Life in a Mining Town

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Mar 16, 2017 2:14 PM

Nearly 60 years ago, Guy Victor Barnes left his hometown of Buchans, NL, and moved to Ontario. His son, David Barnes, recently reached out to Downhome to help tell his father's story of growing up in the Central Newfoundland mining town.

In Newfoundland and Labrador's history, there's no other town that originated in quite the same way as Buchans. Valuable ore deposits were found in the middle of nowhere in Newfoundland’s interior in the early 20th century, and the mine - and by extension, the town - was established to extract those natural resources. While towns like Wabana on Bell Island already existed and expanded because of the mining industry, Buchans was formed for and around the mines. 

Guy, born in 1934, was one of five children born to George and Dora Barnes (nee Sharp) of Twillingate, who moved to Buchans and raised their family. Guy’s father was hired on July 3, 1926, as an operator in the mine’s mill and, according to Guy, was one of the first 10 people hired for the mine. 

When Guy was 16 years old, he became a carpenter’s helper at both the Rothermere and MacLeans mines in Buchans. Other mines in the town included Old Buchans, Lucky Strike and Oriental, for a total of five. As a carpenter, Guy helped build the mine’s deck head and pump house, and he regularly worked at the carpenter’s shop. He was also sent out to help repair homes in the town, everything from putting up drywall to building the foundations of new homes, as well as shingling and any other maintenance that might be needed.

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Guy Barnes at the MacLeans Mine deck head (Courtesy Karen Gallant)

Life in Buchans
Due to Buchans’ remote location, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) pretty much controlled the town, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website. No one else was allowed to set up a private business in Buchans and the company owned all the homes. In fact, ASARCO even dictated who could get into the town via the railway.

But it wasn’t all work in this company town. 

“We had everything - doctors, hospitals, entertainment. It was a small town and everyone knew everyone,” Guy told his son, David. Guy can remember the many ways the employees and their families found to relax. 

“Buchans hockey team was all the rage. They were championship winners and Dad’s friend played on the team. So he went to the games in town and travelled on the train to see them when they played out of town. Dad was on the rowing team. The mining company made a swimming dam down from the mud hole,” David told Downhome in an email. “There was sail boating, there was a ski hill, the company bus took them to Red Indian Lake to go swimming and fishing,” David continues. There were also dances twice a week and a movie theatre while Guy was growing up.

Off to the Mainland
Guy’s last day on the job with Buchans’ mines was April 25, 1958. Like many young men, he left his hometown for the mainland in search of better opportunities. It was certainly a different experience, moving from company-controlled Buchans, Newfoundland to a major Canadian city. In Buchans, Guy was only allowed to work at the mines, whereas a myriad of job opportunities were available to him upalong. He continued on as a carpenter and eventually opened his own business, Guy Barnes Carpentry, which he ran for 37 years.

He met his wife, Flora, at a dance hall in Toronto. 

“He knew at first sight that she was the one,” David writes. They were married on December 3, 1960, and have three children: David, Gary and Karen. David and Gary followed in their father’s footsteps and became carpenters.

It’s the quiet life for 82-year-old Guy today. He and Flora live in Orangeville, Ontario, with their children nearby.

Buchans’ mines, meanwhile, closed in 1984. By Elizabeth Whitten