A Swedish immigrant’s journey

I’m so honoured that The Swedish Press has published my grandfather’s immigrant journey, ‘In the Tradition of Immigrants Everywhere‘.

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.

Mail delivery by dog team to Churchill, Manitoba, cerca 1913-14. A Swedish immigrant journey.

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.

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, A Canadian Story tells the history of early uranium production in Canada. It features Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan, where former residents still say:

‘it was the best place they ever lived’.

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.

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.
…..

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.

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!”

Ormsby Review Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

The car sits submerged for months in the ice, held in place with a tripod and chains

So thrilled to have received this super positive review of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake by BC BookLook‘s Ormsby Review!

Some quotes:

  • You’ve likely never heard of it, but maybe you should have.
  • It’s one of those independently-published books that won’t sell a ton of copies, and yet a strong argument can be made that its appearance is vitally important. It recognizes an epoch of Canadian history that would otherwise have been buried–literally.
  • Not many books get written about the Cold War era of instant towns in isolated places…. it is a scarce research pool into which one dives in search of on-the-ground remembrances, analysis, history, or celebration. Herein lies a major value of this book: it provides a singular document telling, largely in the voices of those who were there, of a place and time unlikely to be retold, repeated anywhere else, or revived once forgotten.
  • Patricia Sandberg deserves a great [deal] of credit for resurrecting Gunnar Mines with a very readable, thorough and–best of all–memorable book.

Please check out the full version here and let me know what you think!

The Ormsby Review is a journal of serious non-fiction. BC BookLook states that its internet presence is to provide as much useful information as possible, about as many B.C. books and authors as possible, to as many people as possible, on a daily basis, via the internet.

The Ormsby Review recognizes excellence in writing and story-telling by independent authors. It is an honour to have received this recognition of the value of Sun Dogs, a book that resurrects the uranium mining town of Gunnar, celebrates miners and northern pioneers, and puts it all into the context of the Cold War and the Arms Race.

Nesbitt-LaBine Uranium Mines

Trespassers may be prosecuted

In the early 1950s, uranium mining was a highly secretive operation and the warning sign in the above photo warns prospective visitors.

The Nesbitt-LaBine ore body, discovered in 1950, was a hope and a promise that did not last. Investor interest was high as Gilbert LaBine, who had made Canada’s first discovery of uranium on Great Bear Lake, was a major owner. His partner in the venture was Johnnie Nesbitt, a daring and accomplished bush pilot. The mine was nestled beside Eagle Lake near Uranium City, in the famed Beaverlodge District at Lake Athabasca.

As he had done at the Port Radium, Beresford Lake and Long Lake mines run by Gilbert and Charles LaBine, my grandfather was overseeing the construction and my father working as part of the crew. In December 1951, my mother took me, at the tender age of three months, from a warm house in southern Saskatchewan to join my father where we would all live in a tent house.

My uncle Don Sandberg with Prince. Don’s tent house in background. Photo courtesy Ollie Sandberg

Forecasts for a home-run were high but neither the Eagle Lake deposit nor other small deposits found by Nesbitt-LaBine yielded much ore and the mine closed in 1956. The partnership between LaBine and Nesbitt would fizzle even earlier, over a controversy involving a new prospect on the Crackingstone Peninsula. A controversy? Of course – it was a mining deal. The new prospect? Gunnar Mines.

Gilbert LaBine, Father of Uranium

Gilbert LaBine on right

The Republic of Mining website includes Gilbert LaBine in a list of Canada’s ten most important mining men. LaBine was often referred to as Canada’s Father of Uranium. You can see the Republic of Mining article here.

In the 1930s photo above (copyright LaBine family), a young Gilbert Labine is on the right. LaBine is the adventurous and determined mine builder who features in Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. He discovered both Port Radium at Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories and my town, Gunnar Mines, on Lake Athabasca. Port Radium produced radium in the 1930s for medical purposes until it was discovered after the start of World War II that its waste product – uranium – had more value. Port Radium’s uranium contributed to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Gunnar Mines’ uranium was sold to the United States to support its arms race against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In a recent interview, I discuss the history of uranium in northern Canada and life in the Athabasca uranium camp that sprang up during the 1950s uranium rush.  Click here, then choose podcast, then Adam Stirling,  and go to the December 1st audio file for Sun Dogs and Yellowcake.

Thanks for stopping by!

Republic of Mining features Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Under strict security
Under strict security

Excerpt from Sun Dogs and Yellowcake

Shooting the Elephant

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.

An interesting game to play….

Continued at the Republic of Mining website

StarPhoenix features Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, a story of uranium

 

Patricia Sandberg on Lake Athabasca
Patricia Sandberg on Lake Athabasca

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.

'A very particular time and place in Canada’s history': New book recalls Saskatchewan's forgotten uranium mine

 

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake press coverage

4-A-23 Courtesy B Sandberg img620 small.jpg

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