Press coverage of the Society and its activities

Refreshing the Keys Legacy

Written by
Jim Ungrin
the North Renfrew Times
2023 Aug 30

Followers of the history of the nuclear industry in Canada are very familiar with the name of Dr. David Arnold Keys. Keys, a physics lecturer at McGill, was appointed Administrative Manager of the Chalk River Laboratories in 1947 and led the laboratory with his gentle hand during the formative and exciting years following WWII.

Dr. and Mrs. Keys were long time residents of 17 Beach Avenue along the Ottawa River in Deep River until they moved to the log cabin built especially for them further upstream. In later years, this structure was somewhat enlarged and served as the Keys Conference Center. Not far from this home was the intermediate-grades school named after Dr. Keys. Unfortunately, both these buildings have hit hard times. The Keys Conference Center has been vacant for many years and has fallen into disrepair and decay while the falling student population in Deep River has resulted in the closure of Keys school. As of the summer of 2023, the future of this building is unclear.

The memories of David and May Keys in Deep River are not, however, lost. This summer, Susan Otto, the granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. Keys donated to the Canadian Nuclear Heritage Museum (CNHM) two large, framed portraits of her grandparents. The signature on the portraits identifies the painter as Maida Parlow French. The inscriptions further indicate that the paintings were done in 1964 in Deep River. Dr. Keys was born in 1890 and Maida French in 1891. Hence, both the painter, listed in Wikipedia as a Canadian author and painter, and her subjects were well into their seventh decades of life at that time. The Nuclear Heritage group has been unable to determine if there was some prior connection between the Keys family and Ms. French or if the paintings were simply a commissioned task.

David Keys’ term of office included the period during which the NRU and NRX accidents occurred. As such, his estate became eligible for the compensation award the Canadian Federal Government recently announced for radiation workers. At the end of the 2022-2023 school term at Mackenzie Community School, Susan Otto used the award funds to establish the Keys Physics and Chemistry Scholarships for the top graduating students in these disciplines. Susan was there to proudly present the first scholarships. Should the winning physics student decide to attend McGill University to further his education, he/she will undoubtedly have some of their classes at the David A. Keys Lecture Room in the Physics Building there.

The paintings now hang in a prominent position at the CNHM along with an autographed photograph of Nobel laureate Bertram Brockhouse, whose work was made possible at Chalk River because of the leadership provided by men like David Keys. The paintings and the scholarships ensure that the legacy and memory of the Keys family will not be forgotten.