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Mercury Collection of Marion Lamm


ABSTRACT: Personal and topical files collected by Marion Lamm for the purpose of making public the dangerous effects of mercury poisoning on humans. The files were used by a number of researchers, writers, scientists, journalists and other media representatives in developing the "Dryden-Minamata disease" case. It includes correspondence, clippings, radio transcripts, writings, governmental statements of claim, audiocassettes, films, monographs and serials, ephemera, photographs, scrapbooks, legal claims and documentation, etc.


  • Creation: 1966-1995


Access to the Marion Lamm Mercury Collection is restricted until fully processed. For limited access please consult either the Environmental Resources Librarian at 617-496-6158.


The Marion Lamm Mercury Collection is the physical property of the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives, Harvard College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.


24.7 linear feet (59 boxes)

The Marion Lamm Mercury Collection consists of the library/research collection gathered by Marion Lamm beginning in the early 1970's and spanning to the late 1980's. It is believed that Marion collected the materials in order to sufficiently document the claim brought against Dryden Chemicals/Limited and Dryden Pulp and Paper Company. Later the collection became a storehouse for researchers interested in the mercury pollution case. Documents were used at the Lamms' home where they were kept in the "library" as well as copied and sent to parties unable to travel to the Lamms' home. Although not certain, Marion may have collected materials herself from various libraries, some may have been sent to her by others who knew of her collection, and some may have been collected by a person hired by the Lamms to do so.

It was generally assumed that during packing and rehousing, the collection experienced some level of disarray, so deciphering the original order as Marion would have organized the papers was a difficult task. The processing staff noticed though that Marion seemed to have organized materials by topic and subject category. (A number of titled file folders and dividers pointed to this apparent arrangement). In the essence of retaining as closely the original order as possible, the collection was arranged using the titles which have been arranged into broader, more general subject files. The staff processing the collection also generated a few additional titles to fill in gaps in intellectual thought, keeping Marion's arrangement in mind. The broad subject files are as follows (these were not created by Marion, but by the archival staff): I. Personal/biographical; II. Correspondence; III. Writings; IV. Governmental involvement; V. Indians; VI. Industry; VII. Legal matters; VIII. Non-profit organizations; IX. Scientific research; X. Tourism; XI. Miscellaneous; XII. Scrapbooks; XIII. Audiotapes; XIV. Reel-to-reels; XV. Photographs. Within each broad subject file, contain further subgroups; within subgroups are further subdivisions by subgroups, series and box and folder. Those titles marked with quotes are Marion's designations.


In the year 1946, as young newlyweds, Barney (1921- ), an expert bush pilot, and Marion (1918-1997) Lamm moved to the English/Wabigoon River, Ontario area near Kenora to found and operate a fly-in fishing lodge, Ball Lake Lodge. The next 25 years would see the lodge develop into a million dollar business, catering to some of the richest and most famous figures in the United States and Canada. The success of the lodge, in Barney's opinion, resulted from hiring mostly Ojibway Indians from nearby reserves to help build, operate and maintain the lodge and fishing tours. As a result of deep friendships with the Indians, in 1959, Barney was made an honorary chief by the White Dog and Grassy Narrows reserve. The community also considered Barney a "pillar" of the tourism industry, operating one of the largest and most lucrative lodges in N.W. Ontario. In 1969, noted by Kenora Daily Miner and News as, "An outstanding businessman, airline president [of Kenora District Campowner's Association] and tourist outfitter," Barney was honored by the Kenora Chamber of Commerce, "In recognition of his contribution to the economy and promotion of tourism throughout the district." However, just several months later the announcement of decades of mercury pollution in nearby waterways, forced Barney and Marion to abandon the business for which they had become so well respected.

On March 26, 1970 a statement was issued by Honourable George Kerr, Minister of Energy and Natural Resource Management for Ontario which "publicly identified Dryden Chemicals as the source of something called mercury pollution, announcing that he had issued ministerial orders that the dumping of mercury in the Wabigoon cease by May 1." (Enemies of the People, Bob Rodgers). By early May, nearly all commercial fishing had been banned in Ball Lake and the English-Wabigoon river system. Based on these statements, a study completed earlier in March of that year by the Ontario Water Resources Commission and the family's personal search for factual answers concerning the danger, the Lamms felt it ethically necessary to close their lodge, despite the huge financial loss to their business and the loss of employment to 75+ Ojibway Indians from neighboring Grassy Narrows Reserve, who were employed by the lodge.

In search of answers, Barney hired Norvald Fimreite, a Norwegian graduate student at the University of Michigan, to conduct private research and survey fish from the area. Fimreite discovered that the tests resulted in some of the highest mercury counts in fish ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, up to 50 times the accepted international level. The tests done by Fimreite led to the first public release of the survey done back in March, 1970 by the Ontario Water Resources Commission. With this release, the Lamms spent the next 10-12 years defending their actions to the media and the community, filing a law suit that never came to fruition, lobbying for the safety and health of the Indians they had previously employed, squeezing answers from the government, and conducting and funding private research on the effects of mercury poisoning on humans. In the interest of documenting the Lamms' struggle and thereby provide future research materials, Marion began collecting as much documentation as possible concerning what had become known in the Kenora area as "the mercury problem."

After a failed attempt at getting a loan through the Fisherman's Loan Act in January of 1971, Barney Lamm filed a $3,750,000 suit for losses incurred from closing his lodge against Dryden Chemicals, Limited and Dryden Pulp and Paper Company, the two companies held responsible for causing the polluted waterways. As a result of slanderous threats, accusations and taunts towards the Lamms' and their 5 daughters, Barney and Marion decided they needed to move away. In 1973, they sold their house in Kenora and moved to Gimli, Manitoba, the headquarters of their charter airline, Central Ontario Airlines. Nevertheless, while they continued fighting the suit against the two Dryden firms, gradually their attentions turned toward the effects, economically and socially, mercury poisoning was having on the tribes of Indians with which Barney and Marion had become closely acquainted. In December of 1973, Marion described their fight in Ontario to W. Eugene and Aileen Smith- photographers producing a book on the disease in Minamata, Japan. In response, Aileen agreed to visit Ontario and examine several of the Indians. She noted that the Indians in Ontario, much to their surprise, were experiencing the same sort of symptoms as were the victims in Minamata, Japan. Through her contact, Japanese doctors offered to analyze brain tissue from possible Minamata victims in Canada while the Minamata Patient's Alliance arranged to have several Indians from Grassy Narrows, along with Barney, travel to Minamata, Japan to see how devastating were the effects of mercury poison. It was through this first-hand exposure to its crippling manifestations, that the Lamms hoped the Indians would take the dangers more seriously and stop eating the fish. "Appalled by what he saw in Japan, Barney Lamm renewed his efforts to make people recognize the potential mercury disaster at home. Still pursuing his own law suit against Reed, he pressed for proper medical examinations of the Indian population." (Enemies of the People, Bob Rodgers). Later in 1975, at the request of the band councils and the assistance of the Lamms, a Kumamoto University research team traveled to Ontario to begin intensive examinations of several Indian bands.

The Lamms, meanwhile continued experiencing the effects of their efforts to warn the general public of the dangers of mercury poisoning. On September 22, 1977, Barney was informed by Kenora District Campowner's Association that, "Because of your continued participation in this type of adverse publicity which harms all N.W. Ontario...[we] have agreed to remove your name as a Director of KDCA and any of the committees you serve on...Barney we feel your problem is with the polluter and if you seek litigation we wish you well but bad publicity which you have helped to create is not in the best interest of KDCA and Northern Ontario." (from autographed letter signed by Leo Colvin). This culminated in a demonstration in Kenora depicting Barney Lamm, along with Warner Troyer, the author of a book on the subject, "hanging in effigy" in the center of Kenora. In 1978, 7 years after the original suit had been filed, the Lamms began pushing harder for a settlement. After little action, Barney re-evaluated his claim having taken into consideration the historical facts like interest rates, consumer price indexes and actual costs and losses incurred and submitted a new claim in 1980. Although, uncertain from the papers, it is assumed that the suit brought against Reed Paper Limited was never settled, rather the lodge was sold to the Grassy Narrows band in the late 1980's who then planned to re-develop the property with the help of the Elgin Group. The fate of the resort is unknown. The Lamms presumably discontinued their efforts concerning the mercury pollution sometime in the mid to late 1980's around the same time that the lodge was sold to the Ojibway Indians who once again would presumable benefit from its prosperity.


The Marion Lamm Mercury Collection, spanning from late 1960's to late 1980's, was given in its entirety to the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives by Rochelle Lamm in memory of her mother Marion Lamm, the gatherer of the collection. Marion generated the collection through her own research as well as receipt from interested parties familiar with her library. The collection as a whole was kept together in a room designated as the "mercury room."

Accession number: 997.2

Processing Information

Processed by: Amy Christensen,

2000 Jan-May

Lamm, Marion, collector. Marion Lamm Mercury Collection: Guide
Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives, Harvard College
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the ESPP Archives Repository

The Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives (ESPPA) has materials in the fields of environment and sustainability science, related public policy, and cultural perspectives on the environment. There is a strong but not exclusive emphasis on international environmental governance, including climate negotiations. The ESPPA is a global center for researchers interested in the history of climate change policy, toxicity and native peoples, and the standout success story of stratospheric ozone diplomacy.

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