History of UC and District Booklet

Booklet Front Page

Like the 79-80 yearbook, this booklet came into my hands on my first trip back to UC as an adult, in June 1996, on a visit to the town library. The library was in the old RCMP building, along with the town office, council meeting room and jail (which would later double as the mail sorting room, possibly the only jail in the nation to do so). Margaret Belanger, who’d known my family back in the ’60s when we lived at MASL, gave me a copy. I held onto it for a couple of years then lost it moving around. Through the magic of the ‘Friends of Uranium City’ facebook page, I found an ex-UCer who had a copy and she was kind enough to scan it in for me.

The booklet consists of a couple of dozen pages, and was written and compiled by the 10B 1982 class in the months after the announcement that six months the Eldorado Mine would be closed. In the introduction, Grant Dougall, the class teacher, wrote:

“A book of this nature has been needed for some time in Uranium City, and the events of the past few months, if nothing else, provided the nudge to begin such a project. The authors of the book are a group of Grade 10 students from Candu High School in Uranium City . . . They have researched and compiled virtually all the information within this book.”

Ad for Uranium City, Saskatchewan from the '50s 'Fun In the Sun'
For a booklet put together by a grade 10 class, it has an impressive list of supporters. In the acknowledgements, the authors credit, among many others, Eldorado Nuclear, the Municipality (who funded the printing) , Bob Bothwell, author of ‘Eldorado: Canada’s National Energy Company‘, an Eldorado-funded history of Eldorado (which also contains an entertaining fourty odd pages on the birth and development of Uranium City), and a Ron Mitchinson of North Star Helicopters who flew one student around take ariel views of the town for the booklet.

Along with an introduction by Uranium City’s last mayor, Rose Wazylenka, is a message from then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Canada’s most eloquent Prime Minister offers this consolation:

There comes a sad and poignant time . . . in everyone’s life, when the realization strikes . . . that earlier prospects have already been fulfilled, and the future is not so promising as it once was. At such times those facing this painful veracity must find the strength to accept it, for people are not gods, and sooner or later we must each acknowledge that our humanity puts constraints on the attainment of many of our aspirations

However elegiac, a little disingenuous as well, given that Crown Corporation Eldorado Nuclear had just spent $100 million in taxpayer’s money on mine and town, building everything from new roads to a 20 million dollar ramping system in the mine, only to declare that the whole venture was over. Perhaps they could have informed townspeople that ‘earlier prospects had been fulfilled’ instead of encouraging local businesspeople to invest their own money in businesses that would soon be worthless, or flying in miners from across the world for a mine that would soon cease to exist. But no matter . . .

Uranium City Town View - '50s

The booklet contains a surprisingly thorough overview of UC’s history, complete with many period photographs and illustrations. Every major mine from the first ’50s boom (there were nearly a dozen) is documented, as is Prince Phillip’s visit in 1959 (later that year, both the British and American governments would cancel their contracts, sending Uranium City into its first steep decline). There are pages devoted to the prosaic elements of a functioning town (‘Churches’, ‘RCMP’, ‘the Waterworks’), maps, lists of allotments, lists of town council members. The booklet ends with a portrait of Gus Hawker, at one time UC’s most famous resident, interviewed by the BBC for their 1959 documentary on the town after he chartered a plane to fly his entire family back to his native England to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

What strikes me, three decades on, is how poignant this booklet seems now. Compiled by a grade 10 class just months after Eldorado’s surprise announcement that the mine would be closing down, when the population was already down to 800 people (from a height of nearly 4000), to halve again after the mine closed in June, 1982. Even in the section on Transportation, you can see shots of the moving trucks coming over the ice road, part of the convoy that would take most of the town south in that narrow window the ice road over Lake Athabasca was safe to travel.

What also stands out is that Uranium City was no ordinary small town. How many booklets put together by a Grade 10 class have a foreword written by a Prime Minister? Certainly the announcement, and its aftermath, was in the national news for many months.

The booklet ends with this restrained, but melancholy epilogue:

   “On Thursday, December 3rd, 1981, at 11:00 am, Eldorado Nuclear announced it would close the 30 year old mine and mill on June 30, 1982. Decommissioning was planned to last until June, 1983.

With the closing of the last operating mine in the area, Uranium City faced the imminent danger of becoming a ghost town.

At the completion of this book there were some 800 people living in the town. The municipal government was still active and services were still available.

Readers will have to go to other sources to learn the ultimate fate of this colourful and most northern of Saskatchewan towns.

With great thanks to Diana Bresselaar Free, who was good enough to scan the booklet in for me and send it on.