I couldn’t make the Remembrance Day ceremony on Saturday but, on Sunday, I went down to Lock Three for the unveiling of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial, a monument to those workers who died building the Fourth Canal. This was a cause dear to my heart, as I spent most of my Stelco years as a Health and Safety Representative and volunteer WCB advocate, back when there was still a WCB to advocate for (it’s now WSIB, in case you haven’t been following).
I know a number of the folks who did research on the project, and have been following it from the start. If you’ve read any of the stories in the
newspapers, you realize the appalling conditions these mostly immigrant men (no, there are no women on the list) laboured to build the wonder most of us take for granted today. There was no safety equipment, no hard hats, no fall arrest equipment, no safety men, and no safety railings. For hours each day, for as long as they were required to work, they worked directly under live loads on cranes, or at the edge of a deep pit, down below where there were frequent landslides, near blasting areas, and on equipment moving on rails that weren’t properly set, leading to cases of cars or loads falling on the men below. The oldest to die was 69: the youngest was 15.
It’s a wonder there weren’t man more deaths.
After a performance of the Eagle Song in the spirit of Reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples, there were a number of speakers to address the overflow crowd, which numbered many descendants of those who died in the construction of the canal. There were scenes from the play about the construction of the canal, which had played in Welland, as well as songs.
Then the two stone pillars were unveiled, revealing the names of the 137 workers who gave their lives in building the Fourth Welland Canal, a list the people involved in the project said may well grow as more people learn of it.