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As Pine Point mine plans a 2028 opening, a former resident remembers what once was

Rashpal Sehmby has fond memories of growing up in Pine Point. (Submitted by Rashpal Sehmby - image credit)
Rashpal Sehmby has fond memories of growing up in Pine Point. (Submitted by Rashpal Sehmby - image credit)

There could be a new Pine Point mine operating in the N.W.T. four years from now, but for one former resident, nothing could ever replace the community that surrounded the old mine.

There hasn't been an active zinc and lead mine at Pine Point in the almost four decades since the former mine and neighbouring community closed down and were abandoned.

The new mine is currently in the development phase, according to Jeff Hussey, the CEO of joint venture company Pine Point Mining Ltd.

But there is no plan to redevelop a community near the site, which lies between Hay River and Fort Resolution, Hussey said.

Back when the old mine was operating, miners and their families lived nearby in a single industry town aptly named Pine Point.

The only Punjabi family in the community of 2,000

Construction of both the mine and community began in 1962, and the community was incorporated in 1974.

Rashpal Sehmby was born in a small farming village in Punjab, India in 1969 but grew up in Pine Point.

He remembers that time in his life fondly and recalls the Sehmbys being the only Punjabi family in the community of almost 2,000 people.

Sehmby's father, Swaran, a heavy duty mechanic, immigrated to Canada in 1969 and ended up in Mississauga, Ont. He was working at a die factory when he applied for a job with Cominco Mines.

"He got a letter of an offer of a job to head up to some place called Pine Point, Northwest Territories," Sehmby recalled.

Sehmby on a bike at the Pine Days Parade Circa in 1970.
Sehmby on a bike at the Pine Days Parade Circa in 1970.

Sehmby on a bike at the local Pine Days Parade Circa in 1970. (Submitted by Rashpal Sehmby)

"He looked at the wage he was making in Mississauga compared to what he was probably going to make up north. And he said, 'Yep,' and he made his way up to Pine Point."

Sehmby and his mother, Gurmeet, stayed behind in India until 1974, when they made their way to Canada. Eventually, his brother, Dalbir, and sister, Kuljeet, would be born in Hay River.

Back in Pine Point, his father was fitting right in.

"Being the first Sikh and turbaned man in Pine Point, he was welcomed by his co-workers," Sehmby said.

A diverse community

Sehmby has fond memories of winter camping trips that involved ferrying supplies — and campers — to a cabin using a snowmobile and toboggan.

"We were greeted by the smell of a campfire and beef stew cooking in a pot in the cabin," he said. "The warmth of the stew filled our bellies, and the next task was to cut some firewood for the night,"

As night fell, they would roast marshmallows by the fire and share ghost stories, he said.

"It brought us together and taught us the great, wonderful things that Mother Nature has created and the need to respect the land we walk on."

An aerial view of Pine Point in the winter of 1970.
An aerial view of Pine Point in the winter of 1970.

An aerial view of Pine Point in the winter of 1970. (Joanne Kenig/Facebook)

Sehmby also remembers the diversity of Pine Point, as people came from all over Canada to live there and work in the mine alongside local and Indigenous residents.

He had a diverse group of friends and doesn't remember experiencing any prejudice or racism.

"We grew up in households where you just show up and whoever's house was making lunch that day, we just sat down and ate; there was no question," he said.

Food played an important role in Sehmby's upbringing, from growing up eating locally harvested food to community potluck dinners at the rec hall.

Learning to cook hot dogs and butter chicken

"People loved it because my mom and dad would just make tons of butter chicken and chicken curry and, you know, all these East Indian dishes," he said.

Local women would visit Sehmby's mother at his house, and they would teach each other how to cook.

"They would teach my mom how to cook hamburgers and hotdogs and that kind of stuff. So my mom would teach them how to make roti or a lentil stew like dahl," he said. "That's how she learned to speak English."

Sehmby said it was a magical time in his life, and even though Pine Point is gone, the memories and friendships will always remain.

"The memories of the wonderful people we met and created lasting friendships [with] cannot be replaced," Sehmby said.

"The beauty of the north, with its pristine lakes, rivers and open forested areas is what I will always miss forever."