"The best place we ever lived.' Life at a uranium mine during the Cold War.
Author: Patricia Sandberg
A former mining and securities lawyer, Patricia relied on her family’s history and interviews of over 150 people to write about the Cold War uranium mining town in Northern Canada that residents said was ‘the best place they ever lived’. She 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 finalist for Whistler Independent Book Awards 2017.
Carol Bruneau is the author of three short story collections and four novels. Her first novel, Purple for Sky, won the 2001 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Dartmouth Book Award. Her 2007 novel, Glass Voices, was a Globe and Mail Best Book. Her reviews, stories, and essays have appeared nationwide in newspapers, journals, and anthologies, and two of her novels have been published internationally.
Reviewed in The Miramichi Reader by Patricia Sandberg
Melt is a modern relationship story: friends, husbands and wives, parents and children with the challenges that these connections bring. The author Heidi Wicks employs snappy, smart and frank dialogue to get into the minds and hearts of the two modern protagonists and adeptly builds scenes.
Skin Housegot me with this line on its back cover: “Skin House is a story about two guys who end up in the same bar they started out in.” I thought, sweet, a kind of modern Waiting for Godot story. Wrong. But oh, so good in what it does do.
The book is irreverent and saucy, unexpected and poignant, none of which gives it enough credit. You can read the review here.
Michael Blouin has won the ReLit Award (Best Novel), been shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, the bp Nichol Award, the CBC Literary Award, and is a winner of the Diana Brebner Award and the 2012 Lampman Award from ARC magazine and has been published in a host of prestigious literary magazines.
My grandfather Johan Ferdinand (Fred) Sandberg’s immigrant journey from Sweden took him to Canada’s east and west coasts and from southern Manitoba to Great Bear Lake in the far north.
Fred’s early work included delivering mail by dogsled. His construction skills contributed to Canada’s wartime activities, including at secret uranium projects to supply the Manhattan Project during WWII and during the Cold War. You can read about his journey here.
Fred’s story is like that of most immigrants, a decision by a man or woman to leave their home and family in search of a new and better life. It takes courage to make such a decision. It requires luck, resolve and the support of others to succeed. My grandfather had all of these qualities and received such support. Along the way, he participated by chance in significant developments in the early 20th century.
Extracted with permission from The Swedish Press. “My grandparents were passionate Canadians. They chose to fully contribute and assimilate into Canadian society while maintaining their core attachment to Sweden. Fred was only able to visit his family once, which must have been very difficult for all. Although I heard Swedish on records that Fred and Freda played on their turntable, I heard never heard them speak it. None of their children spoke Swedish. My grandparents showcased their heritage in their love of entertaining, the lavish Christmas table weighted down with pickled herring and pigs’ feet, and my grandmother’s famous meatballs.”
The Swedish Press is a very fine magazine about – you guessed it – all things Swedish. Their exquisite judgement is shown in their very positive review of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake which you can see here and which I wrote about here.
I’m very pleased to share my review in The Miramichi Reader of the climate change anthology Rising Tides.
We live on this earth without reflecting sufficiently on how we impact it. Through story, poetry and personal climate testimonies, Rising Tides offers us a window into the feelings and views of forty-two writers closely connected to the climate crisis.
“The way rain falls the spring of life seed to root, stem to leaves. Oh trees, weather maker, life shaper, air sweet. Language of snail, moss lichen. Everything returns …” The intricate simplicity and beauty of Hiromi Goto’s language in ‘This is the Way’ particularly resonated with me, reinforcing one of the anthology’s messages to observe and listen to the change around us.
You can read the review here. Rising Tides is edited by Catriona Sandilands and published by Caitlin Press.
It is one hundred and one years from the end of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, yet didn’t. Throughout history, men and women have sacrificed their lives in war for family and country. November 11th is their day.
This post honours two members of my family .
Major Cleve Jacob
My gentle grandfather Major Cleve Jacob immigrated to Saskatchewan from England and wanted to sign up the moment that World War I was declared. He was persuaded to first bring in the harvest.
He joined the 5th Field Artillery Brigade with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 9, 1914, his role being to look after the horses and pull guns into position. He also repaired communication lines – a solo operation, which he was doing when he was wounded the first time. Medics at a First Aid Station patched him up and sent him on for further treatment. One half hour later, an artillery shell destroyed the First Aid Station.
Cleve served at the Somme, Paschendale, Vimy Ridge, and the Battle of Amien where he was again wounded. On the eleventh day of the twelfth month, 1918, King George V pinned the Military Medal on his chest.
Cleve re-enlisted at the start of World War II and was temporarily tasked with recruiting soldiers for an active battalion. When told he was too old to go overseas, he continued in his recruitment role for the war’s duration. Like most of those who served, he was reluctant to share his memories and died long before it occurred to me to ask.
Sergeant John Larkin
My great grandfather Sergeant John Larkin (my grandmother’s father) was born in 1862 and was a 20-year member of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, including during a conflict between the British and French over the Suez Canal. He was awarded the British Egypt Medal and the Khedive’s Star. He had just immigrated to Canada when WWI was declared. John immediately signed up (putting his age as 49 when he was actually 51) with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was in the first group to go to England.
From April 22 – 24, 1915, the Germans employed gas against troops at Ypres Salient. John was deployed on the front line and was killed on April 23rd. He is buried at Menin Gate where every night at 8 p.m. the Last Post is played.
Menin Gate Memorial
The Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium has a Hall of Memory. Carved in stone above the arch: “To the Armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.” Over the two staircases leading from the Main Hall is the inscription “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”
The memorial bears the names of 55,000 men who were lost without a trace. Sergeant John Larkin’s grave reference is PANEL 24-28-30
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings, editor Karen Schauber has paired twenty-one beautifully-reproduced works of art by The Group of Seven and associated artists with fine storytelling by prominent, contemporary writers. The writers each chose a painting that resonated with them and wrote a story inspired by what they saw.
Like a fine wine with dinner, some things cry out to be paired. In Reimagined, the nearly hundred-year-old brandy that was the Group of Seven is introduced to a fresh vibrant cuisine that is flash fiction, and both are the richer for it.
The Ottawa Review of Books published my full review of this book in its October edition. For information about how the project developed, biographies of the writers included, or to purchase, visit the book website.
Edited by Karen Schauber. Published 2019 by Heritage House. ISBN –
978-1-77203-288-8. Available through Heritage House and Amazon.ca.
AY Jackson of The Group of Seven visited Gunnar Mines and Uranium City twice to paint. Jackson, along with Lawren Harris, also painted many times at Great Bear Lake, the site of Port Radium’s uranium mine.
The best day in a writer’s life is any day an editor says they’ve accepted your piece for publication!
So thrilled that the wonderful online literary magazine The Cabinet of Heed has published my very first short story “The Colour of Us” in its online magazine, mid-June edition. And you can read it for free by following the link. Even better, you can comment, also for free below, where it says “Love to hear your thoughts.” That would be amazing.
The inspiration for my story was the above photo of pots of pigment that I took in a Peruvian market many years ago.
One Human Swimming
Almostas good as winning a competition is getting on the short list. My short story “One Human Swimming” made the shortlist for Pulp Literature‘s Hummingbird 2019 Flash Fiction contest. A different story made the long list for this competition in 2018, and this latest story making the short list (2019) means I’m at least going in the right direction. Happy face.
The inspiration for this story was a running shoe. When the story finds its publisher, I’ll tell you. Then you can read it and I hope you will agree it is wonderful.
Things to Come
Swedish Press published a very complimentary review of my 2016 award-winning book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake in their October 2018 issue. In the spring of 2020, it will be publishing a nonfiction piece that I have written. The piece just might have something to do with Swedes in Canada.
“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
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)
Book reviews are best when they come as surprises and are full of praise.
Review by Elizabeth McLean, author of the exquisite book “The Swallows Uncaged – A Narrative in Eight Panels.”
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.”