(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)
I’m filling out a lot of immigration paperwork this month in hopes of not getting booted out of this country when I graduate. (“Check all that apply: Tired. Poor. Huddled. Difficulty Breathing Free.”) One form asks for the birthplaces of my parents. I joked to my mother that the Department of Homeland Security was never going to believe Flin Flon—the remote Manitoba mining town where she was born—is a real town. Her reply:
Subject: The Secret Origins of Parental Units
Brace yourself, my dear, it is in fact Flin Flon. You can explain, if you dare, that it was named for the deathless fictional hero Flintabadias Flonaton, protagonist of a paperback novel discovered on the wilderness site by prospectors who in the next day or so discovered the fabulously wealthy mineral deposits also there, although they were never able to find out how the book had actually gotten there, 500 miles from the nearest bookstore, in the first place. When you’re in the wilderness, you seize on any reading material you can find and don’t worry an awful lot about provenance. The Bureau of Vaterland Security cannot be any less dubious about the name than the Swiss were when I was a student there. I had to carry an identity card with me at all times listing my place of birth, which they pronounced with a double nasal (Fla Flo) and the tightly pursed lips of the deeply offended.
Point one: My Mom is cool.
Assuming she was making this up, I decided to post Mom’s email to show off how goofy (“the deathless hero Flintabadias Flonaton,” indeed) and droll (“in the wilderness you don’t worry an awful lot about provenance”) she is. But a little Googling revealed that, while Mom may be exceedingly clever (“the tightly pursed lips of the deeply offended,” hee hee), the goofiness lies in her forebears, not her. Because other than a forgivable spelling error in the name, the story is entirely true.
The town’s fictional founder is in fact “Professor Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin,” hero of a turn-of-the-century dime novel by J.E. Preston-Muddock called The Sunless City. In the novel, Professor Flonatin, aka Ol’ Flinty, aka Flin Flon, builds a home-made submarine to explore a bottomless lake, and ends up discovering a golden city at the center of the earth.
Then, back in real life (more or less), when prospectors were exploring northern Manitoba in the 1910s, they mysteriously found a tattered copy of Preston-Muddock’s novel out in the wilderness. Keep in mind we are talking about a region seriously north of civilization. When they also found deposits of gold and copper there, the prospectors named their camp “Flin Flon,” after the prospecting hero of the book, which they read around the campfire each night. Then in 1929, the Canadian National Railway telegraphed the mining camp established there to say that, unless they heard differently, the dumbass name those original prospectors had given them was going onto the official maps. Nobody bothered to reply, and in this stirring fashion, the town of Flin Flon was born.
I can’t believe Mom never told me this story before. She says she did, but I know I would have remembered. I don’t know which part of the story I like best—that Mom was born in a remote mining town named after a dime novel science hero, that the prospectors just found the book out there on the tundra, or that the name stuck because nobody bothered to come up with anything different. (“The CNR wants a name for this place. ‘Flin Flon’ okay with everyone?” “Eh.”) I guess the part I really like best is that I am half Flin Flonian. (And if I end up immigrating, will that make me a Flin Flonian-American?)
More Flin Flon Flun Flacts to come!