Uranium City: A Short History

Note: maybe could design this with sub-pages and a sub-menu, like I did with the Times. 

Uranium City sits atop the northernmost corner of Saskatchewan, divided from the rest of the province by the inland sea that is Lake Athabasca. Depending on the survey, anywhere from 70 to a little over a hundred people live there now, but once it was a thriving town, the locus of the Cold War uranium industry in the ’50s, lynchpin of Canada’s own nuclear aspirations in the ’60s and ’70s when the government was stockpiling uranium for its domestically engineered and produced Candu reactor.

On its way to becoming a model mining town by the late ’70s, when dozens of fine, architecture-award winning houses, condos and apartment complexes were built up all around the townsite, UC’s fate took a dramatic turn downwards with the announcement by Eldorado Nuclear on Dec. 3rd, 1981, that it would be closing its Beaverlodge mine in six months. By the time the mine shut its doors, in early June, 1982, 90% of the population had left, some by jet, many by the ice road that had opened for six weeks over Lake Athabasca, the only land route in or out.

Uranium City has survived 30 years since that announcement, a small nucleus of people inhabiting town center, surrounded by miles of empty houses and buildings, a modern ghost town. But Uranium City still lives, not just in the beating heart of its still occupied town center, but in the thousands of ex-residents who keep the town alive through reunions, active communities on facebook, by the Friends of Uranium City website that was set up in the late ’90s to facilitate the reunions and provide a hub for residents, former and current, to reconnect.

This website is an attempt to document that history, to give permanence to stories and photographs that might otherwise disappear into forgotten corners of someone’s attic, or be lost in the ephemeral nature of social media, to provide a bridge between the town’s past, its present, and hopefully its future.

This is very much a work in progress, evolving with the material that arrives and my own evolution as a web developer. Eventually I’d like to add an interactive timeline, fully indexed catalogues grouped by year and place and, assuming interest, a forum. Check back often .  . .

14 thoughts on “Uranium City: A Short History

  1. Lived in Eldorado July 1955 to July 1957, attended UCHS gr 10, 55/56, gr 11, 59/57.
    Have B & W & colour slides of July 1, 1956 & 1957 Dominion day parades in UC, these are posted on Uranium City Friends FB site. Would be happy to share to this site if you wish them.

  2. My brother worked there shortly before shuting down i n the late 50’s and I have an actual recording of him and friends keeping warm in the bunkhousewhen it was 50 below. This music will blow you away…they were awesome.

  3. My brother sadly passed away in 1980 in a helicopter crash doing what he loved doing best …trying to make the woeld a better place

    • Hi Lyla,

      Sorry about the slight delay in publishing this. Would love to hear your recording. 50 below! I’ve experienced that more than once . . . hard to believe how cold that is. Sorry for your loss of your brother.

      Best,

      Tim

  4. My father, Cornel nickel worked in uranium city for fourteen years. I was born in 1978. Born missing my left hand at the wrist. The offspring Children of Chernobyl many have the exact same congenital defect. My father died in 2000 of an extreme rare and aggressive lung cancer. I am curious if any other residents or their children have suffered any possibly related”side effects”

    • Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for your message and very sorry to hear about both your father and your own situation. The short answer is – I’m sure many people had ‘side effects’. Regulation – and knowledge – was very limited in the ’50s and ’60s, even into the late ’70s. I think it’s quite a bit better now, but I have heard some shocking stories. Among other things, many of the foundations of the older houses were built with waste rock from the mine (in the ’50s). By the late ’70s, awareness of radon gas buildup in the basements led to the government putting an extra meter on houses in town – one for gas, one to regulate radon buildup (to be fair I’ve heard of this happening naturally – as far south as Nova Scotia). I’ve heard somewhere the Eldorado president even kept some refined uranium in a glass case in his office until the late ’60s until someone said, you know, that really isn’t a good idea.

      There was a group a few years ago of ex-miners who had come together because of high rates of lung cancer from working at Eldorado (and other mines). Haven’t heard about them for awhile. You could try posting at the ‘Uranium City Friends’. I’ll send out a message and see if anyone has heard anything about it recently and send you an email.

      Best,

      Tim

    • Hello Jackie
      I worked with your father for several years at a bush flying company in Uranium city. Nick worked in the office and I was a aircraft machanic and later a bush pilot. Would like to talk to you about his years in Uranium city You can callme at 250 428 5182

      Regards

      Brian Hemingson

  5. My husband worked for Eldorado Nuclear from 1977-Mar.1982. I taught in Gilchrist School. Our girls went to Ben McIntyre and then Candu. We loved Uranium but were upset to find that the mine backfill was used for the schools foundations and our home foundations. My husband Jerry was diagnosed with Pernicious Anemia (a blood disease) after we left Uranium and we are sure that it has something to do with his time in the mine. We moved to Ft. McMurray after Uranium, then Pemberton/Whistler and retired in Victoria in2005. Love hearing from Uranium City people and seeing photos. Gerald and Andrea Martin (Use our email address or look us up on Glen Lake Rd., Victoria, B.C.)

  6. I worked in the mill in the summer of 1963. I was there for about 11 weeks and lived in the mine bunkhouse.

    I’m trying to write up some memoirs of my younger days, including this working summer. Looking at the various pictures posted, I can’t fully identify the mine complex as much is written about the Gunnar mine that must have closed down, perhaps the year I was there. The site I worked on used carbonate/bicarbonate leaching. I did a little project on extracting vanadium from the yellow cake. Are there any pictures of the mine residences and the plants?

  7. I was on the Lashburn Bantam Hockey team ,we flew in to uranium city for the last games of hockey to be played there ,we were billeted, with family’s there. a lot of the houses were boarded up already, it was a state of the art facility.
    Just a little piece of history I remember and thought I would share.
    Regards Mark

    • Thanks Mark – interesting snapshot. Must have been strange to see as a kid, this combination of state of the art and abandoned. They put so much money into the town in the years before they closed, I think that rink re-opened after renovations in ’78. Luckily it was still going last time I was there in 2003. Sadly, the roof of the curling rink next door collapsed a few years ago though it was still being used in 2003. That winter, there was a big curling bonspiel and dozens of people came in from neighboring towns. For a couple of days, it was a bit like the old days, if you could ignore the abandoned buildings across the street.

      Best,

      Tim

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