2017 Whistler Writers Festival was a huge success

Whistler at its best – a fresh winter snow

Whistler rarely disappoints its guests and last weekend of the Whistler Writers Festival was no exception as a dusting of snow brightened our first morning. The action-packed four days attracted literary giants and neophytes to share their knowledge and the pure joy of writing and reading literature. Such luminaries as Frances Itani, JJ Lee, David Chariandy, Terry Fallis and Lee Maracle – to name just a very few – generously entertained and informed us.

A series of comedy quickies lightened Thursday evening while the Friday literary cabaret linked distinctive musical scores to powerful readings of the authors’ own work. The cabaret was definitely a highlight.

The stage is set for the Literary Cabaret and announcement of the winners of the Whistler Independent Book Awards

An unanticipated treat was the talented group of artists from Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont who painted in the hallway for a future charity auction. We could watch and discuss the progress of their work with them during the Festival, broadening the artistic scene.

Of course, we weren’t there just for the fun of it. The work part included workshops and panels about publishing, engagement of the audience, and the craft of writing: memoir, fiction and non-fiction, and words put to music – in other words song writing. If crime tickled your fancy, you could lunch while learning crime writers’ secrets.

Distinguished literary panel: Louis Druehl – winner of the manuscript contest, Margo Bates, Miji Campbell, Shelley O’Callaghan, and dynamo and crowd (and my) favourite, JJ Lee

Congratulations to the organizers of the festival and its always-smiling, busy coordinator Stella Harvey for a highly successful event. If you haven’t been to the festival, you are missing a great opportunity. Until next year!

Whistler Writers Festival

I am thrilled to be attending the Whistler Writers Festival from October 12th to 15th. It promises to be a whirlwind of literary enthusiasm with touches of comedy and music as well as lively cabarets and salons of the literary variety. Some of Canada’s best-loved authors, including David Chariandy, Leanne Dunic, Terry Fallis, Steven Heighton, Helen Humphreys, Grant Lawrence, Suzette Mayr, Sandra Ridley, Mark Leiren-Young, Terry Watada, Barbara Gowdy, Monia Mazigh, Frances Itani, Michael Harris and Lee Maracle will tempt us with their stories and share their insights. At the Saturday lunch, John MacLachlan Gray, Sheena Kamal, Michael Redhill, Alisa Smith and Jenny D. Williams, all authors with a penchant for crime (between the covers only), will share dark secrets.

Some authors will have dates with publishers in hope that a golden ring will soon follow. And the highlight for some, on … drum roll … Friday the 13th, will be the announcement of the winners of the Whistler Independent Book Awards. Wish them all luck!!!

Finalists for the 2017 WIBAs in Fiction and Non-fiction

The fiction finalists are:

Annie Daylon for Of Sea and Seed: The Kerrigan Chronicles, Book 1
R.L. Prendergast for The Confessions of Socrates
Farida Somjee for The Beggar’s Dance

The non-fiction finalists are:

Monique Layton for Notes from Elsewhere: Travel and Other Matters
Patricia Sandberg for Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines—A Canadian Story
Paul Shore for Uncorked: My Year in Provence

(Full disclosure: In case you are puzzled, the above scene is not Whistler but is the closest I could get to a winter photo on short notice!)

Women In Mining BC: Annual Cocktail Reception 2017

Organizing group of WIM BC 2017 Cocktail Reception – and me

 

Speaking to a very attentive audience

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.

The speech was tough to write; Continue reading “Women In Mining BC: Annual Cocktail Reception 2017”

Nesbitt-LaBine Uranium Mines

Trespassers may be prosecuted

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.

My uncle Don Sandberg with Prince. Don’s tent house in background. Photo courtesy Ollie Sandberg

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.

Gilbert LaBine, Father of Uranium

Gilbert LaBine on right

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.  Click here, then choose podcast, then Adam Stirling,  and go to the December 1st audio file for Sun Dogs and Yellowcake.

Thanks for stopping by!

Republic of Mining features Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Under strict security
Under strict security

Excerpt from Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Shooting the Elephant

Re-enter Gilbert LaBine, some twenty years after his radium score and now sixty-two years old. LaBine, in his nominal positions as president and director of Eldorado, was well informed about Eldorado’s moves in the Beaverlodge area. He was also not averse to conducting a little business of his own.

His first foray was with a highly competent, experienced pilot named John “Johnny” Nesbitt, who had spent his life flying in Canada’s north country, including for Eldorado and its Great Bear Lake operations. When Eldorado switched its focus to Lake Athabasca, Nesbitt added the Beaverlodge operation to his flight path.

He had flown the two prospectors St. Louis and Larum to what would later be Eldorado’s Ace mine, and knew the area well. He too had been bitten by the uranium bug and, when not flying, combed the bush looking for his own lucky strike. In 1950, he found and staked a pitchblende prospect on claims that Eldorado had let lapse near Eagle Lake. This prospect would become the Nesbitt-Labine uranium mine.

Johnny Nesbitt wanted to sell the claims to his employer Eldorado; however, he had an unidentified partner who was more interested in a transaction with Gilbert LaBine. Perhaps for LaBine, it was a bit of a poke at the federal government for confiscating Eldorado, and at Eldorado’s president, Bill Bennett, with whom he did not get along.

Whatever the motivation, LaBine promptly resigned from Eldorado’s board of directors to become president of the new Nesbitt-Labine Uranium Mines Limited. Nesbitt did not have much choice but to switch to flying for the new entity. Construction started in 1952 and the small community of Nesbitt-Labine started to grow around the mine.

An interesting game to play….

Continued at the Republic of Mining website

The art of making art, Donna Lee Dumont

IMG_2183 June 23 2016
Alcohol Ink 1

Following upon the previous blog post about Gunnar Mines alumni, Donna Lee’s role as educator can’t be separated from her art. In 2012, she wrote and colourfully illustrated a children’s book Peter Fidler and the Métis. Fidler was an explorer and mapmaker for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He married a Cree woman and Donna Lee is a descendant of this union. The book relates Fidler’s story but is, at the same time, a portrait of the oft-troubled Métis history in Canada and Donna Lee’s personal journey into her Aboriginal heritage. Continue reading “The art of making art, Donna Lee Dumont”

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””

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…