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!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

Cancelled: Presentation at Mennonite Heritage Museum

Patricia Sandberg research presentation October 28 at Writers’ Conference, Mennonite Heritage Museum, Abbotsford

Sorry to say the organizers have had to cancel this event. They do plan to hold it at another time, so please check back!

I am so pleased to have been asked to present at  a writers’ conference October 27-28, hosted by Judson Lake House Publishers and the Mennonite Heritage Museum. Highlighting the event is renowned Canadian author Rudy Wiebe whose presentation is Re-Membering Ourselves: Every Life is a Story.

I will deliver a seminar from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. on the 28th about conducting research for a historical piece, drawing on the experience of writing Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. I will also be participating in a panel from 10:45 to 12:00 a.m. Editing and Publishing Your Story.

But this is not just about me! There are several other authors presenting on such topics as “unravelling the Mystery,” Illustration, Fiction and Short Story Writing, Memoirs and Histories, Theatre and Poetry. A number of writers will be reading from their works.

The pain and gain of the traditional and independent publishing routes

Very pleased to share the stage in Kelowna with my husband Bob Mackay – a two-time award-winning author – we will talk about our books and the independent and traditional publishing routes.

Free and all welcome!

West Kelowna Library 2pm-4pm
#31 Hwy 97 S Westridge Mall
2484 Main St, West Kelowna, BC V4T2G2

We’d love to see you there!

 

Whistler Writers Festival

The Whistler Writers Festival promises to be a whirlwind of literary enthusiasm. Some of Canada’s best-loved authors will tempt us with their stories and share their insights. At the Saturday lunch, authors with a penchant for crime (between the covers only), will share dark secrets.

As special features, 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. Sun Dogs is one of the finalists!

Venues are the Maury Young Arts Centre, Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and Whistler Public Library. For more information, click here.

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. Continue reading “Whistler Writers Festival”

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.