Vancouver screening of Guardians of Eternity

Guardians of Eternity is coming to Vancouver! Arn will be hosting a free screening of the film at the University of British Columbia on Tuesday, March 29 at 5:30 guardianspostersp.m., in Room 229 of the Geography Building. Q&A to follow. All are welcome!

Guardians of Eternity is a documentary film about the toxic legacy of an abandoned gold mine in northern Canada. The Giant Mine is closed now, but the mess that has been left behind will be with us forever. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is on the front line because the mine is on their land.

New Book! Mining and Communities in Northern Canada

The final results booMining Cover 2 jan26 Fink from the Abandoned Mines in Northern Canada project is here! John Sandlos and Arn Keeling have published a edited book, Mining and Communities in Northern Canada: History, Politics, Memory, with University of Calgary Press. Primarily composed of student work from the SSHRC-funded Abandoned Mines in Northern Canada Project, Mining and Communities assembles oral history and archival stories from across the vast breadth of northern Canada, assessing the varied impacts of mining primarily on Aboriginal communities. The book has been released as part of the Canadian history and Environment series edited by Alan MacEachern, and is available as an open access ebook at You can download the whole book, or individual chapters at this site.

In addition to funding from SSHRC for the research, Mining and Communities received generous support from ArcticNet, the Network in Canadian History and Environment, and the Aid to Scholarly Publication Program.

Host a Screening of the Guardians of Eternity

The new documentary, Guardians of Eternity, is now available for screening. You could host a screening at your university campus or another venue in Canada or anywhere else. Directed by YellowknifeSJ Guardians Poster filmmaker France Benoit and produced by Sheba Films, Guardians of Eternity traces the history of arsenic pollution at Yellowknife’s Giant Mine from the perspective of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. The film also asks how we might communicate the long term hazards of arsenic pollution at Giant Mine to future generations. An engaging and visually stunning documentary, Guardians of Eternity is part of a broader SSHRC funded project, Toxic Legacies, that is currently developing public outreach material on the issue of arsenic contamination at Yellowknife. For more on the film, including a trailer and details on hosting a screening, please see For more information please contact John Sandlos at

Free screening: Guardians of Eternity

SJ Guardians PosterYou are invited to join Arn Keeling and John Sandlos for the St. John’s launch of “Guardians of Eternity,” the collaboratively produced documentary film by France Benoit about the toxic legacies of Yellowknife’s Giant Mine. The mine is closed now, but the toxic contamination left behind could be with us forever. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is on the front line because the mine is on their land. The film tells the story of Giant Mine’s toxic legacy from the Dene perspective.

This free screening is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m., SN 2109. It will be followed by a Q & A with Arn and John, and will end by about 8:30. The film’s release also coincides with the publication of their edited collection, Mining and Communities in Northern Canada: History, Politics, and Memory. This screening is co-sponsored by the departments of History and Geography, Aboriginal Resource Office, and Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies at Memorial University.

Parking for this event is available in Lot 15B.

For more, see:

Designing for the Future at Giant Mine

By Rosanna Nicol (Coordinator, Toxic Legacies Project) and Arn Keeling (MUN Geography)

The week of June 8 we held a number of workshops in Yellowknife and Dettah to get folks thinking creatively about how they would communicate to future generations the dangers at Giant Mine and its management needs. The timing was perfect: the Remediation Team was holding surface remediation options workshops the following week.

Our discussions, intentionally unconstrained by physical and financial realities, were a great way to get the ideas flowing before entering  into a week of considering technical options of surface remediation of the site.

One example of a monument built by youth in Dettah.

One example of a monument built by youth in Dettah.

The workshops were centered around an interactive design activity where participants worked in small groups using an assortment of materials and odds-and-ends to design a monument at the Giant Mine. Minimal instruction was given – rather, it was a safe space for creative experimentation. We held four separate monument-building activities, mostly focussed on youth and one public event in the evening in Yellowknife (which ended up centering around radio interviews with a local journalist). A number of the activities were specific to Yellowknives Dene youth; only the evening workshop in Yellowknife included adults and we joined in as well. It was particularly silly, and quite lovely to see grown adults with extensive knowledge of the site and issues surrounding it translating their ideas into miniature landscape models.

A marker with a mythical worm that eats arsenic trioxide.

A marker with a mythical worm that eats arsenic trioxide.

In all the workshops, and especially in those where participants were previously engaged with the issues (which often comes with a lot of fear and overwhelm what with living next to an extremely contaminated site with no known solution),  the inherent silliness of playing with scrap material coupled with the gravity of the issues made for a kind of absurd, cathartic experience – part of the charm and success of these activities.

Below is a short summary of the workshop structure and some reflections on the results including photos:

The participants were briefly introduced to the situation at Giant Mine, the arsenic containment plan and the possibility of perpetual management requirements. Lessons and ideas from the Waste Isolation Pilot Project relating to nuclear waste were introduced, with a focus on Level 1  and 2 messaging using monuments and “menacing earthworks.”  Participants were given between 20-40 minutes to work on their design and then each group introduced their concept.  In spite of the obvious differences in conceptual engagement with the idea of communicating with the future, some interesting commonalities stood out in these sessions.

  1. Containment: given the arsenic is underground and is forecast to stay there, most builders included some form of containment, backed with a strategy of exclusion. Strategies varied, from deep isolation of the arsenic chambers, to securing the perimeter. Fencing of various types, whether walls, electrified barriers, or moats, aimed to exclude unwary and/or unwanted folks from the site.
    A simple barrier meant to contain the danger at the site. This, couples with leaving the site as it is, would keep people away.

    A simple barrier meant to contain the danger at the site. This, coupled with leaving the site as it is, would keep people away.

    By and large, containment and exclusion went hand in hand, although some presence of humans (in the form of technical personnel) was often incorporated, and some included information centres and messaging outside the perimeter (see point 3 below).  Nobody seemed worried about animals or anything on the site. Some models envisioned facilities for the maintenance of containment (freezing structures, thermosyphons, monitoring stations, etc.). In other words, the key to the site for many was the ensurance of permanent containment of arsenic; the theoretical possibility of containment’s obverse, leakage, was not really addressed.

  1. Surveillance: in addition to containment and exclusion, surveillance was a surprisingly common element of these models–especially amongst young people. Guard towers with domed observation decks, cameras, and other forms of site surveillance (outwardly or inwardly directed) were common.
    Guard towers out in front of an imagined Giant Mine of the future.

    Guard towers out in front of an imagined Giant Mine of the future.

    Not sure what this says about the apparent banality of surveillance and security in our time…. But it seems to indicate a strong feeling that not only is the site dangerous, it is dangerous for people to access the site.

    Another model for a guard tower.

    Another model for a guard tower.

    Some folks (again, especially kids) worried about people getting at or releasing the arsenic (like terrorists). Is this a vision of a Giant (Mine) Panopticon?

  1. Messaging: Without a bit more discussion around envisioning future societies, we think this aspect of the project was underdeveloped.
    Lots of signage in this one! Will future generations be able to read these langauages?

    Lots of signage in this one! Will future generations be able to read these languages?

    People made signs of various kinds, but there were few examples of various “levels” of messaging, the question of language, or the use of symbology (with some exceptions). I guess there were a few examples (using the chess men or little people) of using totemic figures to warn people from the site. Mainly, There were signs–lots of signs, mainly aimed at supporting the mission of containment/exclusion.

    The message is clear: Danger! But will future generations understand?

    The message is clear: Danger! But will future generations understand?

  1. Reclamation/remediation and use: Somewhat related to point 1, there was a range of forecast land use goals envisioned, implicitly or explicitly. One of the Dettah youth focussed on leaving the site “ugly” and unusable (an idea which, incidentally, got some traction with Johanne and others at the remediation workshop).
    Concept of one Dettah Yourth: keep the site ugly so everyone knows something bad has happened here.

    Concept of one Dettah Yourth: keep the site ugly so everyone knows something bad has happened here.

    Partly here the idea is that ugliness would preserve the message of danger while restricting future land uses. Quite fancifully, one elementary school group made their  site a recreation facility, complete with zip line! Most models seemed to track a kind of middle ground on end land use, with contaminated areas not being really used at all but some areas subject to remediation for use to some standard.

    Inviting people in - an interpretive centre designed to inform people how to maintain the Giant Mine Site (and mark the thermosyphon areas)

    Inviting people in – an interpretive centre designed to inform people how to maintain the Giant Mine Site (and mark the thermosyphon areas)

    Certainly, it raises the issue that reclamation and other strategies at the site are ultimately guided by both the issue of waste and contamination as well as that of potential future land uses–something to keep in mind as we work up this material.

All in all, a fun set of activities. Big thanks to Max Liboiron of Memorial University’s Sociology Department for the materials!




Giant Mine Environmental Agreement Signed

On June 17th representatives of Alternatives North, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, City of Yellowknife, North Slave Métis Alliance, Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories signed a landmark environmental agreement for the Giant Mine Remediation Project. Several years in the making, the agreement provides for an independent oversight body that will review the status of the project and act as an intervenor at public hearings. The agreement also contains for provisions on public reporting and research on how to provide a more permanent solution than the current plan to contain 237,000 tons of underground arsenic in perpetuity.  You can read the media release and see the environmental agreement.

The federal government is proposing to use a system of thermosyphons like these at Giant Mine to freeze and thereby stabilize underground chambers filled with toxic arsenic trioxide. Photo by Arn Keeling

The federal government is proposing to use a system of thermosyphons like these at Giant Mine to freeze and thereby stabilize underground chambers filled with toxic arsenic trioxide. Photo by Arn Keeling

Giant Mine is an abandoned gold mining operation that was active between 1948-2004. The mine was a significant producer of arsenic trioxide dust, which was initially sent up a roaster stack with absolutely no pollution controls. After a Yellowknives Dene child died and several other community members were sickened in 1951, pollution controls did slowly improve (though did not eliminate) the amount of airborne arsenic in the local environment. The two companies that operated Giant Mine (Giant Yellowknife Mines, Ltd. and Royal Oak) stored the arsenic dust collected in pollution control equipment in underground chambers, creating a vexing contamination problem that has become the responsibility of the Canadian government. The government currently plans to freeze the arsenic underground, along with measures to mitigate arsenic on the surface of the old mine. After a recent environmental assessement of the project, the government adopted a shorter term time frame for the frozen block project, hoping to find a more permanent way to remove the threat of arsenic at Giant Mine

Presentation: Community-based Science in the Arctic

In January, I had the opportunity to join a panel held at the University of California Irvine’s Newkirk Center for Science and Society, addressing the topic of “community-based science in the Arctic.” The panel was part of a larger UCI Program on Arctic Governance, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend, so I “Skyped” in, which worked quite well. The Newkirk Center also captured the presentation and slides in this nifty video, in which I discuss my experience and that of some of the Abandoned Mines team in working with northern communities to document their experiences of environmental and social change related to extractive development. Thanks to the Newkirk Center for the invitation; I hope you like the video.

Cultural geography students create concept models for Giant Mine markers

“Project Dystopia,” “The Information Tomb” and the “Giant Facility for Environmental Hazards” were among the conceptual models developed for markers and warning systems at Yellowknife’s Giant Mine by a class of cultural geography students at Memorial University. The abandoned Giant Mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories is the location of 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide buried in underground chambers, which the federal government has proposed to control by freezing in place for at least 100 years. Memorial University’s Toxic Legacies project is exploring community concerns around this remediation plan, including the question of how to communicate this hazard to future generations.

Students in Arn Keeling’s third-year Cultural Landscapes class grappled with this problem by creating scale models for their design concepts of commemoration and warning systems. During a class workshop, they used everyday objects like blocks, figurines, cardboard and carpet swatches to imagine how to mold the landscape above Giant Mine to both warn future generations of the hazards underground and to inform them about how to care for the site. They drew on the Memorial research team’s report on Communicating with Future Generations, landscape theory, and other sources to think about the role of landscape markers in a “multi-level” messaging system to warn the future about toxic contaminants at the mine.

The very creative results ranged from minimal markings above ground (so as to avoid attracting the curious), to complex and fanciful symbolic systems intended to deter humans from entering and disturbing the underground arsenic chambers. Many conceptual designs addressed the thorny question of language change by using symbols, monuments, and even colour to communicate danger. Others created mathematical or cartographic symbols to indicate the hazards at the site, or instructions on how to ensure the continued freezing of the underground chambers. Education was a feature of several projects, for groups who advocated the importance of teaching the future about the problems at the mine. Check out some images of the results below.

All the project teams suggested that memorial and commemorative landscapes do have an important role in communicating hazards to future generations. However, as one group noted, “it is important to re-evaluate memorialized hazards to determine the most effective methods of literal and figurative communication as possible. Through this constant innovation and collaboration, society today will hopefully be able to warn people about the hazards that we discover, and those that we create.” Certainly, the models created by the students provide considerable food for thought on the many challenges of how to commemorate the toxic legacy of Giant Mine while warning the future of its dangers.

Thanks to John Sandlos of the Toxic Legacies project, and to Max Liboiron for her advice and her magic box of building stuff.

New Pine Point paper released

by Emma LeClerc

In a new paper for the journal The Extractive Industries and Society, “From Cutlines to Traplines: Post-Industrial Land Use at the Pine Point Mine,” Emma LeClerc and Arn Keeling explore the legacy effects of mining on local economies and landscapes. Pine Point is a massive open pit, lead-zinc mine on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. It began operations in 1964 and shut down in 1988, leaving 46 open pits and a network of abandoned roads and cutlines.


One of the many cutlines around the former Pine Point mine, still open some 25 years after mine closure.

Local land users from Fort Resolution were displaced from traditional land use near Pine Point throughout the mine’s operation. However, our research shows that since closure, local land users have actively adapted hunting and trapping practices to maintain the Aboriginal mixed economy at the abandoned site and surrounding areas. In spite of their grave environmental concerns about the state of the poorly reclaimed mine, local land users have re-appropriated the site to hunt and trap. Many have even used some elements of the degradation to benefit land use by establishing traplines in abandoned cutlines. The complexity of land users’ interactions with the abandoned landscape shows that local land use is dynamic and continues to be shaped by mining long after closure.

This active maintenance of the land-based economy has implications for how we think about the long-term effects of mining and abandonment, in particular. Because mining transforms landscapes, it continues to affect the land-based economy long after extraction operations cease. LeClerc and Keeling argue that mining operations seeking to meaningfully engage with local communities must address impacts on local land use at each stage of an operation, including closure and abandonment.


Communicating Hazards to Future Generations – New Report

One of the key goals of the Toxic Legacies Project is to work with community groups in Yellowknife on how to communicated the hazard of 237.000 tons of arsenic trioxide frozen under the ground to future generations. To tackle this issue, several team members have read deeply into the work that was done at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where the first U.S. nuclear waste repository is located. Over the past thirty years, WIPP officials have developed proposals for a complex system of signs, symbols, text, and archival repositories to communicated nuclear hazard over 10000 years. As we thought about Giant Mine, we realized that some issues are similar (the original plan was to freeze the arsenic forever) and some were very different (unlike a nuclear waste repository Giant Mine will likely require active maintenance for long periods of time). Also, the ground kept shifting under our feet (not literally, thankfully); the recently completed environmental assessment of the Giant Mine Remediation Project resulted in a 100 year time frame being adopted (with the hope that new technology will allow for removal of the arsenic threat undeground). Even so, there are still some key issues to consider on transferring knowledge of the site between generations. We hope this report will provide a useful kick-start to discussion of this issue in the City of Yellowknife. You can access the full report or a short two page summary from the links below:

Communicating Danger Full Report 

Communicating Danger Two Page Summary