The original purpose of the Clinton Creek Oral History Project was to gather information about how the area around the former asbestos mine and company town had been used by locals prior to the establishment of the mine in the mid-1960s.
The mine was about a decade getting off the ground from the time that Conwest first got interested in mining the ore in 1955. The decision to go ahead was made in 1965, and the mine, as well as the company town of 500 associated with it, flourished from 1967 to 1978.
By the time an entire chapter of a Grade 10 Geography textbook in use in the late 1970s and early 1980s was devoted to it, the mine was already shutting down, doomed by the bad press and scientific evidence accumulating around the fluffy white fibers. Cassiar Asbestos Corp. Ltd. would eventually close its mine in Cassiar, B.C. as well.
The company undertook remediation from 1978-1992 and by 2002 the federal government was involved as well. In 2003 the Yukon government became responsible for the remediation of the site, using federal money.
The intention of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s oral history project, led by Allie Winton of Crowberry Consulting, whose family has a wilderness cabin in the area, was to peer into the past of the region and see how it has been used and valued in the past.
As Winton reported to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens and the larger community during two meetings in the month before Christmas, that project proved to be impossible. It has been 38 years since the mine closed, 49 since it had opened and nearly 60 since traditional activities had been the main draw to the area.
As someone in the Dec. 7 audience of two-dozen said, it was 20 years too late to gather oral history information. Hardly anyone still alive would remember it.
Winton produced a questionnaire consisting of 17 questions intended to probe how people felt about the area. There were 33 online responses to the request for information and nine people submitted written responses.
In addition, she conducted 13 interviews with 15 individuals, following the same general topics. These were: historic and current use of the area; access; weather and landscape changes; wildlife and vegetation; importance for sustenance, recreation and nostalgia; knowledge of recent remediation and safety measures; what people thought still needed doing.
Some people went there to work, travel, hunt, fish and visit family or friends. Access to the area ranged from monthly to every decade or so.
As the road is part of the access to Forty Mile, some people were just passing by.
Winton found that people valued the area for reasons related to nostalgia, recreation, sustenance, livelihood and roots (home).
Issues identified included safety; access; concerns about the Clinton Creek Road and the bridge; the effects of climate change; and the fact that some of the remediation attempts have created problems.
While some people want to see the area returned to a natural state as much as possible, others value the existence of the remains of the mine works and want to be able to visit the area, while still others feel the area unsafe and that it should be restricted more than it is now.
The report is still in draft and data form, and Winton’s research will be turned into a finished product by Helene Dobrowolsky, while Winton leaves the project to concentrate on having her second child.