Elliot Lake over the past sixty years has had two unofficial titles. The first is “Jewel in the Wilderness,” and the second is “the Uranium Capital of the World.” In the 1950s, the U.S. push for uranium production prompted exploitation of local uranium deposits. Very quickly a town sprang up where before there was none. For over 40 years, Elliot Lake was a significant producer of uranium. All through the period of exploitation, and especially after, Elliot Lake promoted itself as a beautiful destination for nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers. Today, the town continues to reconcile its two legacies as a paradoxically thoroughly modern wilderness, trying to become a destination for ecotourism while clinging to its nuclear role. But can a place be both nuclear and natural? Can it be thoroughly polluted with radiation and naturally beautiful at the same time? And if so—if Canadians can accept it as such—what does Elliot Lake say about the Canada’s acceptance or denial of its nuclear history?
Today, upon first glance, one might not know that Elliot Lake was the leading producer of Canadian uranium in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a small town, roughly 20 miles north of Lake Huron, reached by driving north off of the main highway between Sudbury and Sault St. Marie and up a sharp, winding road. Trees crowd around the road, until they clear around the town’s namesake, which is Elliot Lake itself. When viewing the lake, it is easy to see how the town received its first unofficial title. It is a large sapphire-coloured lake surrounded by rock outcroppings and trees, and the mining infrastructure—mills, headframes, tailings ponds, dams—are mostly gone.
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