Northwest ghost town awakens: Burchell buffs revisit old mining community west of city

Northwest ghost town awakens: Burchell buffs revisit old mining community west of city
Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bob Cressman sometimes sleeps at night dreaming about a ghost town.
“It‘s really, really weird,” said the 67-year-old retired educator, who once lived in Burchell Lake, a once thriving copper mining town that is now mainly dormant, aside from some cottage homes.
From 1962-67 he lived in the community located about 100 kilometres west of Thunder Bay on provincial Highway 802, working as a teacher at Burchell Lake School – School Section One, where he taught Grades 6 to 10.
On Saturday – 40 years later – he saw his old school again, only it was in vandalized condition.
“I even found an old evaluation sheet for a student,” he said.
And Cressman, who toured his old town with about 133 other former residents in the ghost town reunion, also found his old home.
He said the bushes and trees in the town have grown so large that they “consumed” the place, so much so that Cressman was forced to break down branches just to enter his abandoned home.
And there are a lot of missing buildings in Burchell, where up to 400 people once lived.
“It‘s a ghost town,” Cressman said. “The whole town is a ghost town.”
Cressman says he met some of his former students at the reunion that drew people from across Canada and a handful from the U.S. They reminded Cressman about when he told them in class about former U.S. president John F. Kennedy‘s assassination, on the day it happened in 1963.
The then 22-year-old teacher, who was barely older than some of his students, launched into a lecture about assassinations and government with his students. As a relatively new teacher at the time, he believes he learned more from his students and dealing with their parents than his students learned from him.
“It was an amazing education for me,” said Cressman, who now lives in Ottawa Valley.
He says every now and then, “I have a dream of teaching back at that job.”
The reunion and it‘s four-hour tour of the ghost town brought back many memories for those who came back to the 100-acre (40.5 hectare) community.
Former Burchell resident Patricia Parker helped organize the reunion of “Burchell buffs” with the website The 62-year-old said they sold out of hats and T-shirts, and held a 1960s reunion party later in the day.
Parker now lives in Shebandowan with her 69-year-old husband Peter, a former Burchell miner.
He worked at Burchell Lake‘s North Coldstream Copper Mine from 1960 to 1967, the year when the Noranda-managed mine began shutting down, turning Burchell into the famed ghost town.
Peter estimates that most surviving workers from Burchell are in their mid-70s or older.
“Some of them are dead, we all know that,” Peter said in an interview earlier this year.
Surrounded by boreal forest, a clearwater lake with great beachfront and recreational amenities, Burchell was easy for residents to fall in love with.
Housing was tended well by the mining company, including details such as snow shovelling and painting.
Patricia‘s dad worked at the mine, and she was known as the lunch girl, making lunches for miners.
The idea for a reunion started in 2005 when Patricia met up with a friend who also lived in Burchell. It sparked their interest in seeing their old Burchell friends again.
More than 100 deserted communities are believed to be scattered across the province. In Northwestern Ontario the list of ghost towns includes Jackfish, located near Terrace Bay about 200 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, and Osaquan, located near Ignace about 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.