What is the Connection Between Flin Flon, Crater Lake and a Prolific British, Victorian Author?

Brian Kinsley
5 min readApr 30, 2021

To be honest, there may be no connection between Flin Flon and Crater Lake in Washington state, except through my “heat oppressed brain”. However, my speculation is not entirely unreasonable as I will point out below and there is a relationship between a mysterious lake in northwestern United States, a Victorian writer and how Flin Flon got its name. When a prospector named Tom Creighton first explored the area around what is now Flin Flon, he not only discover an ore body containing copper, zinc and gold among other minerals, but on a portage on the Churchill River, he also found a fragment of a book entitled The Sunless City by J. Preston Muddock (an excerpt from which appears at the end of this discourse). The main character in this book was called Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin but he was often referred to as Flin Flon or just Flin for short.

Choosing the Name

Back to naming Flin Flon, like many towns it was named after a person, albeit a fictitious one in this case. Since the ore body was discovered near a lake, Tom Creighton named the lake Flin Flon after the character in the book. However, it was not the townspeople themselves who decided to name the emerging mining community after Flin Flon. When the railroad was put in to carry miners and goods to this northern outpost on the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border and take the refined metal out, it named its station Flin Flon, after the nearby lake. In a telegram to the community, the CNR said it would proceed with that name, spelled at first as one word, unless it was instructed otherwise. The town’s people were too busy creating a community and building a mine to take much interest in naming it. One name was as good as another. So Flin Flon it was. Thus Flin Flon was named after a lake which was named after a character in a book. Some think it rather apt that the town was named after a character that discovered gold during his sojourn. The prospectors did not know how The Sunless City ended so it seemed logical to them that old Flin emerged at their mine site with his gold. Not only that, his submarine was shaped like a northern pike and catching these all too plentiful fish in Flin Flon is easier than falling out of a canoe. Finally, to the miners who go underground on the day shift in winter, Flin Flon is a “Sunless City”.

Flin Flon, The Sequel

But the story does not end here. It is one thing to have a name with a somewhat unique and colourful history; it is quite another thing to have the character after whom a town is named become a statue based on a drawing by a famous cartoonist? Tommy Dobson, then editor of The Reminder, Flin Flon’s daily newspaper, told the cartoonist, Al Capp, the story of how Flin Flon got its name and asked him to create a likeness in the image of his Dog Patch characters of the Li’l Abner cartoon. He did so, instructing that the $100 fee be given to charity. A statue was then fashioned from fibreglass in Winnipeg and freighted up Highway 10 to Flin Flon. It now stands at the gateway of the city, welcoming all visitors who dare to venture to where the highway ends in this corner of Manitoba well north of the 54th parallel.

Let’s return to the The Sunless City by J. Preston Muddock

The novel commences with a reference to a very deep, geologically strange lake.

“IN one of the loneliest and most inaccessible parts of the Rocky Mountains of America is situated a strange lake or tarn. The lake lies “silent, still and mysterious in the bosom of the everlasting mountains, like a gigantic well scooped out by the hands of a genii.” There is no herbage; no animal life on its shores or in its depths. The unbroken stillness of death reigns there. “ (from The Sunless City, Ch. 1)

The lake Muddock described is remarkably similar to Crater Lake which can be found in the mountains of Washington State and may have been known to the author because he was a world traveler including time spent in the western U. S. It indeed is very deep, supports very little vegetation, and is fed entirely from melting snow and rain. (Crater Lake National Park was commissioned in 1902, three years before the publication of The Sunless City.)

“Josiah Flintobbateyy Flonatin, Esq., or, … familiarly known amongst his fellows as Flin Flon…. was conspicuous for two things, the smallness of his stature and the largeness of his perception. His origin was lost in the mists of antiquity, but he boasted that he was a descendant of the noble Italian family of the Flonatins, for centuries resident in the ancient city of Bologna..” (From The Sunnless City, Ch. 1)

Controversy about this lake was rife among the learned scientists and our friend Flin Flon believed that all the scientists were wrong and that a civilization existed at the bottom of this lake. He set out, with help from personages such as Mr. Barnum of circus fame to prove his theory.

Flin was not unrewarded. Discovering that this world thousands of leagues below the lake surface was awash with gold, he proceeded to load his pockets. He also found the civilization he had suspected might exist, but unlike the world from which he descended, this society was ruled by women, much to his consternation. (He had not been born in an age of political correctness.) In attempting to reverse this situation and restore the males to what he believed was their rightful position, and women to their proper station, he was arrested, tried and found guilty. He was eventually rescued by the princess who had fallen in love with him. She was sympathetic to his point of view and helped him escape at the expense of her own life. He eventually emerged from this underwater prison at a point near San Fransisco and made his escape back to New York to tell his unbelievable tale. And indeed, no one believed him!

Incidentally, J. Preston Muddock, while virtually unknown today, wrote 184 detective stories featuring detective Dick Donavan, stories that pre-dated and later rivalled Sherlock Homes at the time. All in all, he wrote over 300 books and stories. I have visited Crater Lake and the description above is hauntingly accurate. So it is possible that there is a connection between Crater Lake and how Flin Flon got its name and it is for certain that the name stems from the pen of a prolific Victorian writer.