My Hometown: Snow Lake, Manitoba
A charming museum in Snow Lake, Manitoba, brings the small community’s mining history to life.
Snow Lake: History Remembered
I have lived in the small northern Manitoba mining town of Snow Lake for the past 45 years. I came as a teenager, and left several times, but I always returned. I’m the editor, writer and layout person for a twice-monthly area newspaper, The Underground Press.
Mining draws most to the community of slightly under 1,000, but the beauty of the area, safety and outdoor recreation are what keep folks here. The strong sense of respect for who they are, as well as for those who have preceded them, have always amazed me. I get a feel for it every time I visit the Snow Lake Mining Museum. I’m carried back and placed in the midst of the small community’s rich history, a past that was built upon the successes of its mineral industry.
Once a bus garage, lodging the vehicles that ferried workers to and from area mines, this large building now houses the heritage those workers toiled to produce.
Opening its doors 20 years ago, the Snow Lake Mining Museum went from a small collection of used mine machinery to an extremely well-organized and catalogued collection of local prospecting and mining memorabilia, as well as some remarkable themed and interactive exhibits, all of which allow patrons to truly experience their history. It didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t happen without an immense amount of work and vision from a board made up of locals, headed by long-standing chairperson Paul Hawman and watched over by the museum’s enduring curator, Dori Forsyth.
Every visit to the museum is an experience in its own, and, in addition to me, many find it hard to refrain from pulling up to a table and delving into the reams of printed and pictorial history housed in the entry’s vestibule. Of course, there is much more included in the museum itself and patrons need to get into the main part of this building in order to take it all in.
Amid countless treasures are an Eimco muck car, an underground locomotive, an old steam hoist and a MacLean Long Tom drill. The museum also houses an interactive gold-panning exhibit, scale mock-ups and life-size drilling exhibits, an interactive “claim staking” exhibit, and what is thought to be Canada’s largest collection of mine rescue equipment.
The museum offers a trove of information on numerous northern Manitoba pioneers, such as trapper, inventor and videographer Ralph Bryenton; merchant and prospector Bill English; and mine finders Chris Parres, Joe Kerr, Walter Johnson, Richard (Dick) Woosey and Kathleen (Kate) Rice, who was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 2014. Newer, more intricate displays, such as a rock and mineral exhibit and an exploration exhibit, are testament to the work that Paul Hawman and his team have undertaken to make the museum as interesting as it is functional.
Much of this group’s work takes place outside of the museum’s hours of operation and kilometres away in the surrounding forests. Paul and a few others take occasional weekend excursions in the area to salvage pieces for display. Some, in recent memory, came from the numerous abandoned and historically significant mines across nearby Wekusko Lake.
Paul is a retired mine planner. He came to the area from Saskatchewan decades ago and worked in that capacity for Hudbay Minerals and its forebearer, Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting. The only thing that rivals the man’s work ethic is his love for the area and its history and his amiable manner, which benefactors find hard to say no to. Every year of Paul’s tenure, he has set out and achieved enhancement goals for the mining museum. Reaching beyond the doors of the building, he and his board placed industry-specific names and signage on several trails throughout Snow Lake. They have also placed historical artifacts in a variety of high-traffic areas in the community, and secured some large donations and grants that have helped them attain their yearly goals. As well, under Paul’s leadership, the museum has gained Manitoba Provincial Star Attraction status.
The Snow Lake Mining Museum and Paul Hawman are treasures in the minds of many Manitobans in these parts.