Written by Harold
The Eldorado mine, which eventually became known as Port Radium, was located on Great Bear Lake’s McTavish Arm, where it played a very significant role both in Canadian history, and that of the worlds ascension into what became known as the “nuclear”, or “atomic age.”
Gilbert and Charlie LaBine first laid claim to the land in and around Echo Bay in 1930, which over time yielded rich deposits of radium, silver, and what in the early days of mine operations was not much more than a throw away product - uranium.
Much of the uranium used in the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the first atomic bombs came from the Eldorado mine, and because of its obvious strategic importance, the mine was quietly “purchased” by the Government of Canada, and thereby became a Crown Corporation in 1944.
When fishing out of Branson’s Lodge during the 1970’s and 1980’s, quests were flown into the Port Radium airstrip, and back in the day, we travelled with some rather large, and I might say “occupationally diverse” groups, that included avid angler, and pastor of St. Wilfrid's Parish in Toronto, Father Massey Lombardi.
There is a beautiful space located in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square called the Peace Garden, that was the brainchild of Father Massey, and which ultimately came about in response to the Art Eggleton administration's 1983 declaration of Toronto as a "nuclear-free zone".
One of the more striking features of the Peace Garden, is its “Flame of Peace,” which was first lit by an ember that Father Massey brought back to Toronto from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial – which is an interesting story in and of itself.
During one of our trips in the late 1980’s myself, Father Massey, and a couple of other guys decided to boat over to Port Radium, and check out what remained of the once vibrant mining community.
While the rest of us poked around, looking at some old mine tailings, the remnants of the tennis court (Port Radium had both a tennis court and curling club at one point), and a couple of historic plaques that had been erected after the mine permanently closed in 1982, Father Massey simply stood on the edge of one of the many rocky outcroppings, silently looking out over the lake, clearly lost in his own thoughts.
Later that evening I asked him what, if anything he had been thinking about, and after a short pause, said that he had found it hard to come to grips with the fact that a place of such incredible natural beauty and serenity, could produce something capable of so much destruction.
I think it’s fair to say that Father Massey closed the circle on his peace project that day, and somewhat prophetically, on the very spot where it all began almost 50 years ago.