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.

Sun Dogs Visits Nanaimo

Canada’s uranium helped end the second world war and armed the next, the Cold War. An exploration frenzy swept the western world and mining magnate Gilbert LaBine’s new discovery at Gunnar Mines attracted attention across North America and beyond. Gunnar’s 800 residents—immigrants fleeing post-war Europe, job-seeking southerners, and the area’s First Nations and Métis—found adventure, romance, tragedy, and a freedom never again to be equaled. Meanwhile, lamps made of uranium drill core sat in their homes and their children played at the tailings pond. Sun Dogs and Yellowcake is their story.
Part memoir, part oral history, Sun Dogs and Yellowcake is a thoughtful and often humorous account of a recent but largely forgotten era

Sun Dogs visits Nanaimo

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be presenting a talk with slide show about Gunnar Mines, uranium, and my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake in Nanaimo, BC. at 3 pm. on February 6. Hope you can join me.

Story of the Cold War uranium mine, Gunnar Mines
Award-winning book about the uranium town, Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan

Location: Nanaimo Harbourfront Library
90 Commercial St
Nanaimo BC
V9R 5G4

For more information, contact me here

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?

Patricia Sandberg discusses her choice of voice and publishing decisions for her non-fiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Voice: Who should tell your story? with Patricia Sandberg

Presenter Wed. Jan 9/19 Canadian Authors–Metro Vancouver Branch

 

Using her own memories and the stories told to her by over 150 people who lived in her hometown in northern Saskatchewan, Patricia Sandberg has penned a dramatic illustrated work of narrative non-fiction. Sun Dogs and Yellowcake – Gunnar  Mines, a Canadian Story. This book dramatizes the Cold War era when raw uranium from was casually handled by adults and children, who were unaware of the dangers of radiation. Still, most residents said it was the best place they ever lived.

Patricia’s talk will be about the voice she used to tell the story and how that carries into the self-publishing decision she made. She will discuss how self-publishing can be a great option and sometimes the best option.

A former mining and securities lawyer, Patricia 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 a finalist for Whistler Independent Book Awards 2017. More details here.

Meeting Location: BC Alliance for Arts + Culture, Suite 100 – 938 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC. Information on Canadian Authors Association – tiveMetro Vancouver (Including Victoria) hereFor information about the #CanWrite19 writers’ convention in Vancouver May 16-19, 2019, 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

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 story of Gunnar Mines in photos

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, my book about Gunnar Mines, contains over 180 photos and three custom maps. But in the course of writing the story, I collected many hundreds more.

I thought it would be fun to tell the story of this long-abandoned, now-demolished but much-loved uranium mining town in northern Saskatchewan again, but this time in new photos.

You can find the first album of photos here. More will be added later.

Dressed in our Sunday best. Copyright Sandberg family

Gunnar Mines was at the centre of Canada’s uranium history-with ties to the production of uranium for the atomic bomb in WWII, and as a producer of uranium for the Cold War. For its residents, it was the best place they ever lived.

Hope you enjoy them, let me know what you think.

Tellers of Short Tales: a reading by Patricia Sandberg

Patricia Sandberg will read her short story “Paint him a wink” at the Tellers of Short Tales open mic event November 2, 2017 in New Westminster BC

This time, I will be a teller of a short tale. I won’t be reading from my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake but instead from a new short fiction piece! I am very excited to be able to share my story Paint him a wink. I hope you can join me!

Thanks to the Royal City Literary Arts Society for the invitation!

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