#OnThisDay [August 6] in 1945, the Enola Gay drops an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Some of the uranium used in the bomb was mined in secret from Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories.

On 6 August 1945, the Allied forces dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later they dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, this one a smaller blast called “Fat Man”. These bombings immediately killed approximately 129 000 people, approximately 80% of these were civilians, and would continue to cause many horrific injuries and severe health issues that would lead to many more deaths. 

Atomic bombing of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right).

Port Radium, Great Bear Lake, North West Territories

  After these bombs had been dropped, Canada was informed that the uranium used in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been mined in Great Bear Lake in the North West Territories. This mining project, part of the Anglo-Canadian-American Atomic Bomb Project, was highly secretive and largely unknown to the Canadian public.

 In 1940, scientists on behalf of Britain discovered how to make an atomic bomb using natural uranium. However, this was a slow, difficult, and expensive process and so Britain requested aid from America and Canada. Over the next several years Canada became increasingly involved in the production of the two atomic bombs. 

In March 1942, the US Government ordered 60 tonnes of Canadian Uranium from Eldorado, the Canadian mining company that operated out of Port Radium, Great Bear Lake, mine. C.D. Howe, minister of munitions and supply, told Gilbert LaBine, owner of Eldorado mining, that this order must be of the utmost secret stating: "I want you to reopen […] Get together the most trustworthy people you can find. The Canadian Government will give you whatever money is required... And for God's sake don't even tell your wife what you're doing." Over the next 10 months, Eldorado delivered 220 tonnes of uranium before switching to processing Congolese uranium. 

Much of the uranium was mined by the Dene, a semi-nomadic aboriginal population, who were paid minimally to mine and transport the ore to the United States. Exposure to the Uranium by the Dene was extensive; however, the harmful effect of exposure to uranium was not released. Unfortunately after the war, many of the Dene died of related illness such as cancer that soon the Dene village became known as ‘widow village’.

In addition to mining for Uranium, Canada also participated in the exploration of plutonium production with the British in Montreal in 1942. By 1944 it was realized that in order to efficiently produce plutonium, heavy water reactors would be required. In April 1944 the Combined Policy Committee opted to construct Canada’s heavy water reactor at Chalk River. 

Chalk River Laboratories. Photo From: National Research Council Canada

Canada’s effort in the construction of the Atomic bombs requires acknowledgement of both its contribution to the field of nuclear science, but also its responsibility for the destruction and devastation to its victims both domestically and abroad.

1. Robert Wingfield-Hayes. “The ‘sanitised narrative’ of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing” BBC News, 4 August 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33754931.

2.  Anna Tilman, “On the Yellow Cake Trail: History of Uranium Mining in Canada,” The Sentinel, 19 no. 3 (Summer 2009).

3.  Kim Peterson, “Canada, Racism, Genocide, and the Bomb,” The Dominion. April 5, 2005.

4.  Gordon Edwards, “How Uranium from Great Bear Lake Ended Up in A-Bombs,” Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.1996.

5.  Andrew Nikiforuk, “Echoes of the Atomic Age: Cancer kills fourteen aboriginal uranium workers,” Calgary Herald. 14 March 1998.

6.  Anna Tilman, “On the Yellow Cake Trail: History of Uranium Mining in Canada”. 

7.  Gordon Edwards, “Canada and the Bomb: Past and Future,” ,” Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.1996.