Uranium Mining in Canada’s Cold War North
Researcher: Dr. Arn Keeling
Graduate student: Carmella Gray-Cosgrove
Beginning in the 1930s, discoveries of silver/pitchblende deposits on Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, attracted capital, modern technology, southern Canadian labour, and government attention to this hitherto lightly developed region. The pitchblende (radium) mine at Port Radium operated sporadically until the middle of the Second World War, when it was secretly nationalized to provide uranium oxide ore for the Allied nuclear weapons program. For nearly two decades thereafter, uranium processing remained the exclusive domain of the state-controlled company, Eldorado Mining and Refining Co., which developed other uranium mines around Beaverlodge, Saskatchewan, near the N.W.T. border.
This project examines the environmental, health and social impacts of uranium development extraction on Aboriginal communities in the Canadian North. Mining activity altered the landscape through the construction of roads and new settlements, as well as the underground mine sites themselves. Tailings from ore extraction and processing released dangerous chemicals into the air and water. The intrusion of non-Native labour and lifeways displaced and marginalized local indigenous people. These local social and environmental consequences connected this remote region to broader economic and social forces, from the workings of the Canadian federal state to the horrors of nuclear warfare.
“The Radium Line,” Northern Transportation Company Annual Report, 1957.
- Keeling, A. 2010 (forthcoming) 'Born in an Atomic Test Tube: Landscapes of cyclonic development at Uranium City, Saskatchewan. The Canadian Geographer (Available in 'Early View' online).
"Cyclonic development and landscape transformations on Northern Canada’s mining frontier," American Society for Environmental History, Tallahassee, Fla., February 2009 -- link to audio file here
“Born in an Atomic Test Tube: Towards a historical geography of Uranium City,” Department of Geography “Blue Box Seminar,” Memorial University of Newfoundland, November 2006.
“‘A Vast, Cold, Empty Country: Colonialism and Uranium Mining in the Canadian North,” American Society for Environmental History annual conference, St. Paul, April 2006.
“A Toxic Eldorado: Uranium Mining and Environmental (In)justice in the Canadian North,” Association of American Geographers annual conference, Denver, April 2005.