Gunnar Mines, a visit to the past and a look to the future
Author: Patricia Sandberg
A former mining and securities lawyer, Patricia relied on her family’s history and interviews of over 150 people to write about the Cold War uranium mining town in Northern Canada that residents said was ‘the best place they ever lived’. She is now working on a novel.
Sun Dogs and Yellowcake has won two international awards, was shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Fred Kerner award, and was finalist for Whistler Independent Book Awards 2017.
I am pleased to share another review, this one from the other side of the world! The AusIMM Minerals Institute (that’s Aussie, folks) published a review in their August Bulletin Magazine. The following is an excerpt – the full review can be read here.
“…the author paints a vivid picture of daily life [in the small uranium mining town called Gunnar]. The resulting story of a strong and vibrant community spirit in the face of adversity and isolation has universal appeal and will certainly resonate with anyone who has lived in similar mining towns.” The reviewer then refers to the two international book awards received for the book and its shortlisting for two others, and continues: “In this reviewer’s opinion, these awards are well-deserved.” Continue reading “Sun Dogs and Yellowcake goes ‘down under’”
The Canadian Authors Association (CAA) is a national organization which since 1921 has been dedicated to promoting writers across Canada and to encouraging works of literary and artistic merit. It provides a wide variety of programs, services and resources, and advocacy on behalf of writers. Its annual CanWrite Conference offers authors the opportunity to learn from one another and from experts in the field.
One outstanding service the CAA provides is its Literary Awards which not only recognize a writer’s craft but also provide much-valued recognition and publicity.
On June 24th, CAA announced the 2017 winners:
Fiction: Alissa York for The Naturalist (Randomhouse Canada) Nominees: Gail Anderson-Dargatz for The Spawning Grounds (Alfred A. Knopf Canada); Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing(PenguinRandomhouse)
Poetry: Johanna Skibsrud for The Description of the World (Wolsak and Wynn) Nominees: Juliane Okot Bitek for 100 Days (University of Alberta Press); D.S. Stymeist for The Bone Weir (Frontenac House Poetry)
Canadian History: Charlotte Gray for The Promise of Canada (Simon & Schuster Canada) Nominees: Peter C. Newman for Hostages to Fortune (Simon & Schuster Canada); Jane Urquhart for A Number of Things (HarperCollins Canada)
Emerging Writer: Eva Crocker Nominees: Richard Kelly Kemick; Maria Toorpakai
Canadian Authors Fred Kerner Award: Margo Wheaton forThe Unlit Path Behind the House (Queen’s University Press) Nominees: Debra Komar for Black River Road (Goose Lane Editions); Patricia Sandberg for Sun Dogs and Yellowcake (Crackingstone Press)
Thanks to Canadian Authors for supporting Canadian writers and for my nomination. Congratulations to the winners and nominees. Thrilled to be in such accomplished company!
It was such a pleasure to speak to the Women in Mining BC group on Thursday, May 17th in the lovely Pan Pacific Hotel. When I practiced mining and securities law, it was a heads-down, get-the-job-done approach and I never joined this group. I now understand what I missed as the camaraderie and support in the group is tremendous.
The organizer of the annual cocktail event asked me if I could share some inspiring words in my role as the evening’s key-note speaker.
Sun Dogs has just won its second international award – it is winner of the International Book Award in the ‘History: General’ category.
My book tells the story of a small uranium mining town in northern Canada, set against the backdrop of the Cold War. I am so pleased that it has received this recognition. Not only does the book reveal history which is long forgotten but the people in Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan share their lives, laughs, triumphs, and tragedies in this portrait of 1950s Canada. It’s the book about a little town that could and did defy its label as a regional story because it touches everyone who reads it.
Jeffrey Keen, President & CEO of American Book Fest which administers the competition, says of the awards, “The 2017 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the world…. IBA’s success begins with the enthusiastic participation of authors and publishers and continues with our distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”
American Book Fest covers books from all sections of the publishing industry—mainstream, independent, & self-published.
For information about the first award, see the posting on this site about the International Publishers Award (IPPY) which was also for history.
So much of the credit for this book goes to the many former Gunnar residents who spent hours on the phone and on email with me – and sometimes in person – sharing their personal stories about life in a small mining town in northern Canada in the 1950s and 60s. Without them, this story would not have happened. With them, a part of Canada’s history was brought to life. I am so very pleased to announce that with their efforts and support Sun Dogs and Yellowcake has won an IPPY award.
I am grateful to all. Names such as raconteur banker Bill Shurniak, favourite teacher Phyl Cameron, Joan Buck who related her love story and Gary Ciochetti who did the same, Terry Schorn who continues to be a big Sun Dogs’ booster and George Imeson who was lucky to make it to another movie. Kids like the Irwins, Laroques, Ian Cosgrove, Ken Hoddinott, the McFaddens and others who had the time of their life and proved kids were lucky to survive. Schleiffer, Bengts and Georgijevic – the names of post-war immigrants. The Majeaus, Raineys and O’Neills who still make me laugh when I read their stories. As always, my mother Barbara Sandberg whose stories and memory made this book possible. Continue reading “IPPY Award recognizes Sun Dogs!”
So thrilled to have received this super positive review of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake by BC BookLook‘s Ormsby Review!
You’ve likely never heard of it, but maybe you should have.
It’s one of those independently-published books that won’t sell a ton of copies, and yet a strong argument can be made that its appearance is vitally important. It recognizes an epoch of Canadian history that would otherwise have been buried–literally.
Not many books get written about the Cold War era of instant towns in isolated places…. it is a scarce research pool into which one dives in search of on-the-ground remembrances, analysis, history, or celebration. Herein lies a major value of this book: it provides a singular document telling, largely in the voices of those who were there, of a place and time unlikely to be retold, repeated anywhere else, or revived once forgotten.
Patricia Sandberg deserves a great [deal] of credit for resurrecting Gunnar Mines with a very readable, thorough and–best of all–memorable book.
Please check out the full version here and let me know what you think!
The Ormsby Review is a journal of serious non-fiction. BC BookLook states that its internet presence is to provide as much useful information as possible, about as many B.C. books and authors as possible, to as many people as possible, on a daily basis, via the internet.
The Ormsby Review recognizes excellence in writing and story-telling by independent authors. It is an honour to have received this recognition of the value of Sun Dogs, a book that resurrects the uranium mining town of Gunnar, celebrates miners and northern pioneers, and puts it all into the context of the Cold War and the Arms Race.
I was so honoured to be invited to speak this past week in Regina at the Saskatchewan Geological Society meeting. The topic was the Gunnar uranium mine up on Lake Athabasca, the subject of my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. The weather was chilly but bearable because I rushed from car to building and back again!
Regina hospitality is the best! As a sample, in the two days I wined and dined with good friends and was given a book, art and city tour by another special friend. And I was thrilled to receive the gift of a beautiful painting of Gunnar Mines done by the talented former Uranium City resident Ileana Parkes.
An early morning interview on the CTV Morning Live program and a book signing at Chapters completed my trip. You can listen to the interview here.
In the early 1950s, uranium mining was a highly secretive operation and the warning sign in the above photo warns prospective visitors.
The Nesbitt-LaBine ore body, discovered in 1950, was a hope and a promise that did not last. Investor interest was high as Gilbert LaBine, who had made Canada’s first discovery of uranium on Great Bear Lake, was a major owner. His partner in the venture was Johnnie Nesbitt, a daring and accomplished bush pilot. The mine was nestled beside Eagle Lake near Uranium City, in the famed Beaverlodge District at Lake Athabasca.
As he had done at the Port Radium, Beresford Lake and Long Lake mines run by Gilbert and Charles LaBine, my grandfather was overseeing the construction and my father working as part of the crew. In December 1951, my mother took me, at the tender age of three months, from a warm house in southern Saskatchewan to join my father where we would all live in a tent house.
Forecasts for a home-run were high but neither the Eagle Lake deposit nor other small deposits found by Nesbitt-LaBine yielded much ore and the mine closed in 1956. The partnership between LaBine and Nesbitt would fizzle even earlier, over a controversy involving a new prospect on the Crackingstone Peninsula. A controversy? Of course – it was a mining deal. The new prospect? Gunnar Mines.
The Republic of Mining website includes Gilbert LaBine in a list of Canada’s ten most important mining men. LaBine was often referred to as Canada’s Father of Uranium. You can see the Republic of Mining article here.
In the 1930s photo above (copyright LaBine family), a young Gilbert Labine is on the right. LaBine is the adventurous and determined mine builder who features in Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. He discovered both Port Radium at Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories and my town, Gunnar Mines, on Lake Athabasca. Port Radium produced radium in the 1930s for medical purposes until it was discovered after the start of World War II that its waste product – uranium – had more value. Port Radium’s uranium contributed to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Gunnar Mines’ uranium was sold to the United States to support its arms race against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
In a recent interview, I discuss the history of uranium in northern Canada and life in the Athabasca uranium camp that sprang up during the 1950s uranium rush. Clickhere, then choose podcast, then Adam Stirling, and go to the December 1st audio file for Sun Dogs and Yellowcake.
Times have changed. Radio stations are substantially more modern than the one in this photo from the 1950s. My mother Barbara is about to start her weekly program on Radio-Active 660, a local 660-kilocycle broadcast in Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan.
Never having been someone who has sought the limelight (although people who have met me recently, might question that statement), I am finding out what is like to market a book. Interviews are part of that process and having been a huge fan of radio all my life, ‘appearances’ on this media and online podcasts are a particular treat.
On October 23rd, I was so pleased to appear on Joseph Planta‘s online programthecommentary.ca. Joe has interviewed such literati as Catherine Leroux, Noah Richler, Kevin Patterson, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz, among others. Some comments by Joe Planta about Sun Dogs and Yellowcake:
“It tells us… who live down here in the south, that this country was built on resource extraction, on mining.”
“It’s memories like that… somebody at the end of the book says they dream about the place all the time… and for those of us who haven’t been up there, you take us there in such a beautiful way that I understand why you could want to smell the air up there again.”
“You have done a great service with this book, not only for people like yourself who grew up there and your mom, but for people like us who are Canadian, who want to know more about this country, because you have given us a great insight into this part of Canadian history that’s gone unreported for far too long.”
The previous interview was with CHED radio in Edmonton at 5:55 in the morning, Oct. 20th. Now that was a challenge! I made sure I had my morning coffee and dressed as though I was going to the office. Everything went well until I tried to come up with the word ‘shortwave’, as in shortwave radio. Obviously, I did not consume enough coffee as the word remained hidden. Bruce Bowie was a great host and many thanks to him for inviting me on his program as a warm-up to my November 10th Edmonton launch! Here is the link to the interview.
CBC Blue Sky radio
Next was CBC’s Blue Sky program in Saskatoon on November 2nd, where I started to tell host Garth Materie a funny story but time ran out! Saskatchewan people were clearly tuned in because I heard from a number of them after the show. A Regina woman contacted me to say she remembered speaking with a nurse from a northern mine more than 50 years prior but couldn’t remember her name. That nurse just happens to be my mother! Click below to hear the interview.
Roundhouse Radiowith Janice Ungaro and Cory Ashworthin Vancouver followed the Blue Sky interview just two hours before my Vancouver launch began. What a terrific pair, so friendly and genuinely interested in the story of this little town and the history behind it. And they work in a very hip studio. I was nicely warmed up for the evening presentation! Check out the interview here.
I was ‘on the news,’ as John Gromley interviewed me for his News Talk 980 show in Saskatoon on November 7. This was such a fun interview! We covered the early story of uranium mining and life in our small northern town.
CBC Radio Active
Could it be that the CBC-Edmonton named its Radio Active radio program after Gunnar’s Radio-Active 660? I like to think so! On November 10, I met the delightful host Portia Clark where we discussed all things Gunnar-related – including the funny coincidence with the program’s name. Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Waterways were key players during this Cold War story. You can hear the interview here.
Global TV News
On November 14, at 7 a.m., I presented myself at the Global TV station in Saskatoon. It was 4 a.m. Vancouver time and I hoped I had adjusted somewhat to the time change. Joelle was my host and we had a great time chatting about life in a Cold War uranium mining town. The interview set me up nicely for my book launch that evening at McNally Robinson Books. It was also the day when I felt a little bit like a celebrity. My husband and I were seated in the Prairie Ink Restaurant, about to start our lunch, when a woman walked up to me and said, without any introduction at all, “I just loved loved your book!” I had to wonder if she was mistaking me for someone else! But no, she had done some work up in the area long after Gunnar closed and was curious about the town and the era. She said the book made it all come alive. She thanked me and left. I didn’t even get her name but if she happens to read this, a big thankyou for making my day! Here is the interview.