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A tower over Yellowknife

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 22/02) - Con Mine's Robertson's Shaft towers over the Yellowknife skyline like a fortress.

It can be seen clearly from as far away as Bighill Lake or the outer Mirage Islands. It's the first building one sees when flying into Yellowknife.

NNSL photo

Bob Robertson died Oct. 29 at age 88. - photo courtesy of Val Kritch

The shaft, with its red-topped peak and black-and-white sides, stands 76 metres tall. Underneath it, the mine's main shaft descends to 1,859 metres. The shaft's hoist, which brings both miners and ore to the surface, has the largest single lift friction drive in North America.

"It's the tallest building in the Northwest Territories, and it's over the deepest hole in the Northwest Territories," says Mike Vaydik, president of the NWT Chamber of Mines. "It's really just a symbol of the wealth created by the mine."

It's also a testimonial to the shaft's namesake, Bob Robertson.

He was unable to attend its grand opening in 1977, but no doubt Con Mine was in his blood.

That's what his friends and former co-workers have to say. He died Oct. 29 at age 88. He worked at Con for 36 years.

George Sian went to work with him at Con Mine in 1946, where by then Robertson had been made a shift boss. He became foreman in 1952.

"I really enjoyed working with him," says Sian. "He was very fair, and well-liked by the employees."

Although Robertson rose quickly with the mine -- owned by Cominco at the time -- his roots were humble.

Sian recalls the story of how Robertson and his friend Jack Lynass built a scow at Fort McMurray in the spring of 1938, and headed for Yellowknife up the Athabasca River. They had been slowly making their way North from their home in Delburne, Alta., making money doing odd jobs along the way.

"He and two other fellows went up to Fort McMurray, and built a skiff there, and got a little one-horse inboard motor and they came up the river and headed across Great Slave Lake," Sian remembers.

"He said most of the time they travelled at night because the lake was calmer."

After almost a month of boating, the men reached Yellowknife on June 19, 1938. They spent their first night sleeping on the rocks where Pilot's Monument stands today.

For the next two days they visited Con and Negus mines, begging for work.

"We need a job real bad," they pleaded with Con superintendent, a Mr. Giegerich, who finally relented and allowed them to come to work the following day.

Bob's younger brother Jim followed him to Yellowknife after the Second World War. They would work together for nearly 30 years, until Bob's retirement in 1974.

By then, Bob was happily married. He and his wife Noreen, whom he married in 1940, had a house at the Con Camp near the mine.

Jim says his brother was fiercely loyal to the company and a good brother.

"He was a very good Cominco man," says Jim. "He was very loyal to the company ... He was an excellent brother. We were a very close family."

Butch Bisaro, who worked with Robertson during his later years at the mine, says while he was a fair man, he was nobody's fool -- particularly on pay day when some miners were more inclined towards revelry than working underground.

"Bob was at the mine on a Friday night and he had happened to answer the phone, and a guy said, 'Could you tell my shift boss that I won't be in tonight because my mother-in-law just died,' " recalls Bisaro.

"Bob's response was (remembering that he had heard this one before), 'Well, she died last bonus pay day so maybe you should just go ahead and check into Giant Mine for a job Monday morning instead of coming here."

The Robertsons eventually came back to Delburne following his retirement to be closer to family. Besides his wife, Robertson is survived by three children -- Bob Jr., Karen, and Bill -- six grandchildren, and four great grandchildren -- not to mention his namesake, Robertson's Shaft.