More than just a hobby
Teen wins award for mining heritage book

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 02/00) - Like many 17 year olds in Yellowknife, Ryan Silke likes to hike, fish and tramp around in the bush. But while other teens might hunt ptarmigan or deer, Silke searches for a more elusive prize: Yellowknife's abandoned and forgotten mine sites.

"There's a certain flair to visiting an old property when, 50 years ago, there was quite an operation there," said Silke, who lived at the old Con camp site as an infant.

"I'm interested in the change from then to now, over 50 years. The visual history."

Silke started researching some of the sites he came upon in his bush trips. He said he was surprised to see what little information was available on old mine sites in the area.

"I couldn't find a book on the subject," he said. "Someone had to do it, you know? I started looking for information for my own use. I wasn't looking to publish a book, but people got wind of it and asked me to do it."

Last week his book, Report on Mine Sites in the Yellowknife Region, won the City of Yellowknife's 1999 Heritage Award.

City councillors were quick to praise Silke's work, which includes over 100 pages of hand-drawn maps, photos and information which was published by Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada in November.

"I think it's a wonderful piece of work," said Coun. Kevin O'Reilly. "I particularly enjoyed the maps."

Coun. Robert Slaven said it was no surprise Silke could produce professional quality work while still in high school.

"I've known Ryan since he was three or four," Slaven said, "and we always knew he was bright.

"You sort of expect this award to be given to an older person. Usually younger people are not into this type of thing."

Joe Heimbach, a DIAND archive geologist who edited the report, said Silke's work was impressive and his interest in mining heritage is heartening.

"I wish the youth of today would be more motivated to do things like this," Heimbach said. "Ryan shouldn't be an oddity for following his passion."

Silke shrugs off the praise, giving it back to people who helped him, like Heimbach and Mike Vaydik at the NWT Chamber of Mines.

"I didn't do it for anyone else," he said shyly. "I did it for me."

Silke's biggest concern now is government clean-up projects at old sites.

"Government cleanups on the old mine sites don't leave much behind," he said.

"All that Giant is is a scar on the landscape. No one thinks about the history of it."

The 11th-grader's next project is a book looking at mine headframes around Yellowknife. The headframe building covers the mine shaft at practically any pit operation, whether mining for gold, other precious metals or coal.

"I'd like to go back in time at some places and see the ones that aren't there any more," he said.

"Maybe take that photo of the headframe that no one thought to take and do the study no one thought to do."

Council will present Silke the award at a future council meeting. Silke's report can be picked up for $15 at DIAND's archives or can be viewed at