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.

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.

Reflections on publishing Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

The headframe reminds us of Gunnar. Publishing Sun Dogs and Yellowcake brings the town back to life.
The Gunnar Mines headframe stood for more than 50 years after the mine closed, beckoning to all who passed by.

I have been reflecting on the two years that have passed since publishing Sun Dogs and Yellowcake – two years today.

Publishing your first book is an incredible joy. What you don’t realize when that moment arrives is that a book has a much larger life than what it contains within its pages.

Here is what Sun Dogs and Yellowcake has delivered for me.

History
  1. Re-connection to a ‘time and place’ and to the people who resided in Gunnar. People who had lost contact with their friends for more than fifty years have rekindled their friendships and memories. I have had the joy of reuniting with old friends and making many new ones.
  2. Preservation of the history of the small northern town of Gunnar Mines and honouring a former way of life. Its history was told best through the words of its inhabitants. And people with no connection to the area have shared and appreciated this history because of what it reveals about who we are as Canadians.
  3. Recognition of the significance of mining, an industry that helped form this country. Mining, including the production of uranium, continues to be a key part of Canada’s growth.
Story-telling
  1. Realization that the Canadian mining industry has a treasure chest of fabulous tales that unfortunately are being lost to time. I recall a dinner following the closing of a financing. The president and chief executive officer regaled us with adventures from a lifetime in mining. This was only a small sampling of stories that will likely never be told.
  2. Celebration of the small stories that together chronicle our lives. A narrative that shows where we have come from so we understand where we are.
Publishing Surprises

I did not have many expectations for this book about a little town in the middle of nowhere, in a time no one remembers. I initially thought it would appeal only to its former residents. It has surprised everyone. It has won awards, received significant publicity, and been appreciated by a broad audience.

What a journey!

The headframe in the photo above marked Gunnar’s existence and its passing. I like to think publishing Sun Dogs and Yellowcake has brought not just the town, which closed its doors in 1964, back to life, but also the era. For me personally, publishing has opened up a new world, for which I am very grateful.

The stories continue to roll in. Tomorrow,  a man who lived in the neighbouring community of Uranium City shares his adventures.

The true story of a Lake Athabasca mining town

View towards the Gunnar headframe

Thanks to Melissa Shaw of the Uranium Investing News for a great interview the other day. She not only perfectly captured the historical and mining background to the development of Gunnar Mines, she included one of my thoughts about mining practices today:

“People who lived in this town appreciated and valued what they did. Granted, there were some risks with uranium that they didn’t realize, but they really valued the life and they appreciated the efforts that the mining company made to make their lives good there. I feel like we have lost that with the fly-in fly-out [model]. We don’t have that appreciation. We don’t have a family connection to a place, and I think we miss out by that,” Sandberg said.

And then, my next view being of course totally biased in this – the importance of story-telling:

“I feel like we could do a much better job in the mining industry of telling our stories. There are so many stories that are untold about mining in Canada. If we’re not telling those stories they’re going to be lost. Not only that, but it is a way of reaching people who are not in the mining business and letting them understand what mining contributes not just to individual people but to our country,” [Sandberg] said.

There are a lot of “Sandberg saids” here. What do you think of these two points? I would love to know.

You can read the whole article here. And of course you can read the whole true story Sun Dogs and Yellowcake by contacting me here.

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake goes ‘down under’

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’”

Mining History convention, Fairbanks Alaska

On June 21, I am so pleased to have been asked to give a talk about Canada’s history of uranium mining to the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation museum in Fairbanks.

This will be my first trip to Alaska where I will be attending the Mining History convention and visiting an old school friend from Gunnar again – after many (emphasis on many) years.

Stay tuned for more details on the speaking engagement.

Presentation: Scandinavian contribution to early Canadian mining

Scandinavian contribution to early Canadian mining

Patricia will give a lunchtime speech at the Association for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies Conference (AASSC) on May 30, 2017. Her talk will centre on the contribution of Scandinavians to the discovery and development of mines in western Canada from the 1930s through the 1950s. In particular, she will draw on research that she conducted while writing her book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, a book that weaves personal stories of people in an isolated northern mining town into the history of Canada’s production of uranium for World War II and the Cold War.

The AASSC Conference will be held from May 28 to 31, 2017 at Congress 2017, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario

Please check back on this site for information regarding the time and place and other details regarding Patricia’s talk.

Don’s tenthouse in background. Photo courtesy Ollie Sandberg

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”