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Remember ordinary people, extraordinary heroes

Honeymoon, 1917. My grandmother Nellie is taking the photo. Her hat lies at Cleve’s feet.

Remembrance Day November 11, 2019

It is one hundred and one years from the end of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, yet didn’t. Throughout history, men and women have sacrificed their lives in war for family and country. November 11th is their day.

This post honours two members of my family .

Major Cleve Jacob

My gentle grandfather Major Cleve Jacob immigrated to Saskatchewan from England and wanted to sign up the moment that World War I was declared. He was persuaded to first bring in the harvest.

He joined the 5th Field Artillery Brigade with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 9, 1914, his role being to look after the horses and pull guns into position. He also repaired communication lines – a solo operation, which he was doing when he was wounded the first time. Medics at a First Aid Station patched him up and sent him on for further treatment. One half hour later, an artillery shell destroyed the First Aid Station.

Cleve served at the Somme, Paschendale, Vimy Ridge, and the Battle of Amien where he was again wounded. On the eleventh day of the twelfth month, 1918, King George V pinned the Military Medal on his chest.

Cleve re-enlisted at the start of World War II and was temporarily tasked with recruiting soldiers for an active battalion. When told he was too old to go overseas, he continued in his recruitment role for the war’s duration. Like most of those who served, he was reluctant to share his memories and died long before it occurred to me to ask.

Sergeant John Larkin

Sergeant John Larkin is the superbly mustachioed fellow on the far right.

My great grandfather Sergeant John Larkin (my grandmother’s father) was born in 1862 and was a 20-year member of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, including during a conflict between the British and French over the Suez Canal. He was awarded the British Egypt Medal and the Khedive’s Star. He had just immigrated to Canada when WWI was declared. John immediately signed up (putting his age as 49 when he was actually 51) with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was in the first group to go to England.

From April 22 – 24, 1915, the Germans employed gas against troops at Ypres Salient. John was deployed on the front line and was killed on April 23rd. He is buried at Menin Gate where every night at 8 p.m. the Last Post is played. 

Menin Gate Memorial

The Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium has a Hall of Memory. Carved in stone above the arch: “To the Armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.” Over the two staircases leading from the Main Hall is the inscription “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”

The memorial bears the names of 55,000 men who were lost without a trace. Sergeant John Larkin’s grave reference is PANEL 24-28-30

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission page is an excellent source of information. You can search for your family members at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

My immense gratitude to my 92-year-young mother Barbara Sandberg for undertaking this family research from which I have shamelessly copied.

The Group of Seven Reimagined, Book Review

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings, editor Karen Schauber has paired twenty-one beautifully-reproduced works of art by The Group of Seven and associated artists with fine storytelling by prominent, contemporary writers. The writers each chose a painting that resonated with them and wrote a story inspired by what they saw.

The Group of Seven Reimagined, edited by Karen Schauber

Like a fine wine with dinner, some things cry out to be paired. In Reimagined, the nearly hundred-year-old brandy that was the Group of Seven is introduced to a fresh vibrant cuisine that is flash fiction, and both are the richer for it.

The Ottawa Review of Books published my full review of this book in its October edition. For information about how the project developed, biographies of the writers included, or to purchase, visit the book website.

Edited by Karen Schauber.
Published 2019 by Heritage House. ISBN – 978-1-77203-288-8.
Available through Heritage House and Amazon.ca.

Best day in a writer’s life

The Colour of Us

Inspiration in Peru

The best day in a writer’s life is any day an editor says they’ve accepted your piece for publication!

So thrilled that the wonderful online literary magazine The Cabinet of Heed has published my very first short story “The Colour of Us” in its online magazine, mid-June edition. And you can read it for free by following the link. Even better, you can comment, also for free below, where it says “Love to hear your thoughts.” That would be amazing.

The inspiration for my story was the above photo of pots of pigment that I took in a Peruvian market many years ago.

One Human Swimming

One thing leads to another

Almost as good as winning a competition is getting on the short list. My short story “One Human Swimming” made the shortlist for Pulp Literature‘s Hummingbird 2019 Flash Fiction contest. A different story made the long list for this competition in 2018, and this latest story making the short list (2019) means I’m at least going in the right direction. Happy face.

The inspiration for this story was a running shoe. When the story finds its publisher, I’ll tell you. Then you can read it and I hope you will agree it is wonderful.

Things to Come

Swedish Press published a very complimentary review of my 2016 award-winning book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake in their October 2018 issue. In the fall of 2019, it will be publishing a nonfiction piece that I have written. The piece just might have something to do with Swedes in Canada.

Keep tuned to this channel.

Book Review recommends ‘Sun Dogs & Yellowcake’

Gunnar Head Frame
The Gunnar head frame stood for more than 50 years after the mine closed, beckoning to all who passed by. Photo courtesy of Tim Beckett

BOOK REVIEW, submitted by Mr. Lynn Kelley

“Sundogs & Yellow Cake: Gunnar Mine – a Canadian Story” by Patricia Sandberg

“In February 2017, back when we met at the Artful Dodger, our luncheon speaker was Patricia Sandberg, author of SunDogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines- A Canadian Story. Patricia spoke about her experiences growing up in Gunnar and related a few of the stories in her book. I purchased a copy of the book, which Patricia graciously signed.

The book sat on the shelf in our living room until I was packing for a beach vacation in February of this year. It turned out to be a perfect vacation read, with relatively short, self-contained chapters that weave the author’s coming-of-age story with touching accounts of the families who made a life under trying and primitive circumstances, all against the backdrop of the Cold War nuclear arms race. The author corresponded with more than 100 former residents of Gunnar and their absorbing personal accounts capture the building of healthy, vibrant community despite isolation and a harsh environment. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and sketches by A. Y. Jackson and other well-known Canadian artists.

The author’s coming of age in an isolated northern mining town resonated with my own experience as a young man who found himself in an isolated northern mining town that shaped me professionally and personally and blessed me with many enduring friendships. I enjoyed Sun Dogs and Yellowcake as much as anything I’ve read in recent memory, and, with summer just around the corner, I would highly recommend it as a vacation (or bush camp) read.”

Published in The Rock Record 2001-9 by Saskatchewan Geological Society (SGS)

Thanks: Many thanks to Lynn Kelley for surprising me with this book review and to SGS for including it in The Rock Record.

Footnote: The Gunnar Headframe stood from 1954 (approx) to 2011 as a beacon to all those who ventured to explore the ghost mining town of Gunnar. In 2011, the headframe was demolished.

YouTube videos: The headframe’s sad demise and plans for cleanup of the Gunnar site. Louie Mercredi and his crew building the ice road over Lake Athabasca to Gunnar. Mr. Mercredi is much braver than I!

Purchase information: To read harrowing tales of survival and loss on Lake Athabasca, get a copy of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake here or through Amazon (hardcopy or e-book)

Surprises come as Reviews

Book reviews are best when they come as surprises and are full of praise. This one is from Elizabeth McLean, author of “The Swallows Uncaged – A Narrative in Eight Panels.”

Photo:
Every summer, in whatever boat of my dad’s that had not yet been smashed or sunk, we headed to one of the islands near Gunnar to camp for weeks at a time.

Camping on a rocky beach on an island near Gunnar Mines
My mother Barb, my grandfather Cleve and a family friend.


Elizabeth McLean: “I have now finished reading “Sun Dogs and Yellowcake.”  It’s a lovely book. What impressed me the most is how well you combined the ‘serious’ account of radium-uranium and its industrial development in Canada with the human stories of the families who lived the mining life in Gunnar.

Their daily active lives, traumas and celebrations warmed my heart. They built a truly intimate and loving community in such an isolated and harsh environment. The workers of Gunnar and their families make the book precious. You were right to give them a voice.

The structure of the book is a marvel: the narrative interspaced with pertinent epigraphs, quotations, digressions, personal testimonies and reminiscences, and excellent maps and photos. 

It is such an interesting book, and I mean interesting in the best sense of the word – absorbing to read, as well as satisfying to peruse visually. I thought a book about a uranium mine would be dry and tedious? Ha! 

The ending is traumatic. I had tears in my eyes seeing the hospital float on the waves of  Lake Athabasca.”

By Elizabeth McLean, author of “The Swallows Uncaged – A Narrative in Eight Panels.

Thank you Elizabeth McLean for your thoughtful book review.

Leroy by Karen Garry – a message for all

First impressions can be deceiving! This is not a children’s book

Leroy-Not a children’s book

I encountered Leroy and Karen Garry a couple weeks ago when I spoke at the Canadian Authors – Metro Vancouver meeting. My topic was the use of ‘voice’ in writing and I shared some of my experience with marketing. Karen had been asking me many questions, and at the end of the meeting, we exchanged books: her book Leroy for my Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. Two more opposite books you couldn’t imagine.

Leroy – the message

When Karen told me her book was an adult book, I thought I had misheard her. I was looking at a book that looked more like a children’s book. She was right of course.

Leroy is a commentary on our changing earth, changing because of our actions and inaction. Karen peppers the pages with colourful, detailed and whimsical drawings, felted creatures, block text that is as compelling as the drawings, and a heartfelt message that even a child could understand.

To buy your own copy of Leroy, visit www.heartshapedrawk.com
You can follow Karen on Instagram @heartshapedrawk and on Facebook

She had also been multi-tasking, as the following sketches of me show. Aren’t they fun?

I seem to have shed a few years. Very grateful.
Sandberg at Canadian Authors presentation
Karen Garry drawing

Gunnar ghost stories

I confess. This is not a ghost story, but another story from the ghost uranium mine – Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan.

The residents left Gunnar over fifty years ago. The mine is long gone.
The buildings have disappeared – sold and shipped on the lake to Fort McMurray or Uranium City when the mine closed, or demolished as part of the cleanup in 2011. Even Uranium City people, itinerant fishermen, and hopeful geologists can no longer access the site.

Sunset before Gunnar’s sunset. Courtesy of the Cooke family.

But more than fifty years of stories still knock at my door. The latest is from Kelly Nelson who spent eleven weeks at the vacated town in the summer of 1978. He was a draftsman for a technology company.

Kelly Nelson’s first thoughts

  • My first thoughts of the site when I arrived was, what a dump; not that there was much trash lying around, but it wasn’t the well-kept small town I grew up in (Unity, SK).  By the time I left, I had completely flipped that around and was sad to leave as I found the place so interesting, between the mine-site and the geography with the huge rock outcroppings, trees growing out cracks in the rocks and so on.
  • The fishing was great. I think we pioneered barbless fishing as we knew what was going to happen, so we’d just catch and release. For three weeks in the middle of summer we stopped fishing because it was boring!  Also, the cook would do a fish dish for us only once every 10 days due to the natural mercury in the water. Eventually we ran out of hooks. I was the only one in the crew who didn’t catch an Arctic Grayling, as much as I tried.
  • I got lost while fishing. One evening I walked west of the west townsite on a trail that paralleled the lake shore. I fished for about three hours and when I started walking back I headed to the trail. After a really long time I came to the lake shore again and was completely dumbfounded. By then I could make out the mine site from the shore, so I just followed it back home. I realized I had walked in a large arc and learned how easy it was to get lost. I wrote my brother that night and asked him to send me a navigation compass.
  • Reading outside at midnight on June 21 – that seemed so bizarre to me, but so neat as well. I still remember the book – Helter Skelter by Truman Capote .
  • I agree with the people in the book who suggested Gunnar imparted a sort of mystical sense of peace. We had no TVs and no music radio, only five cassettes (the Grease soundtrack, an ABBA tape, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Linda Ronstad, and one other I no longer remember), so the forest provided most of the sound we heard. I must say to this day I feel completely at ease in any forest, and I think my time at Gunnar played a role in that.
  • Thank you for writing the book; even though my time in Gunnar came half a generation after it was abandoned as a mine and settlement, it remains a most memorable part of my life.

Kelly’s review of Sun Dogs & Yellowcake

I quite enjoyed the book; I think you did a very good job of writing it – explaining the background for how the company and townsite came to be, life there, and the follow-up. For a subject that could have been dry, to me it was very interesting. You appear to be an accomplished and experienced writer.

To learn more about /my book Sun Dogs & Yellowcake about the ghost uranium mine, Gunnar Mines, click here. To follow me on Facebook, click heree.

Voice: Who should tell your story?

A writer’s choice of voice for a story or novel is one of the most important decisions he or she will make. Voice can be equally important in nonfiction. I will be speaking about voice at the upcoming meeting of The Canadian Authors Association – Metro Vancouver (including Victoria) on January 9, 2018.

I saw the documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old just after Christmas. Director Peter Jackson produced this powerful film about the Great War based on 100 hours of historical film footage and 600 hours of audio recordings from the British War Museum.

His team enhanced hundreds of hours of film by sharpening images and adding colour. The motion is less jerky and more natural than in the original clips.

The original footage also predated movie sound but Jackson could see the soldiers’ lips moving, so he tasked expert lip readers with interpreting their words. The experts determined the correct dialogue – with appropriate accents – and this was incorporated into the film.

Jackson also wrestled with how to do justice to the men who had served and lost lives in the war. He decided the story could only be told by using the men’s own words from the audio tapes and then superimposing these over the footage. The result is an authentic and heart wrenching trip into the trenches and battle zones of WWI.

I reached a similar conclusion about voice four years prior when writing my nonfiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. I determined that former residents of the uranium town where I grew up, must tell their stories in their own words. In this way, life in a mining town in the 1950s and ’60s and the personalities of its residents would be more authentically portrayed.

To hear more about voice and my choice in Sun Dogs, you are welcome to attend the upcoming meeting of Canadian Authors Association – Metro Vancouver (including Victoria) on January 9, 2018. For information about the presentation, please click here.


 I recommend that everyone see They Shall Not Grow Old.  To watch the trailer  click here. 

To see more information about Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, click here.

Gunnar Reclamation Woes

Gunnar’s reclamation woes means that I focus a lot of attention on its current state.  When I lived in Gunnar Mines in the 1950s and ’60s on the banks of St. Mary’s Channel (off Lake Athabasca by a pinch), it was a halcyon world. Forty years later, I learned that it – my home town – was a contaminated site.

Gunnar reclamation woes
Gunnar a ‘protected place’ under the Atomic Energy Control Act.

The objective of the Gunnar reclamation is to eliminate or reduce human and ecological impact so that traditional use of resources next to the site can continue safely.

Full disclosure

Full disclosure: I earned my living as a mining and securities lawyer. Second full disclosure: mining makes this world go round. Try to think of one thing you possess or do that is not connected to mining. Everything is made with, made of, transported by or otherwise involves minerals. And no mining occurs without some impact on the earth. Unless we go back to the stone age, we are going to mine.

I wrote Sun Dogs and Yellowcake to celebrate the magical life that most people enjoyed in Gunnar.  But I knew I could not write it without discussing the aftermath of the uranium mining conducted there.

The facts

Here are the bare facts. The mining was conducted in great haste and under  considerable secrecy. The federal government promoted the mining in order to supply the United States with uranium during the Cold War. Northern Saskatchewan was wilderness and Canada had a lot of wilderness – what did a mine and its residue matter in such a remote area? No significant environmental rules governed the mine’s operation or closing save one decision regarding the open pit which did more harm than good.

At closing, the mine moved out or sold only some houses, machinery, the Johnny B tug and barges, and the DC-3 plane. Subsequent visitors found coffee cups left on tables, clothing in drawers, personnel information in office cabinets. Mine buildings, machinery, the school, recreation centre and hospital remained to slowly deteriorate over the years. The headframe stood as monument to the town until demolished in 2011.

In the early 2000s, Saskatchewan undertook the reclamation of the site as the company that owned the mine ceased to exist decades prior. Saskatchewan is now suing the federal government for not paying its share of costs. The original agreement between them contemplated costs of just under $25 million. Costs are now estimated at $280 million.

Gunnar reclamation woes

The site will never be perfect but the reclamation can achieve its objective and reasonable success. Why can’t they just get it done? Here is my interview on the John Gormley Live show regarding this.

Swedish Press Magazine reviews Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Swedish Press Oct 2018 Lifestyle-Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

We happened to eat in the same restaurant which had opened only the day before. Only one other couple was in the restaurant. As I recall, it was not a very good meal.

Our two tables finished around the same time. While the two husbands were paying the bills, the other woman and I walked outside and started to talk.  They lived in Courtney BC part-time, the woman told me, and the rest of the time in England. Then she mentioned her husband was Swedish.

As things often do, the one thing led to another. Being a fellow Swede (blood slightly watered by it having been a generation or two back), I gave Peter a copy of Sun Dogs, saying, “there are a few Swedes in this book. You might enjoy it.”

That second thing led to the third thing. Peter was not only Swedish but the editor of  Swedish Press magazine. The link above is to Peter Berlin’s generous article/review of Sun Dogs in Swedish Press.  The fourth thing will be an article by me in Swedish Press next year.

The October 2018 edition of Swedish press includes articles about climate change, Swedish space exploration, clean tech and the feature: How Happy Are the Swedes? If you want to know more about Swedish Press, click here

If you want to read a couple funny stories about life up north – including the Gunnar Cadaver, click here. The photo below shows just how different working conditions were in the Gunnar mine, in Canada’s North, in the 1950s.

Working conditions in the 1950s, in the North and in a mine were not the same as today's.
“Skywalker” No ropes, no safety net, no fear. Copyright Sandberg family