Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Town that Radiates

'Muidar' c.1868

I was very tempted to title this post 'I Shot the Sheriff' as I posted the photo of the very pleasant police officer who stopped his cruiser to chat with me - caught photographing a unique checkerboard house in Port Hope last week. The title would fit, as during the course of our animated discussion about small peaceful communities, and being known by everyone (I had asked if it contravened some policy to take his photo) he divulged that in his small town of Colborne, he is known as "the sheriff of Cramahe township."

The sheriff was a huge fan of Port Hope, and dedicated to keeping the town orderly; any miscreants, like the ones who once inhabited the brick checkerboard cottage I had been admiring, were not invited to the party.  The cottage has been wonderfully rehabilitated since the day its inhabitants got out of Dodge with the determined assistance of the local law enforcement agency.

Cameco seen from Dorset Street
The officer shared some of the town's interesting tales, including its role in the processing of radium from the Great Bear Lake area in the far north. (It's extracted from pitchblende ore, I later learned, a name that resonated somehow from an old school geography textbook).

 The owner of the red brick house at the top was Dr. Marcel Pochon, who had studied with Madame Curie. He was "the first manager of what became Port Hope's largest employer, the pioneering Eldorado radium refinery", according to Katherine Asheburg in her super walking tour book 'Going to Town'. The house was named 'Muidar' - radium spelled backwards.

Dorset street's flower boulevards far above the waterfront

Port Hope's motto was once "The town that radiates friendliness". Wags started to call it "the town that glows". Inevitably, as concern about low level radiation contamination began to grow, with its impact on Port Hope's real estates ambitions, the motto lost its cachet. Today Cameco (the new name of the town's pioneering Eldorado Mining and Refining Company) is a world leader in radium remediation. Doesn't ring a bell? Think glow in the dark watch dials. My guide gave me a DVD produced in 2011 by the LLRWMO, the Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Office - a comprehensive guide if ever there was one.

Port Hope's flirtation with radium is being told in a series which began in the Saturday July 6 issue of the worthy Northumberland News.

Port Hope ambassador 'the sheriff of Cramahe township'
The officer's story (I swear he told me his name, but to use Brenda's expression, I have a slippery brain), compelled me to find my way through the very twisty hilly block-end streets ("we gather at the river" he said) to Dorset Street to see Muidar House. Beautifully maintained, if not striking architecturally. A place with a past.

The discussion got me thinking about how many 'lives' communities have, and how completely their stories get lost over the years. Archival photos help us peel back the layers, as do all the wonderful local histories being written.
red stretchers+buff headers=checkerboard

But it's hard, on a jog through quiet Madoc for example, to see it as the terminus of a massive assault on the forests and rocks of an Ontario just opening up - opening up a bit like a seagull opens a clam, not without violence and great cost to one of the participants.

PEC's only checkerboard - in Waupoos

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