In the 1930s, Eldorado Gold Mines established a radium refinery on the shore of Lake Ontario in the small town of Port Hope. In the 1940s the Canadian government secretly took control of the company, turning the renamed Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. into a Crown corporation with contracts to supply uranium oxide for research into the development of the atomic bomb under the U.S. Manhattan Project. Port Hope is thus an integral part of the development of the atomic bomb, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the production of atomic weapons during the Cold War. In 1988 Eldorado was sold to Cameco Ltd., which processes uranium for commercial nuclear reactor fuel in Canada and worldwide.
In 1975, radon gas levels in excess of uranium mining standards were discovered in the gym of a local school. The Eldorado refinery had donated sandy radioactive uranium wastes to the school for use as fill under the gym, cafeteria and parking lot. The school was evacuated and stayed closed for nearly two years and the vacant school became the first public sign of a radioactively contaminated community. Radiological surveys of homes, commercial properties and landscapes throughout the town followed as basements, gardens and ravines were measured and mapped to determine the scope of the contamination. Further testing revealed that the town’s harbour, adjacent to the Eldorado plant, was compacted with radioactive sediment.
The project Uranium Landscapes is a long-term investigation of the location and public response to radioactive waste in Port Hope. The project documents the contaminated homes and landscapes of Port Hope and includes images of the near-by nuclear dump in Port Granby and the “Port Hope” field at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories where approximately 2500 truckloads or 104,225 tons of radioactive soil from Port Hope was shipped in 1976.
For more, see Uranium Landscapes, The Art Gallery of Peterborough, 2000.
The present and future phase of the Port Hope project continues with Future Mound, a documentary continuance of what began with Uranium Landscapes.
Marcel Pochon, came to Canada in 1931 to set up the radium processing operation at the Eldorado plant in Port Hope. Pochon had studied with the nuclear pioneer Pierre Curie, husband to Marie (Madam) Curie in Paris. He lived in a beautiful home on Dorset Street. The family home was known for a sign that hung over the front step. It read MUIDAR, which spells the word RADIUM backwards.
In August 1992 the Pochon family home MUIDAR was being prepared for sale. The house had been assessed and radioactively contaminated objects were found throughout the home. All objects in the home were tested with a Geiger counter and readings were recorded. If radioactivity was discovered on an object, a red sticker was affixed to the point of contamination. One of the contaminated objects found in the home was a poster depicting the Sahtu Dene of Great Bear Lake, NWT transferring sacks of uranium ore from dog sleds to the Radium Express, a bush plane owned by Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. Many of the men who carried sacks of uranium ore for Eldorado died because of their exposure to radioactive materials. This poster was photographed on the floor of MUIDAR and it is radioactively contaminated. Another found object removed from the home was an autograph album of film stars. Nametags identify the movie stars who once graced these pages. A series of nuclear connections exist amongst the actors identified in the album. Donna Reed wrote a treatment with her high school science teacher, Edward R. Tompkins, for a nuclear film titled The Beginning or the End (MGM 1947). Greer Garson played Madame Curie in the studio film Madame Curie (MGM 1943). The album includes the names of Van Johnson and Robert Walker who also appeared in Madame Curie. The actor Walter Pidgeon played Pierre Curie in the same film.
The album is a tribute to atomic representation and history and it is radioactively contaminated.