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.