Canadian author’s ‘atomic memoir’ links H-bomb to Great Bear Lake

Dr.Julie Salverson’s book Lines of Flight is about a little known aspect of Canada’s connection to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945

April 06, 2018 03:50 pm | Updated 05:21 pm IST - MADURAI:

Making an indelible mark: Writer Dr.Julie Salverson Photo: Special Arrangement

Making an indelible mark: Writer Dr.Julie Salverson Photo: Special Arrangement

All of us are constantly living in the middle of something happening somewhere. As a witness to increasing violent events in the world, how do we live life with courage? Dr.Julie Salverson’s book Lines of Flight delves into how humanity is inextinguishable no matter what in the light of her accidental discovery of the connection between the small village Deline outside Toronto and the bomb that fell on Hiroshima.

The shock value of the little known information put her on a 10-year radioactive trail from Canada to Japan in 2002. “I arrived in Hiroshima for the first time in the middle of a Christmas party. Overwhelmed I was with the pain and loss of the sufferers but I realised the city was not just about the bomb. It was the struggle, resilience and patience of the people that still makes them see and cherish what is beautiful,” says Salverson of her first book, which acknowledges a complex atomic history of the past but refuses to be shackled to it. “It is a cultural study,” she says.

“It is about energy and hope, how people who have no knowledge about the truth organise themselves against dangers and hold on to hope in the midst of loss and suffering,” she adds.

With Kim Jong Un and Trump’s talk about nuclear weapons and the deep divisions over how to live, the room inside the KMU Library in Kodaikanal heated up even as clouds burst open bringing down the temperature outside last Saturday morning. The small crowd of book lovers who had gathered for Salverson’s book reading session found both the book and the discussion a big draw especially learning that uranium mined in Canada was used by the US to create the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“The hugeness of life can be experienced on every page,” says Salverson. In the absence of good archival material, she relied on her conversations with the small Dene community on the western shore of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. Her decade’s in-depth research and travel, meetings and interactions and 16 drafts for the final 180 pages explore the story of the making of the atomic bomb and the consequences.

She wrote it because it was a story hidden from the local people. “We all are products of the nuclear age and the trauma of those years can still be felt today. I stumbled upon this secret corner of atomic history, the existence of El Dorado, the mine of Great Bear Lake,” she says about her creative non-fiction memoir.

Many Deline men, says Salverson, got the job of ferrying sacks of uranium ore during the closing months of World War II. It was mined on boats across the lake and transported to Ontario, where it was refined into the uranium that would go in the war-ending atomic bombs used in Japan. But the people of Déline and the white miners who worked underground were unaware about the nature of their cargo or its ultimate destination.

Over the years, there stories came from cancer wards of hospitals and deaths due to unexplained illness. But there was never any government explanation or apology, says Salverson.

There was only one annual report on mining operations published in 1932 that has some reference to weekly health check up and monthly blood tests of the miners. But when the Delines learnt the truth about their fateful connection to the bomb as recent as 1998, they wasted no time in sending a delegation to Japan to offer an apology to Hiroshima survivors.

Salverson decided to work on this expose after she saw Peter Blow’s documentary “The Village of Widows”. In touch with a Toronto-based group, ALPHA, that works to remind the world of Japanese war atrocities, she travelled to Deline (500 km north of Edmonton) to meet the descendants of the aboriginal men who mined the uranium for the Manhattan project. She also visited the Great Bear Lake, New Mexico and to Hiroshima and and Fukushima post 2011 Tsunami and nuclear plant disaster with colleague Peter C van Wyck of Concordia University who authored “The Highway of the Atom”. He is the fellow-traveller in her narrative.

Canada’s misfortune was it was the cheapest source of Uranium, says Salverson. And growing up in Toronto she was obsessed with the fear of an atomic war. As a teenager I would be scanning the night skies for invaders, she says.

“Everyone has a story to tell,” says Salverson, but not every story is about the story that happened. It is as much about the witness and the role of the witness in trusting relationships. “I have not turned the Delines into victims or heroes but it is an analysis of their lives that gives a peep into the future that might be better than most of us think,” she adds.

“They went beyond the call of their duty for reconciliation. That is why I say humans die but humanity lives”

(Anti-nuclear activist, scholar and artist Dr.Julie Salverson, who works as Assistant Professor of Drama at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, was visiting Kodaikanal with her husband Bill Penner who is KIS Alumni class of 74. Her book was published by Wolsak & Wynn in 2016 winter.)

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