right out in the open, above ground, encased by wooden planks that doubled as sidewalks. The skyline was dominated by two structures owned by the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company: the massive red head frame of the north mine shaft, and the towering smelter smoke stack stretching into the northern sky.


In 1935 the Mining Company built an in door rink called the Main Arena. In 1960 Company President, C.V. Witney, approved a grant to repair and enlarge the old rink. To-day, the Arena is named Whitney Forum and seats about 2,000 people.

I can remember the players telling me about this famous Shorty Russick's Pool Hall located half a block down the main street on the same side of the street as the hotel. I am glad I went out of my way to explore it. It was something I will never forget, like going back in time. When I found the entrance I opened the door and, to my surprise, directly in front of me I saw three steps going down directly and was then confronted with a huge rock. I walked up and over that famous rock and there stood another door. As I opened that door, I could see old timers seated around the walls playing different kinds of card games. The pool tables were something else. The floor of the pool room was not level and they planted the tables right on top of the rock. One of the many tables had one side where the legs were about two feet high while on the other side it was the normal length.

One of the Pat players mentioned to me that there was another pool hall down the main street, just inside the Saskatchewan border, in the town of Creighton. The floors there were level, but the tables were not as good to play on.

One year it was so cold, the temperature was a minus 65 degrees farenheight with the wind chill at a killing minus 95. That was one time I would rather have been on one of our Western Coast trips to Victoria. It was so cold that coach Bob Turner arranged for taxi cabs to take the players the one and a half blocks to Witney Forum. By the time all the players were loaded into the cabs there was no room for us. Coach Turner and I recklessly endangered life and limb as we ran up the Third Avenue hill from the hotel and down the half block to the rink. I don't remember who got to the rink first, Bob or me. While the Pats got dressed and had their warm-up, I went to the concession booth and had their famous chicken-in-a-mug and a large cup of hot chocolate to thaw my thoroughly chilled innards.

In comparison to the rough and tumble action experienced in the weekend series, the friendly, accommodating attitude of the citizens in general was refreshing. An example of this was when, on one of our trips there, I happened to notice a nice blue western type man's suit at Ross Men's Style Shop next to our Royal Hotel, on Main Street. I kept eyeing it every time I went by. Finally on Saturday, an hour before closing time, I went in and decided to buy that suit. I never saw people move so fast to try and have it ready in time. They sent my sports jacket down the street to a tailor, while they did the pants themselves. Sure enough, it was ready at six o'clock as promised. That suit lasted me for thirty years. To this day, it remains one of my favorites. Every time I wore it, it brought back many wonderful memories of that special year in Flin Flon.