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Manitoba from the Air
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The city of Thompson is located on the Precambrian Shield in the Northern Coniferous Forest vegetation zone.[i] Dark-toned coniferous forest surrounds the built-up area 1. The city is named after Dr. John F. Thompson, Chairman of the Board of the International Nickel Company (INCO) which operated the mines here,[ii] not as might be expected after the famous explorer David Thompson. “High-grade nickel ore was initially discovered in the area in 1956 by the International Nickel Company of Canada Ltd. (INCO) in the vicinity of what is now the city of Thompson. Shaft sinking and the construction of surface facilities began in 1957, and initial production commenced in 1960…. Electrolytically-refined nickel, containing 99.9 percent nickel, is the main product at Inco’s Thompson complex.”[iii]

Despite its dependence on mining, Thompson has maintained a relatively stable population—1986: 14,201, 1991: 14,977, 1999: 14,385, 2001: 13,256, and 2006: 13,446 making it the third city in Manitoba behind Winnipeg and Brandon. However, the city is hoping to diversify in order to attract tourists, 20,000 of whom bypass Thompson on their way to Churchill each year. To this end the city has erected the largest mural in Manitoba based on a Robert Bateman painting as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2006. The mural, 86 feet (26 metres) high, is located on the side of a ten-storey apartment block. The city is also constructing a “Spirit Walkway” with 18 points of interest with historical, cultural, geological, industrial, artistic, and scenic perspectives.

The photograph shows the highly planned city located on the south bank of the eastward flowing Burntwood River 2. The river joins the Nelson and now carries a much greater volume of water than was the case before the diversion of a large percentage of the flow of the Churchill into the Nelson to increase production of electricity on the latter. However, the mines at Thompson and the city itself get electricity from the Kelsey project, built on the Nelson above its confluence with the Burntwood before the Churchill diversion occurred. A barrier 3 can be seen on the Burntwood just above the bridge 4, and a floatplane terminal with three planes is located on the north bank just below the bridge 5. Thompson is also served by a land airport, located off the photo to the north.

The carefully designed curved streets, crescents and embayments contrast with the less orderly appearance of Flin Flon (figures11.2, 11.3, and 11.4) Here, the topography is less difficult; there are no lakes to be avoided and the mining area is not obvious—its northern edge is just visible at the bottom of the photo 6. PTH 6 7 from Grand Rapids to the south becomes PR 391 at the southwestern city limits. PR 391 runs through the eastern side of the city where it is a divided road and crosses the Burntwood River en route to Lynn Lake further north. A main road loop runs off to the west 8, with embayments running off it on both sides.

A branch of the Hudson Bay Railway Line 9 which joins the main line to Churchill at Sipiwesk skirts the eastern edge of the city with sidings 10 leading to a block of railway-related buildings 11. Rail cars can be seen on some of the sidings 12. Much of the commercial area lies between the railway and PR 391. Several large flat-topped buildings 13 can be seen in this area with large parking lots 14—only partly occupied at the time the photo was taken. A large shopping mall 15 with associated parking areas is located west of PR 391.

The carefully planned residential areas show the whole range of residential dwellings: single family houses 16, duplexes 17, townhouse complexes 18, small apartment block 19, large apartment blocks with several floors 20, and mobile home courts 21. Within the residential areas three sets of buildings 22 that are schools. They all have parking lots with a few or no cars—to be expected given the date (August 6) on which the photo was taken—and associated playing fields. A large building west of PR 391 is a hospital 23. A large recreational area including a running track 24,baseball diamonds 25, and indoor facilities 26, located just south of the Burntwood River serves the community. Another smaller recreational area with a baseball diamond 27 and a hockey rink 28 is located west of PR 391, near the hospital.

In the west it looks as if land is being cleared for future development 29, and in the south is a sewage lagoon 30, just south of an area of light industry with numerous buildings with cars parked beside them 31.


[i] Scott, G. A. J. “Manitoba’s Ecoclimatic Regions” in The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People eds. J. Welsted, J. Everitt, and C. Stadel. 1996, figure 4.2, 45.

[ii] Holm, G. F. ed. Geographical Names of Manitoba. Winnipeg: Manitoba Conservation, 2000, 273.

[iii] Young, H. R. “Mining and Extractive Industries in Manitoba” in The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People. eds. J. Welsted, J. Everitt, and C. Stadel. 1996, 240.

Figure 11.1