Press coverage of the Society and its activities

Nuclear Heritage: A Royal Visit

Written by
Morgan Brown
the North Renfrew Times
2021 Apr 14

Maybe some of you remember July 30 1954, a grand sunny day for the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories of two-year-old Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. An RCAF Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft flew from Ottawa and landed on Muskinonge Lake on AECL property, where it was met by wooden motor launch 93 to transfer the visitor to an especially-built dock. There Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, alighted to be greeted by AECL President Bill Bennett and Scientific Advisor to the President David Keys. Following introductions, the Prince, Mr Bennett and Dr Keys were driven off in a handsome 1954 Buick Super convertible, chauffeured by Clifford Bell of the Transportation Branch.

Prince Philip visited the National Research Experimental (NRX) reactor (how that floor gleamed!), where W.B. Lewis described experiments with neutron beams, G. Bartholomew explained some of the research, and Gordon Hatfield discussed the “self-serve” irradiation mechanisms.

Next came the Isotope Production Branch, where irradiated samples were processed. Afterwards, Mort Beam scanned the visitors for contamination; as the fruity-sounding narrator of the Pathé news reel said “At the end of his visit the Duke’s shoes are checked for possible risks from radiation, but the test showed complete immunity”!

After a tour of the site by car, cheered by waving AECL staff, the Prince had lunch in the library and departed by RCAF de Havilland Canada Otter for Ottawa (he took the controls for about 30 minutes, despite being a naval officer rather than air force). Arriving at Rockcliffe RCAF base in time for tea in the officers’ mess, Prince Philip then visited the House of Commons and had dinner with Governor-General Vincent Massey, Prime Minister St. Laurent, Trade Minister C.D. Howe (who had authorized Chalk River) and some 40 other guests. Talk about a whirlwind tour – from hot isotopes to hot air in a single day!

I obviously wasn’t there to witness the Duke’s visit, relying instead upon the AECL pictorial souvenir “Visit of HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH to the Chalk River Project July 30, 1954”, a copy of which is in the archives of the Society for the Preservation of Canada’s Nuclear Heritage Inc. In addition, you can check on-line videos such as “Prince Philip tours Canada’s Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory” (Getty Images) and “CANADA: DUKE OF EDINBURGH IN CANADA: (1954)” (YouTube).

But better than my words, here is what Les Cook had to say in his unpublished manuscript “Birthpangs of CANDU”. Les was the Director of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Division of CRNL from 1945 to 1956.

“Many other visitors made their way to the backwoods of Ontario. One was Prince Philip, memorable for three outstanding matters.

First, since Prince Philip was said to be unable to eat lunch without a gin and tonic first, a wet bar was set up in the library prior to one of Harry McCann’s lumberjack Crawley McCracken cold buffets. Lorne Gray and Ben Lewis hovered around Philip, behaving as though a pre-lunch cocktail was an everyday occurrence there (it was never allowed before; probably never since). Anyway, we other guests could hardly be so unsociable as to do less. No more work was done that day.

Second, Philip was chauffeured around in a beautiful big, open Buick, rented for the purpose from one of the bus drivers. None of the professional staff were well enough paid to afford an adequate car.

The third matter was the terrific organization of the particular things Philip was to see. My assignment was to tell him about the “rabbit”, a relatively uninspiring piece of equipment we had designed to blow small samples into and out of NRX for irradiation. I was not able to make it very inspiring, either for myself or for him. Clearly the visit was designed to allow a lot of people to show themselves, rather than to give him a balanced picture of the fascinating things going on. I have sympathized with him ever since.”