Saskatchewan’s Uranium History

To wrap up the post-war years on my course in Western Canadian history since 1885, I’ve decided to focus on the impact of northern mining on the economies and societies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since the 1940s, both provinces transitioned from agricultural-based economies with predominantly rural populations to more diversified economies led by services and northern mining activity with majority urban populations.

This is one of the most significant transformations of the Canadian prairies in the second half of the 20th century. For Alberta, petroleum commodities have led the northern mining industry, especially the current exploitation of the province’s bitumen resources in the Athabasca region. For Saskatchewan, northern mining activity is dominated by the extraction of crude oil, potash, and uranium. Both cases pose important questions about the relationships between the state, natural resource exploitation, energy consumption, and the environmental consequences of rapid industrial mining activities. Although this course began with a lot of talk about wheat and farms, the history of the Canadian prairies since the end of the Second World War is decidedly different.

We’ll be looking at the history of uranium mining in Saskatchewan and the Canadian Northwest since the 1940s and how that industry has transformed the economy, society, and environment of northern Saskatchewan. For a closer examination of the impact of Canada’s uranium mining industry, I’ll be showing some clips from Magnus Isacsson’s 1990 NFB film Uranium.

Uranium by Magnus Isacsson (1990) 47:59

Vodpod videos no longer available.


2 Responses

  1. Hi Sean
    I love the way you’re moving the western Canadian story past wheat and into the north. Great job. One point to note: there is neither crude oil nor potash in northern Saskatchewan (although there is lots in southern SK and they are indeed main industries). The north is dominated by uranium, as you point out, and a working gold mine (Seabee) as well as power generation. Since Alberta mines so much heavy crude from Fort Mac and the oilsands, it probably seems logical that there would be some similar mining on this side of the border. But there isn’t. The tarsands are there, but there has been no development and probably won’t be.
    As I said, the direction you’re taking is fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the correction, Merle. You’re quite correct. The chart I posted covers the real GDP for the entire province, not just northern Saskatchewan. Although heavy oil and potash are the leading mining exports (in terms of value), they are primarily mined in the central and southern parts of the province. In particular, heavy oil is extracted primarily in the Lloydminster and Kindersley areas. Consider this an official correction.

      Regarding Saskatchewan’s northern bitumen resources, it will be interesting to see if they do get developed once the province’s heavy oil resources are depleted.

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