As improvements continue at Hollinger Park, it is easy to forget the many changes the property has undergone during the past 110-plus years. From a lake teeming with fish, to a mining waste dump and later a home for sports and community events, the site has endured many alterations.
Originally it was Miller Lake. In 1909, prospector Benny Hollinger made a major gold discovery nearby. The Hollinger Mine was created, forever changing the Porcupine Camp — and Miller Lake.
Tailings from the mine worked their way into the lake. The tailings included rock, cyanide (used to leach gold from ore) and waste water. By the 1920s, lake water largely evaporated during the summer heat. This turned what was once a beautiful, sandy lake into a sloppy, poisonous mess. The area was referred to as The Slimes by local residents.
There was a series of wooden planks set up for those who wanted to take a risky shortcut across the property. But it wasn’t the most pleasant of journeys as any misstep could put a trekker into the muck.
A project followed to cover The Slimes with a layer of clean earth. Then efforts were made to create an athletic field and track. The area became known as Cyanide Flats or The Cyanide.
In 1929, one of the first big community events held on the site was a Halloween party. Local groups — including the Kiwanis Club, Legion, town council, Board of Trade, Board of Trade and Citizen’s Band — organized and hosted the event. The evening included candy, fireworks, music and a bonfire. More than 5,000 took enjoyed the Halloween bash at Cyanide Flats.
The Timmins Racing Association created a new track at The Cyanide. Horse races and motorcycle races were held there to mark Civic Holiday in 1934, with organizers selling tags to spectators. Thousands attended the event.
However, according to accounts in The Porcupine Advance, “a large number neglected to buy tags and there was also a crowd up on the rocks to the south” to watch the events. During the races there were two minor accidents: a collision between two horses, and one motorcycle wipeout (the driver was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital and treated for “slight” injuries).
Another big event held in the early days of Hollinger Park brought a political heavyweight to Timmins. On May 24, 1940, the Timmins Boy Scouts Association hosted a Cylorama — a day of sports, track and field, and special Scouts events. Ontario Premier George Drew made the journey north to open the Cylorama, which included Boy Scout and Cub troops from around the district. In addition to track and field events, activities included a first-aid race, knot tying, semaphore signalling, cross cut sawing, a message relay, tent pitching and leap frog. A pennant was awarded to the teams in each event.
Over the years countless events have been held at Hollinger Park, including Aboriginal Day celebrations, snowmobile races, concerts, baseball, soccer and even revival meetings. Beginning in 1985, the park was the home to the Timmins Men’s Baseball League.
One of the most memorable events to take place in Hollinger Park was the Canada Day Shania Twain Concert in 1999. The concert wrapped up the North American tour for the talented Timmins native, drawing many visitors from out of town for the concert. More than 20,000 fans crowded in Hollinger Park to enjoy Shania’s hometown show, with many more listening from surrounding properties (shades of horseracing at Cyanide Flats).
That same year, a massive wind storm hit Timmins. In addition to damage across the city, many of the mature trees that helped beautify Hollinger Park were blown over, changing its landscape once again.
As a millennium project, renovations at the property included the addition of a children’s water park, a bandstand, clock, and new playground equipment.
While the park is named after Benny Hollinger, another Timmins legend was honoured in 2007. The sports area was named the Fred Salvador Athletic Field, after Fred Salvador Sr., who worked 37 years with the Timmins parks and recreation department.
In recent years, the park has become a popular spot in the winter with the creation of an outdoor skating area.
In 2016, following the results of soil testing, work was planned to remove contaminated soil from the park. As the work to clean up the property would temporarily close parts of the park to the public, the city later made plans for the latest round of improvements.
It now boasts an upgraded splash pad, accessible playground, linked trail network and a sundial featuring an iconic site in Timmins, a headframe.
Whether it was a lake, playing a role in the development of the mining industry and the city, or the main locale of outdoor recreation, the property now known has Hollinger Park has been important to Timmins residents.
And it looks like it will remain so for many years to come.