Patricia Sandberg discusses her choice of voice and publishing decisions for her non-fiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake
Voice: Who should tell your story? with Patricia Sandberg
Using her own memories and the stories told to her by over 150 people who lived in her hometown in northern Saskatchewan, Patricia Sandberg has penned a dramatic illustrated work of narrative non-fiction. Sun Dogs and Yellowcake – Gunnar Mines, a Canadian Story. This book dramatizes the Cold War era when raw uranium from was casually handled by adults and children, who were unaware of the dangers of radiation. Still, most residents said it was the best place they ever lived.
Patricia’s talk will be about the voice she used to tell the story and how that carries into the self-publishing decision she made. She will discuss how self-publishing can be a great option and sometimes the best option.
A former mining and securities lawyer, Patricia 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 a finalist for Whistler Independent Book Awards 2017. More details here.
Meeting Location: BC Alliance for Arts + Culture, Suite 100 – 938 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC. Information on Canadian Authors Association – tiveMetro Vancouver (Including Victoria) here. For information about the #CanWrite19 writers’ convention in Vancouver May 16-19, 2019, click here.
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.
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: 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.
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, 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 photoshere. More will be added later.
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.
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.
For information about the first award, see the posting on this site about the International Publishers Award (IPPY) which was also for history.
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.
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.
Speaking engagement at Saskatchewan Geological Society lunch.
Thanks to the Saskatchewan Geological Society for inviting me to speak on February 1st at one of their luncheons in Regina on my favourite topic: Sun Dogs and Yellowcake. It has been many years since I have experienced February weather in Saskatchewan – might have to go parka hunting!
This is not a public event, but the following day, February 2nd, I will be at the Chapters Bookstore at 2625 Gordon Road from 1 to 4 pm for a book signing.
Times have changed. Radio stations are substantially more modern than the one in this photo from the 1950s. My mother Barbara is about to start her weekly program on Radio-Active 660, a local 660-kilocycle broadcast in Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan.
Never having been someone who has sought the limelight (although people who have met me recently, might question that statement), I am finding out what is like to market a book. Interviews are part of that process and having been a huge fan of radio all my life, ‘appearances’ on this media and online podcasts are a particular treat.
On October 23rd, I was so pleased to appear on Joseph Planta‘s online programthecommentary.ca. Joe has interviewed such literati as Catherine Leroux, Noah Richler, Kevin Patterson, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz, among others. Some comments by Joe Planta about Sun Dogs and Yellowcake:
“It tells us… who live down here in the south, that this country was built on resource extraction, on mining.”
“It’s memories like that… somebody at the end of the book says they dream about the place all the time… and for those of us who haven’t been up there, you take us there in such a beautiful way that I understand why you could want to smell the air up there again.”
“You have done a great service with this book, not only for people like yourself who grew up there and your mom, but for people like us who are Canadian, who want to know more about this country, because you have given us a great insight into this part of Canadian history that’s gone unreported for far too long.”
The previous interview was with CHED radio in Edmonton at 5:55 in the morning, Oct. 20th. Now that was a challenge! I made sure I had my morning coffee and dressed as though I was going to the office. Everything went well until I tried to come up with the word ‘shortwave’, as in shortwave radio. Obviously, I did not consume enough coffee as the word remained hidden. Bruce Bowie was a great host and many thanks to him for inviting me on his program as a warm-up to my November 10th Edmonton launch! Here is the link to the interview.
CBC Blue Sky radio
Next was CBC’s Blue Sky program in Saskatoon on November 2nd, where I started to tell host Garth Materie a funny story but time ran out! Saskatchewan people were clearly tuned in because I heard from a number of them after the show. A Regina woman contacted me to say she remembered speaking with a nurse from a northern mine more than 50 years prior but couldn’t remember her name. That nurse just happens to be my mother! Click below to hear the interview.
Roundhouse Radiowith Janice Ungaro and Cory Ashworthin Vancouver followed the Blue Sky interview just two hours before my Vancouver launch began. What a terrific pair, so friendly and genuinely interested in the story of this little town and the history behind it. And they work in a very hip studio. I was nicely warmed up for the evening presentation! Check out the interview here.
I was ‘on the news,’ as John Gromley interviewed me for his News Talk 980 show in Saskatoon on November 7. This was such a fun interview! We covered the early story of uranium mining and life in our small northern town.
CBC Radio Active
Could it be that the CBC-Edmonton named its Radio Active radio program after Gunnar’s Radio-Active 660? I like to think so! On November 10, I met the delightful host Portia Clark where we discussed all things Gunnar-related – including the funny coincidence with the program’s name. Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Waterways were key players during this Cold War story. You can hear the interview here.
Global TV News
On November 14, at 7 a.m., I presented myself at the Global TV station in Saskatoon. It was 4 a.m. Vancouver time and I hoped I had adjusted somewhat to the time change. Joelle was my host and we had a great time chatting about life in a Cold War uranium mining town. The interview set me up nicely for my book launch that evening at McNally Robinson Books. It was also the day when I felt a little bit like a celebrity. My husband and I were seated in the Prairie Ink Restaurant, about to start our lunch, when a woman walked up to me and said, without any introduction at all, “I just loved loved your book!” I had to wonder if she was mistaking me for someone else! But no, she had done some work up in the area long after Gunnar closed and was curious about the town and the era. She said the book made it all come alive. She thanked me and left. I didn’t even get her name but if she happens to read this, a big thankyou for making my day! Here is the interview.
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.