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 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.

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.

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake wins 2nd International award

Sun Dogs has just won its second international award – it is winner of the International Book Award in the ‘History: General’ category.

My book tells the story of a small uranium mining town in northern Canada, set against the backdrop of the Cold War. I am so pleased that it has received this recognition. Not only does the book reveal history which is long forgotten but the people in Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan share their lives, laughs, triumphs, and tragedies in this portrait of 1950s Canada. It’s the book about a little town that could and did defy its label as a regional story because it touches everyone who reads it.

Jeffrey Keen, President & CEO of American Book Fest which administers the competition, says of the awards, “The 2017 results represent a phenomenal mix of books from a wide array of publishers throughout the world…. IBA’s success begins with the enthusiastic participation of authors and publishers and continues with our distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”
American Book Fest covers books from all sections of the publishing industry—mainstream, independent, & self-published.
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IPPY Award

For information about the first award, see the posting on this site about the International Publishers Award (IPPY)  which was also for history.

Books & Company, signing in Prince George

Signing copies of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake at Books & Company in Prince George, May 12

Looking forward to signing copies of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake at Books & Company in Prince George – the place where people who love books gather.

The date is Friday, May 12th (time will be provided later). A chance to perhaps meet some old school chums from junior and secondary school and then spend Mother’s Day with my mom.

IPPY Award recognizes Sun Dogs!

IPPY award winners announced.

So much of the credit for this book goes to the many former Gunnar residents who spent hours on the phone and on email with me – and sometimes in person – sharing their personal stories about life in a small mining town in northern Canada in the 1950s and 60s. Without them, this story would not have happened. With them, a part of Canada’s history was brought to life. I am so very pleased to announce that with their efforts and support Sun Dogs and Yellowcake has won an IPPY award.

I am grateful to all. Names such as raconteur banker Bill Shurniak, favourite teacher Phyl Cameron, Joan Buck who related her love story and Gary Ciochetti who did the same, Terry Schorn who continues to be a big Sun Dogs’ booster and George Imeson who was lucky to make it to another movie. Kids like the Irwins, Laroques, Ian Cosgrove, Ken Hoddinott, the McFaddens and others who had the time of their life and proved kids were lucky to survive. Schleiffer, Bengts and Georgijevic – the names of post-war immigrants. The Majeaus, Raineys and O’Neills who still make me laugh when I read their stories. As always, my mother Barbara Sandberg whose stories and memory made this book possible. Continue reading “IPPY Award recognizes Sun Dogs!”