National Geographic : 1968 Jul
Arctic tundra explodes skyward during exploration for oil near Tuktoyaktuk; one chunk earlier shattered the windshield of the snowmobile in which the photographer sat. Seismic crews of Imperial Oil Limited map shock waves from the blasts to reveal vari ations in underground formations. This crew lives in a trailer camp pulled on skids by tractors; other explorers move by helicopter. Northwest Territories. Its rails are the first to penetrate a region larger than all the United States east of the Mississippi, yet containing fewer people than live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This N.W.T., as residents call their Northwest Territories, is burgeon ing. New towns are being born. Some old and sleepy ones, like Hay River on a spur of the railroad, are having a dramatic rebirth. The story of the Great Slave Lake railroad and its Eskimos was told to me by the man who directed the building of the line, W. H. (Pat) MacIlroy. We sat with an engineer in the cab of a diesel locomotive. Behind us five more engines added their power. Careering and screeching for a mile behind them came 107 ore cars. Loaded at Pine Point Mines in the N.W.T., the most dramatic new source of lead and zinc on the globe, the concentrates were destined for smelters in southern Cana da or elsewhere around the world. "We were happy partners with Pine Point," Pat was saying. "We finished laying our track well ahead of schedule. Pine Point's concen trator wasn't yet operating, so they shipped high-grade ore out raw. It was so rich that they paid off their entire $23,000,000 invest ment in a year." Added dividends came to Great Slave. The rail line ran through what turned out to be Canada's two most spectacular new oil strikes. Rainbow and Zama Lake fields became the densest gathering of trailer camps, seismic exploration crews, drill rigs, pipelines, heli copters, and bush planes ever mustered for an assault on the underground wealth of the North. They required massive freight im ports by rail. Besides that, the new Great Slave Lake line helped the wilderness town of High Level become one of the North's biggest producers of lumber. Ticktacktoe on a grand scale: Bulldozers plow grid lines across northern Alberta to guide seismic crews. Banff Oil estimates reserves here in the billions of barrels.