Not To Be Confused With Fflewddur Fflam

(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!

12 Comments

  1. I would just like to say that this is perhaps the coolest name of a town ever. …and the coolest backstory to said name.

  2. It occurs to me that, based on the book they found, the miners could have named the town “Preston-Muddock” or “Sunless City” instead. Small mercies.

    “I, I, I, ain’t gonna play Sunless City…”

  3. Here’s what I don’t get — aren’t you married to a US citizen? And doesn’t that mean you can’t get kicked out? Or were you just being sarcastic?

  4. Now you’ve got great material for The Great Canadian Novel (well, Flin Flonian novel?). I love stories like this – where the truth is not only odder than fiction, but actually incorporates some trashy fiction, too.

    And, yeah, your mom is cool.

  5. Would it were that simple, my anonymous friend. It’s true, I’m unlikely to be physically ejected, but without a green card I cannot, how do you say, steal one of your American jobs. Being married to an American makes getting a green card easier, but there is still a mountain of paper work to do and hoops to jump through.

  6. Coming from Flin Flon (or rather, Creighton, which is the town right beside Flin Flon, named after Tom Creighton, who was the actual prospector who discovered Flin Flon), I’d have to say I’m amused by your interest in our town name. Have you actually read the book? Apparently, the book was not very well written, but if you should want to read it, the library in Flin Flon should have a copy. I take pride in the fact that our town was named after a science fiction character.

  7. Hi! Thanks for your post.

    I haven’t read the book, but I’ve done some online looking for a copy. I thought it would make a neat present for my Mom (or for myself). I’m actually quite curious about Flin Flon. I will have to visit some time. Is it true the government grows medicinal marijuana at the bottom of one of the old mineshafts? And is there still a golf course (my grandmother remembers this) played entirely on rock?

  8. I grew up in a samll town in norhern illinois in the 1970s. every summer my fahther packed us in the family station wagon and we would spend the next two dasy driving northm through the Dakotas, WInnipeg, DAupen and then alas we would spend 10 glorious dasy fishing in FLin FLon Canada(birthplace of Bobby CLArke as a large sign informs on on FLin FLon. There is a great huge statue of the hero whose name inspired this town. The Westwood Lodge in FLin FLon was a wonderous place to explore the natural beauty of this great place. You really owe it to yourself to make the trek to FLin FLon, you wont be disapointed…PAul

  9. I am a documentary filmmaker researching for a project about Flin Flon, and would be interested in contacting the author of this piece or any else who has stories about Flin Flon

  10. I have been looking at websites of Flin Flon, because I plan to travel there this summer.
    My father lived there in the late 20′s, early 30′s.
    I have a photo album from him from his time there. I just read that they are celebrating Flin Flon’s 75th anniversary at the end of June.
    Go and help celebrate!

  11. Hi
    I was born in flin flon, manitoba in 1945.
    My father Clarence worked in the mine in
    the late 40′s and other jobs there. My family
    on my mother’s side were also there BOYES>
    If interested on some infro that I remember
    you can email me>
    fay

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