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.
Alex MacPherson of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has written a great article about Sun Dogs and Yellowcake.
“The Gunnar uranium mine, located about 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon, was discovered by prospectors working for Gilbert LaBine, the Ontario-born explorer who is widely considered the father of Canada’s uranium industry.”
Sun Dogs and Yellowcake traces Gilbert LaBine’s path from his early discovery of radium on Great Bear Lake to the town of Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan. Bridging World War II and the Cold War, the book brings life back to the long-abandoned town of Gunnar.
Alex Browne of the Peace Arch News has written a fabulous article about Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. Publication date and purchase information to come! Launch South Surrey Sept.14, details in article. Peace Arch News article
So who knew, certainly not I, just how long and how much work it takes to write and publish a book! But things are shaping up for the publication of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake in early September. My very detail-oriented editor Naomi Pauls has put me through a rigorous review, giving me a new-found and hard-earned respect for the editorial role. The uber-talented Bill Glasgow is shaping the physical design of the book and Neil Klassen has lent his fine creative eye to produce three fabulous maps. And of course, the perfect cover photo is courtesy of artist and photographer Robbie Craig
Woven into the context of the Cold War and post-war immigration, and set against a backdrop of pristine Lake Athabasca with its First Nations and Métis communities, life in an isolated uranium mining town unfolds. Stories of love, loss, and adventure, with much joy and laughter.
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The photo is of me in the early days of Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan – and in my early days too, of course.
Gilbert LaBine’s first uranium mine helped end the Second World War. His next fed the Cold War. Immigrants fleeing post-war Europe and job-seeking southerners came to Gunnar Mines in northern Saskatchewan, joining the area’s First Nations and Métis. They 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. The beautiful cover image is based on a photograph by the very talented Robbie Craig. I am thrilled to announce that Sun Dogs and Yellowcake will be available this September. Stay tuned.
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.