Vintage Toronto Ads: Auntie Nuke Needs You
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Vintage Toronto Ads: Auntie Nuke Needs You

Over 800 people heeded her call during a 1980 protest at the future site of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Source: Harrowsmith #27, April 1980.

Dear old Auntie Nuke would have been busy in 1980. Public concern about the nuclear industry was heightened by the accident at Three Mile Island a year earlier. This, we suspect, would in turn have increased support for Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups campaigning against Ontario Hydro’s plan to build four reactors near Bowmanville. As the protest date approached, Auntie Nuke spent several hours a day carefully reading the large volume of mail she received, and responded to each letter regardless of whether the writer supported her position or not.

So what happened if you showed up at Darlington to help Auntie Nuke?

For the more than 100 people who attended the demonstration, the reward was a $13 fine for petty trespass.

Initially, the protest was as peaceful as promised. Around 800 people showed up that afternoon, half as many as were at a similar demonstration a year earlier. Depending on the source, the crowd was either mostly in their late teens and early twenties (Star) or late twenties and early thirties (Globe and Mail). Amid T-shirts and placards bearing slogans like “Hell No I Won’t Glow” and “Cycle Power,” the Star observed that “the happy crowd danced and clapped to bluegrass music or sprawled on the grass listening to speakers denounce Ontario Hydro and call for a halt to construction of what they called a ‘white elephant.’” To make the protestors comfortable, Ontario Hydro cut the foot-high grass surrounding the site and provided garbage bins and portable toilets.

Halfway through the demonstration, a group of protestors tossed blankets and rugs over the barbed wire atop the eight-foot fence surrounding the construction site. Ladders cobbled together from rope and wood allowed people to scale the fence. Around 60 people headed to the edge of the excavation area and attempted to set up an Occupy-style tent city, complete with tree and vegetable planting. And then Ontario Hydro employees whipped out their cameras and waited for the Durham Regional Police to show up.

The occupation lasted half an hour before the campers and the dozen media that followed them were dragged away. Among those arrested were members of a Greenpeace flotilla, who breached the site via Lake Ontario. Auntie Nuke failed to provide them with sturdy ships, as their inflatable rubber boats developed tears or were equipped with defective motors. As she sat in the paddy wagon, Auntie Nuke scribbled a note to herself to find a better supplier for the next protest.

Additional material from the June 9, 1980, edition of the Globe and Mail and the June 8, 1980, edition of the Toronto Star.