In her debut nonfiction work, Sandberg, a former attorney who worked for mining companies, tells the history of a Canadian mining town by combining personal reflections with scholarly research.
Gunnar Mines produced its first ore in 1955 on Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan, and until the early ’60s, it helped supply the United States with the uranium it needed for nuclear weapons. During its brief existence, the town of Gunnar welcomed immigrants from all over Europe. (According to one census, Sandberg says, more than 30 nationalities were represented in the town.) Life could be difficult in such a cold, isolated place, but despite the challenges—or perhaps because of them—a remarkably strong community developed. Having spent her early childhood in Gunnar, the author has firsthand knowledge of this community. She reflects fondly on her time there, as do many other former residents interviewed here. Together, their recollections create a vibrant portrait of life in a flourishing mining town. But Sandberg’s book is more than a collaborative memoir—it’s also a comprehensive work of history that places Gunnar in a larger context. Beginning with an account of the discovery of radium at Great Bear Lake, Sandberg goes on to discuss the early days of mining in Canada, the demand for uranium during the nuclear arms race, the Canadian government’s eagerness to exploit its radioactive resources, the difficulties of building and running a mine, and, finally, the dismantling of Gunnar and the long-term effects that mining has had on the environment. Her research is exceptionally thorough, as can be seen in the 186 endnotes that accompany the text. This amount of detail can make for tedious reading at times, but on the whole, the book is written in a clear, conversational style. By deftly blending objective analysis with subjective observations, Sandberg succeeds in creating a serious historical study that also serves as a poignant tribute to a lost way of life. The subject matter may not appeal to a wide readership, but anyone with an interest in Canadian history will likely find something to enjoy in these pages.
An impressive work of scholarship that illuminates an important part of Canada’s past.