‘Unsung hero’: Pioneering Carleton Place dental researcher posthumously honoured

Brothers Graham, Leigh and Gary Box unveil the plaque honouring their grandfather, Harold Box, in James Park on Saturday, June 1. Emma Kinsman photo

On Saturday, June 1, James Park in Carleton Place was packed with community members and the family of Harold Keith Box.

Known as the Father of Dental Research in Canada and a native of Carleton Place, Box was honoured with a posthumous plaque detailing his groundbreaking contributions to modern dentistry. Box’s findings were widely considered comparable to the discovery of insulin and were accepted worldwide.

Despite his exceptional contributions to dental medicine, Box has largely been forgotten by history, until now.

“It’s a bit of a mystery to us all why this hasn’t yet been done,” Harold’s grandson, Gary Box, stated at the unveiling ceremony. “This is someone who’s done something, discovered something, it’s important to acknowledge”.

During his presentation, Gary thanked numerous community members including Jennifer Irwin, director of the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, Joanne Henderson, Manager of Recreation and Culture in Carleton Place, councillor and local historian Linda Seccaspina, and lots of family members. It’s clear that having the plaque installed means a lot to the family and has been a labour of love.

“There’s so much to be proud of in Lanark County,” Seccaspina said. “I feel it’s our mission to get the word out and document and remember it – so future generations know it’s not just the maple syrup that Lanark County should be proud of.”

In 1924, Box’s research into the causes of periodontitis (pyorrhea) resulted in the first successful treatment of gum disease.

“His extensive investigative research into the diseases of teeth and gums prevented and solved many of the health issues our ancestors were facing,” Gary Box stated at the ceremony.

Gary’s brother, Leigh, was emotional when speaking about his grandfather’s achievements, sharing how much the plaque means to his family. Speaking to his character, he described Harold as an outstanding citizen. Seccaspina described Box as an unsung hero.

“He could have easily turned his pioneering discoveries into financial fame and gain but he didn’t,” she said at the ceremony, referencing Box’s decisions to make his findings “free as air” to the entire dental community.

One of six children, with three brothers who were also dentists, Harold Box was born in White Lake and moved to Carleton Place as a child. He lived on James Street, not far from James Park on Bell Street, where his family home still stands with the name “Box” etched into the front door. After graduating from Carleton Place High School, Box attended the University of Toronto, graduating from the Royal College of Dentists in 1914.

Those interested in learning more about Box’s contributions may visit James Park on Bell Street in Carleton Place to read all about his fascinating discoveries on the newly erected plaque.

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