Donna Lee (Hoddinott) Dumont, “Métis is how you feel”

“The most wonderful thing about being Métis is that we come in all colours. My grandmother used to tell me that ‘Métis is how you feel’. I am now part of the culture and have a strong sense of belonging.”

Donna Lee Dumont

In 1957, one of Canada’s famed Group of Seven painters, A.Y. Jackson, made a surprise visit to the small uranium mining town of Gunnar Mines, on Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan. He made a few appearances at the local Handicraft club where he gave painting exhibitions and suggestions to the members. Donna Lee was a member of this group and remembers him as being quite blunt, even caustic at times while reviewing paintings. One afternoon, when the club’s members were invited to accompany him on a painting excursion on the rocks, Jackson motioned to her to sit beside him. While they painted, he gave her little tips, such as “use a bigger brush” and “put these little strokes through the water.”

This was a key event in Donna Lee’s artistic career. Continue reading “Donna Lee (Hoddinott) Dumont, “Métis is how you feel””

I Used to Live in Gunnar

I sat up in bed, grabbed a pen and paper off the table and began to write:

It was all vaguely the same and yet different. A glorious sunny day that felt like spring because there was a warmth to the air and the only snow huddled in crevices on the ground.

I walked past the mine buildings that were jumbled together like some crazy puzzle, but still standing. It seemed that people still might be living there because the town didn’t look deserted. I went downhill, then along the road uphill again to the community centre. There was a convention of sorts going on in the community centre and hundreds of people were sitting in the big hall listening. At the end of the session, people were exiting into the main part of the building and I was trying to stop them, trying to find someone who knew anything about Gunnar.

I kept saying to people, “I used to live in Gunnar.” Finally one woman stopped and I tried to write down my email address for her on a piece of paper but the ink was running out. The words kept changing their size and wouldn’t fit in the space. The ones that were on the page were illegible.

I moved on to a man who was there with his family and I asked what brought him to Gunnar. He said that he and his brother were looking to buy the mill and maybe move it somewhere else. He started walking away and I turned in the other direction. Then I thought, “Oh great, I didn’t get his business card with his contact information,” and I turned back but couldn’t see him or his wife and kids. I went running down one of the hallways (there were many more in the dream than in reality) but one corner was very recognizable because I skidded around it on the slippery floor.

After much searching I gave up and went outside. I walked to where there was a small bay. There were many people around. A flying craft buzzed overhead and came to an abrupt landing mere feet in front of me. It didn’t taxi in, just dropped down. It looked more like some fantastic mechanical flying insect than a plane. All its paint was gone and its fuselage was a dull brown as if covered with dry mud.

The pilot jumped down. It was a woman dressed head to toe in a flying suit of the same dull brown colour. She was wearing one of those old war-time airman’s hats with its brim low over her forehead and the flaps pulled down over her ears.

I said to her, trying to make conversation and also because I was curious, “What kind of a plane is that?”

She looked briefly, scornfully, at me and said, “Does that look like any kind of a plane to you?” Then she turned her back to me, pulled a flask out of her hip pocket, took a swig and offered it to someone who she obviously knew and who had been standing behind her.

Aside from being fodder for a bored psychoanalyst, this is when you know that maybe you have been working too hard on your project. Or, just perhaps, Gunnar does live on.

Christmas Dinner 1959

As a new year dawns, the past is overtaking me. 2015 has been dedicated to shaking loose the collective memories of former residents of a small uranium mining town on Lake Athabasca. To collecting a wealth of photographs of life in the 1950s and ’60s in the town. To extensive research on how the town, Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan, came to be and how it ended.

Now, as 2016 comes to life, so too does Gunnar. 2016 will be the year that my book on Gunnar is published.

Writing the book has been a journey back in time to my youth, a simple and idyllic life in the North. It has been a way to ‘resurrect’ my home town that closed a short ten years after it started and to reconnect with people after more than fifty years. It has also been a sad reckoning as Gunnar’s Cold War legacy for future generations hits the headlines.

In the spirit of the season, I post a photo taken in our kitchen at Gunnar  in 1959 where my mother Barb Sandberg is making the gravy while her good friend Marge Braund works at the other counter. Friendship.

Stay tuned…