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Ghost town

Pine Point gone, but Geoff Sanderson not forgotten

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Thursday October 28, 1999 10:12 PM

In My Hometown
Hay River, NW Territories
Hub of the North
Population: 3,500
Founded: Slave Dene tribes in 1200;
Christian missionaries in 1893; Incorporated 1956
Biggest Employer: NW Provincial Gov't;
Northern Transportation Co. (shipping)
Special Events: Kamba Carnival; Heritage Days
Avg. Snowfall: 65 inches (165 cm)
No. of Rinks: 1 indoor; 3 outdoor
Web site:
By David Vecsey, CNN/SI

Buffalo Sabres winger Geoff Sanderson is quick to point out that he isn't exactly from Hay River, but rather hails from a place called Pine Point, about 60 miles east. And he only lived there until he was 10.

The town, Pine Point, died five years later, leaving Hay River as the next of kin in terms of Sanderson's childhood home.

A virtual desert of barren tundra, the land in Canada's Northwest Territories is loaded with minerals, gas and gems. Many a town has sprouted up around a drill, pipeline or hole in the ground. But when a mine dries up, so does the town. Such was the case in Pine Point when Cominco Ltd.'s lead and zinc mines shut their doors in 1988. The 1,800 or so people there moved on, many to Hay River.

Sanderson's family had moved on long before, trekking down to Edmonton so that Geoff's emerging hockey skills would be better developed. They left little to claim as home in the Territories. Their house was picked up and moved to Hay River, and Pine Point Arena, where Sanderson first displayed his natural speed and soft hands, was moved 50 miles to Fort Resolution.

In their own strange way, people in Hay River consider themselves southerners. Oh, sure, they live 12 hours north of Edmonton -- a place most Americans consider the absolute end of the world -- but geographically speaking, Hay River is one of the southernmost towns in the Territories.

The aptly named Hub of the North provides roadways, railways and waterways to the companies looking to harvest the riches beneath the roughly 100 miles of rugged tundra between the 60th Parallel and the Arctic Circle. The Mackenzie River connects Hay River to the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Circle; and to get to Yellowknife, the capital of the NW Territories, you can either circumnavigate the 11,000-square-mile Great Slave Lake by land ... or you can fly.

"It's like an ocean when you get out there," says Charlie Scarborough, a former Pine Point native who now works for the Town of Hay River. "We have a major fishing operation up here, pulling about two million pounds of whitefish a year."

Scarborough says Sanderson will forever be considered a native son in spite of his relatively short stay there. Small Canadian towns never forget the kids who make good, especially in the NHL.

So, what can you tell us about the "Hub of the North"?

Geoff Sanderson: Well, actually, even though I was born in Hay River, I really lived in Pine Point. I don't know if there was no doctor in town or what, but I had to go to the hospital there.

The place I grew up, Pine Point, doesn't exist anymore. It was a mining town, and it closed down about 12 or 13 years ago. Just a small mining community on the southern tip of the Great Slave Lake. I moved away from there when I was about 10; it was just a small town, maybe 1,500 people. It was just a town in the middle of the north surrounded by nothing.

All that's left of Pine Point is sidewalks and roads. All the houses have been moved out of town, and all the buildings have either been burned or bulldozed over.

It's weird because when I went back up to Hay River to do a little promotion, the house that I lived in in Pine Point was cut in half and thrown on a flatbed truck and shipped to Hay River. And I saw it put back up in another neighborhood. The house I grew up in is in another town now. So that was pretty weird.

What is the Northwest Territory, exactly? Is it a province or something different?

Geoff Sanderson: I guess it would be considered a type of province. It's just east of Alaska and the Yukon. It's a huge area. A territory, I guess. It's not really considered a province, but it has representation in the government and everything.

This Inukshuk and another one were built both in Hay River and in Pine Point in 1978 when the neighboring communities hosted the Arctic Winter Games.

An Inukshuk is an Inuit direction guide. These are set up in the Arctic above the tree line to mark trails used by the Inuit people when they venture out on the land.

Most Inukshuk's are a little more abstract than this, using a very liberal definition of the term "human form."

What's the landscape like?

Geoff Sanderson: Barren tundra and bush. There is a lot of dogsledding, a lot of trappers. The winters are long and dark.

Any good lore from that area? What do the old-timers sit around and talk about?

Geoff Sanderson: The only thing I can think of is the trademark of the Northwest Territory, the Inukshuk, which is a rock figure of a person probably six or seven feet high. It's what Eskimos used to put on the land because it was just flat tundra; that's what they would use as a kind of navigational point. So as you go along the tundra, you see all these big rock figures that have been there for a really long time.

Were your people from there? Did the family go way back?

Geoff Sanderson: No, my dad was a pharmacist up there. He had stores in the different little towns around the area. We moved when I was 10 or 11 to just outside of Edmonton. My dad still lives outside of Edmonton.

As a kid, hockey must have been big that far north?

Geoff Sanderson: It was such a small town, there really was nothing else to do. There was a curling rink connected to the hockey rink. So my dad's three brothers, my parents would go curling and they'd drop us off on the other side at the hockey arena and we'd play hockey while they curled. That was basically a way of life up there. It was just hockey and curling ... and softball in the summer.

And what NHL team would you root for up there?

Geoff Sanderson: When I was there, it was the Edmonton Oilers; they were the nearest NHL team to us.

So, Edmonton was kind of the city of influence for you?

Geoff Sanderson: Absolutely. After another short stop in a small town, we moved to the Edmonton area and spent the next 10, 11 years.

That was probably good for you hockey-wise? There can't be a lot of scouts coming way up there?

Geoff Sanderson: As you got older, there was no organized hockey for when you got into the bantams. There weren't enough players. I'm lucky I moved out when I was that young.

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