Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Eldorado: Canada's National Uranium Company

Robert Bothwell
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 470
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Robert Bothwell, one of Canada's foremost historians, has told the Eldorado story with colour and drama. He has captured the excitement of frontier resource development in the 1930s and the intrigue of international politics in the 1940s and 1950s.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7433-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    N. M. EDIGER

    During the first half of this century, Eldorado played an interesting role in Canada’s history. The company was heavily involved in the evolution of resource policy, federal/provincial relations, the role of crown corporations, and the medical, military, and energy applications of radioactive minerals. It had to deal with the gap between the private and public sectors, bilateral and multilateral foreign policies, and many other areas of public administration. All this, in addition to pioneering in mineral prospecting, northern transportation, and uranium mining and processing. Until the entry of other companies into the uranium business in the 1950s, Eldorado was unique...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
    Robert Bothwell
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 3-9)

    Early in the fifteenth century the rulers of Bohemia, a small kingdom in central Europe, were pleased to learn of the existence of a small silver mine near the town of St Joachimsthal in the Sudetenland, on the border of Saxony. The mine flourished, but then was abandoned, its silver content exhausted. In the eighteenth century attention began to be given to what else might be in the mine. There was a black crystalline material, obviously different from silver, and in 1727 it received the namepeek blende.

    Peek blende(pitchblende in English) duly appeared in books on minerals, but...

  6. 1 The Canadian Shield
    (pp. 10-38)

    The exact date of the discovery of Great Bear Lake is uncertain.The existence of the lake was known during the 1780s to fur traders of the North West Company, but there is no clear reference to any of the traders actually visiting the lake until the early 1800s.The lake, local Indians said, was named Saschohetha, a reference to a multiplicity of bears in the vicinity. If bears, why not beaver? the North West men may have reasoned. And so, early in the new century, the North West Company established a post at the south-west corner of the lake, near its...

  7. 2 Northern Lights
    (pp. 39-78)

    Between 1932 and 1940 Eldorado Gold Mines Limited grew in virtually every respect. Its output soared. Its staff doubled, doubled again, and did not stop there. It excavated a mine, built a refinery, and bought its own transportation company. Its owners, the brothers LaBine, became legendary pioneers of science. They dined with the governor general and the prime minister in Ottawa, and reciprocated the hospitality when the governor general came to visit their mine.

    Other things grew too. But if more money came in, more was spent. It cost money to create a mine, and the money was borrowed. Shareholders...

  8. Interlude: The Powers of the Atoms
    (pp. 79-91)

    UNTIL THE YEAR 1939 it is unlikely that Gilbert and Charlie LaBine had ever heard of the term physics, except as an abstraction lectured on in universities. The production of uranium involved a great deal of science, but science was geology, chemistry, and its cousin, metallurgy. Science was, above all, medicine, and it was ultimately because of its curative powers that radium had any value at all. The idea that the process could have been reversed would have seemed very odd; the idea that it would be uranium that could do it would have seemed stranger still.

    Uranium, in the...

  9. 3 From Radium to Uranium
    (pp. 92-116)

    The relaxed state of Eldorado in the middle of 1940 did not mirror that of Canada as a whole. The desperate situation of the allied cause after the surrender of France and the loss of almost all the British Army’s heavy equipment on the fields of Flanders and the beaches of Dunkirk meant that every effort had to be made to replace them. So desperate were the British that orders started to flow into Canada, three thousand miles and an ocean away. Every possible item of equipment was needed: planes, tanks, trucks, rifles, ammunition, and chemicals, as well as the...

  10. 4 Private into Public
    (pp. 117-154)

    Between 1942 and 1947 Eldorado was the concern of not one government, but three. The first was the Government of Canada, which had to make men, equipment, and ‘facilities’ – that enormous sea of goodwill on which so many projects are floated without which they could not be launched – available to a small mining and refining company that still bore the word ‘Gold’ in its The second was the Government of the United States, which reached over the border in December 1941 to offer to buy enough uranium from Eldorado to permit the reopening of the Great Bear Lake mine and...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. Interlude: War into Cold War
    (pp. 155-163)

    ON 6 AUGUST 1945, an American 6-29 bomber, theEnola Gay,dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, on 9 August, another bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Perhaps 100,000 people were killed in the first raid; 39,000 in the second. On 10 August, the Japanese government resolved to surrender, and on 2 September, in Tokyo harbour, a mixed allied delegation accepted the Japanese capitulation.

    The news of the Hiroshima attack reached Ottawa just before noon on 6 August. The Canadian government was preoccupied that day with a dominion/provincial conference intended to...

  13. 5 The Shadow of War
    (pp. 164-197)

    Eldorado’s fate hung in the balance for eighteen months at the end of World War II. The company had two principal orders of business: it had to be straightened out so that some accurate assessment of its profits and losses, assets and liabilities was possible. And it had to complete its wartime contracts with the Americans, which stretched through 1945 and well into 1946. Beyond that, the future was obscure. It was entirely possible that Eldorado would finally earn a certificate of corporate good health in time to be wound up: abolished, or sold back to private interests to make...

  14. 6 Mines and Money
    (pp. 198-232)

    Between 1947 and 1950, and for many years after, Eldorado made money. From a deficit of $400,000 in 1946, Eldorado moved in 1947 to a profit so large as to convert the deficit into a sizeable surplus. Income, which in 1946 was under $700,000, touched $2.2 million in 1947. Current assets rose, current liabilities shrank, and working capital (the difference between current assets and current liabilities) grew almost exponentially. It became possible to think of voting a dividend – the first in the company’s 24-year history – and 1950 the directors celebrated Christmas by doing just that. C.D. Howe was gratified.


  15. Interlude: Searching for Security
    (pp. 233-238)

    BETWEEN 1945 AND 1953 three nations set up their own successful nuclear weapons programs. The United States, obviously, was first From 1945 to 1949 it enjoyed a monopoly of nuclear weapons technology, a circumstance which often leads historians to conclude that the United States was all-powerful in the post-war world. As we have seen, however, the Americans were slow to adapt the atomic bomb to their military strategy, and as late as 1948 or 1949 they were uncertain how they might use it in any future conflict.

    In fact, American possession of the bomb, unique as it was, tended to...

  16. 7 Stoking a Boom: The Search for a Just Price
    (pp. 239-276)

    At the beginning of 1947, Canada had four governmental organizations principally involved in the development of atomic policy. Eldorado, the subject of our study, needs no introduction. It was, as have seen, a crown corporation directly under the minister of Reconstruction and Supply, C.D. Howe. The National Research Council and its president, C.J. Mackenzie, we have met. Atomic research was only a part of the council’s mandate, but for Mackenzie it was increasingly the most interesting part. He and the principal scientist at Chalk River, the recently arrived W.B. Lewis, had high hopes of developing usable – meaning cheap – electric power...

  17. 8 Beaverlodge and the Boom
    (pp. 277-314)

    Between 1952 and 1955 Eldorado witnessed the greatest expansion in its history. From being a 200-ton a year producer of uranium oxide, the company by 1955 had passed 1000 tons and still moving up. The cause of this growth was the Beaverlodge on the north shore of Lake Athabasca. There, in the early Eldorado created a mine, a mill, a transportation system, a town. Eldorado already had 754 employees in 1951, reflecting the development at Beaverlodge, and nearly 1000 at the of 1955. Sales and other income, a mere $7.5 million in 1951, to $25.7 million in 1955. Running the...

  18. 9 Beaverlodge and the Boom: II
    (pp. 315-350)

    In the middle of August 1952, C.D. Howe set out from Ottawa to tour the small empire of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. From the USAEC’s standpoint, there was no better time to host a visiting fireman. The commission had embarked on a multibillion dollar expansion program, responding to Truman’s decision to accelerate nuclear weapons production. Vast, costly, brand-new plants were approaching completion. Collectively sprawling over thousands of acres, they symbolized American determination to a nuclear stockpile second to none.

    Gordon Dean, the USAEC chairman, attached great importance to the impression the commission would make on Howe. Howe was the...

  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  20. 10 Getting There Is Half the Fun
    (pp. 351-376)

    Eldorado would not have existed – could not have existed – without adequate means of transport. Gilbert LaBine first came to Great Bear Lake by plane in 1930; thirty years later, the last inhabitants of Eldorado’s Port Radium settlement took the plane out. In between, supplies shuttled in by aircraft and by boat and barge. The company could never forget that its ability to carry on its business depended absolutely on regular and reliable transportation in and out of the north.

    Most Canadians, between 1930 and 1960, relied on railways and highways to move around, and for getting their goods to market....

  21. Interlude: Atoms for Peace
    (pp. 377-382)

    THE YEARS BETWEEN 1951 AND 1953 were a time of great political change. The British voted out Attlee and Labour, and voted in Churchill and the Conservatives. The Americans threw out the Democrats, and chose instead the Republicans under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In Russia, the dictator Josef Stalin died and was succeeded, briefly, by a ‘collective leadership’ that showed a tendency to become less collective over time. The Korean War ended, possibly because Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons to end it. And in Canada the Liberal party, under Louis St-Laurent and C.D. Howe, was re-elected.

    The governments of...

  22. 11 The Politics of Peace
    (pp. 383-411)

    In 1959 uranium was Canada’s principal mineral export, ahead of aluminum and iron ore and nickel, too. Only lumber and timber, pulp and paper, and wheat were more important. Uranium had become a principal entry in Canada’s balance of payments, and its importance to the government increased proportionately. The contracts negotiated between Canadian uranium companies and Eldorado, and between Eldorado and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, were intended to deliver uranium to the United States at a date no later than the 31st of March 1962, a date later revised, in some cases, to 31 March 1963. A billion and...

  23. 12 Too Little, Too Soon
    (pp. 412-436)

    Canada’s nationalized uranium industry had known no other minister than C.D. Howe. But did the minister know the industry? He had never visited a mine, dropped in on the Port Hope refinery, called at head office. In the latter case he had no need to. Eldorado’s executive suite was only a couple of blocks from the minister’s own inelegant quarters in Temporary Building Number One on the cliffs overlooking the Ottawa River. Across the street a new and more imposing building was going up to house Trade and Commerce, Howe’s principal department. It would be ready for occupancy early the...

  24. Notes
    (pp. 437-462)
  25. Index
    (pp. 463-470)