The Duncan Chisholm family in front of the home they called Dunard, on Dorset Street 1878
cursor over or tap a face
the Globe and Mail June 20, 1977
A 100-year-old house here has been found radioactively hot and federal experts think it got that way because of a clandestine radium high-grading operation in the basement 35 years ago.
The address is 150 Dorset St West, a street lined with stately homes. Geoffrey Knight, an official of the Atomic Energy Control board in this region, says that the house should be torn down because of relatively high radon levels and spots of contamination.
Radium is a highly valuable element and in those days high-grading was not unheard of. (High-grading is a mining term referring to the illegal acquisition of mineral and was once a major problem facing gold-mining companies.)
In Port Hope, from 1932 to 1953, refined radium was produced at Eldorado Mining and Refining (1944) Ltd., a company that has since been taken over by the federal Government and now refines uranium under the name Eldorado Nuclear Ltd.
Element being recovered?
Mr Knight speculates that during the radium days someone at 150 Dorset, probably an employee of Eldorado, was trying to recover minute particles of the element, although how is another question.
"Thirty-five years ago, when a thousandth of a millicurie fetched a phenomenal price, it was worthwhile for an employee of the refinery to try to recover radium from such things as contaminated rags," Mr Knight says. "All you had to do was reduce the contaminated rag to ashes in the fireplace and extract the radium."
The consulting firm of James MacLaren, hired by the AECB to oversee the cleanup of radioactive contamination throughout Port Hope, recommends the house be torn down. Mr Knight says that would be cheaper than trying to remove the radioactivity.
Hugh Spence, a public relations officer for the AECB, said the negotiations are under way to buy the house. "We want the building, but not the land. We tear the house down, but the owner would retain the lot. To buy the entire property would set a precedent.
The Dorset Street address was the home of a former Eldorado worker during the 1940s. Several former employees recall that a technician, William Van Den Belt, lived there with his wife. Two people remember that he complained at one point of having suffered a radiation burn.
Left firm in early 1950s
Mr Van Den Belt left Eldorado in the early 1950s and later worked at Trinity College School here. He died In 1964. He was 60.
His son, William, 42, lives in Torbrook in Nova Scotia. He remembers his father always had ideas on how to make things work. I remember he was distilling oil from cedar wood, just to see if he could do it. He also built a boat in the basement. It was too big for the door and he had to take it apart to get it out," he said in a telephone interview.
"He was involved in extracting radium all right, and according to Willam, he developed a method which worked quite well. But that was at the plant. He never got anywhere because he wasn't politically inclined. I remember also that he had a platinum cover for some kind of container and he had a couple of little plastic bottles containing material that glowed, He himself was burned. I think whatever burned him had been spilled in a pocket of his coveralls."
How would it be sold?
"But he was honest. I don't remember his trying to get radium. And what would you do with it anyway? Where would you sell it?"
Mr Knight says that the radiation level in the house originates from surface contamination, indicating that the material may have been tracked around on someone's shoes or left on the walls when someone leaned against them.
"This means it can be transferred into the body by way of a person's hands or on a particle of dust." Once inside, it stays for life.
After the Second World War, the house was converted into a number of apartments, a move that has created a present-day problem for the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Mr Knight revealed that the radiation protection service of the Labour Ministry, under Dr J H Aitken, has recently been trying to reach people who have lived in the apartments so they can be tested.
The test, called the Whole Body Count, measures the amount of radiation absorbed by the body. Mr Knight says that this is merely a precaution.
William Van Den Belt said he and his father were tested for radiation at University of Toronto in 1956 or 1957. The results weren't very dramatic. We were hotter than normal but not near a dangerous level - or what they thought was a dangerous level then.
"I'm not worried about it. When my father died, the doctor said he was worn out. He did have asthma pretty bad and he smoked a lot. In fact, he looked [kind] of bad for about two years before [he] died."
The Globe November 18, 1913 page 3
THEIR GOLDEN WEDDING
Judge and Mrs. Chisholm of Berlin Celebrate the Anniversary
Berlin, Ont., Nov. 17. – Fifty years ago, on Sunday, Nov. 16, 1863, his Honour Judge Duncan Chisholm and Mrs. Chisholm were married at Port Hope, and their golden wedding anniversary was quietly observed at their residence, Queen Street South, yesterday, when their children and grandchildren from Port Hope, Toronto and Montreal gathered around the family table. W. C. Chisholm, K.C., Grand Trunk Solicitor, of Montreal, and his family; Mr. and Mrs. D. S. Chisholm, Port Hope; Dr. and Mrs. G. H. Needler of Toronto, and Mrs. A. C. Jones of Toronto were among those present. The family circle was complete save for one, Dr. John B., Fort William, who was unable to be present. In addition, a large number of citizens visited the elderly couple and offered their congratulations. A magnificent gold vase suitably engraved was presented by the children and grandchildren. They were also recipients of other appropriate and valuable gifts. Judge Chisholm and his estimable wife have been residents of Berlin for nineteen years, and are held in the highest esteem.