Archive for April, 2015

Today is a National Day of Mourning here in Canada. I live in Sudbury, Ontario, a place that is built on nickel mines. There is a lineage of pain in this town, of men lost to the mines. Digging deep into the earth always carries with it the risk of injury or life lost. Sometimes, though, we forget we live in a city that is above an underground city or two. Thousands of feet below me, miners work in shifts, doing work that is terribly risky. Sometimes, we forget all they do. Today is a day to remind ourselves that we need to remember those people who have died while at work. The National Day of Mourning began here, in Sudbury, twenty-eight years ago, brought forward by the United Steelworkers and launched by the Canadian Labour Congress, and now it’s recognized around the world. (I find union history interesting. Sudbury is, after all, a union town. Although a lot of people may say negative things about unions, I can’t see how you can fault their taking care of their own, especially when you consider health and safety, as well as workers’ rights…but that’s another post as Hammy Hamster might say!)

Growing up in Sudbury back in the 1970s and 80s was quite an adventure. I remember going to my grandmother’s house, on Wembley Drive, gathering around her back kitchen window in the evening, turning off the lights, and watching the slag dump over a ridge of earth with my sister and cousins. It lit up the sky. You could set your watch by it back then. I also recall going up the hill to 160 Kingsmount, the house my great-grandfather built back in the late 1930s, to visit my great-aunts. They, too, had a key vantage point for slag dumping, out in the sun room. Again, we would turn out the lights, gather kneeling on the couch, and breathe on the glass, waiting with anticipation to see the sky turn red. This was the prettier side of the mining industry, especially when you were in the range of seven to ten years old. 🙂

On the other side of things, I remember once, in elementary school at Pius XII, having one of my teachers ask the whole class of kids which of our dads worked in the mines. Almost every single hand in that classroom was raised and I remember being surprised. We also all had dads who carried the old metal lunch pails to work, and then home again, each day. (I remember we weren’t really allowed to play with my dad’s lunch pail, but I do recall I used to like to sit on it. Not sure why, but I think I was amazed that his lunch pail was so sturdy, unlike my plastic Holly Hobbie one with the tiny thermos.) Sometimes, I remember, there were newscasts on the radio of accidents in the mines. You’d hear about it in passing, over the car radio or on television, but I never had a friend who lost a father, so I guess I was lucky. I also recall my dad’s story of some strike or another in the 1970s at the Copper Cliff Refinery and how mine managers were flown over the line in a helicopter. I didn’t really understand it all as I was little then….but I had a sense that my town was a mining town. There was no escaping it.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about mine safety right now as I’ve been working on my first novel, which is set in Creighton. It’s no longer there, but it was a mining town on the edge of Sudbury, past Copper Cliff and around Lively, in rather generalized terms for those of you who have no idea of the geography of this place. 🙂 My maternal great-grandparents owned a general store out in Creighton. Anyway, my novel is set in Creighton, at least to start off, and I’ve been spending time reading old issues of the INCO Triangle, searching out references to family and specifically to my grandfather, Len Ennis. He was a mine superintendent for part of his career and some of the story of his life is that he was “let go” from his INCO job because he pressed for an increase in mining safety. I don’t know enough about his life yet, mostly because I only met him once, when I was seven and he was in a nursing home in Garson, at the end of his life. I remember that my mum and my aunt, Gail, took my cousin Liam and I out to Garson to meet him. I remember he had longer hair and seemed nice. I only met him once. Now, in my early forties, I’m trying to figure out more about him, especially in terms of his role in Northern Ontario mining history. It’s a pretty interesting journey, to be honest, but I know I’ll be spending part of my summer holidays doing more research on Creighton and mining safety. I may not have known him personally, but I can respect the fact that he was willing to be fired because he so dearly believed in mine safety for the men who worked under him. I know that much about him. I want to know more.

This week has been very difficult for Sudburians. On June 8, 2011, there was a terrible event at Stobie Mine that caused the deaths of two men, Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram. I have no need to re-hash the details of that day. It’s all in the local media right now and it’s been hard to read it in so much detail this week. You see, I remember Jordan Fram from when I started teaching at St. Charles College. He was in an English class I taught. I remember that he and his friends were a bit goofy, but that they were all really nice boys. They were young when I taught them, all of them sort of in that “in between” space in time when boys are becoming young men, as if their bodies had grown too tall, too quickly over summer holidays. Their voices were all crackly and they loved practical jokes. One of my favourite memories of my time teaching at St. Charles was that a particularly feisty group of boys in one class rearranged my entire classroom on April 1st, trying to see how I would respond when I entered the room. I also remember one boy who hid behind a curtain, on top of a heating unit, for most of one class, giggling, with his friends trying to see how long it would take me to figure out he was there. (It took too long, I’ll admit that, but I was a newbie teacher then and I think they enjoyed tormenting me a bit on a daily and weekly basis!) Jordan was a part of that group of boys, all full of gumption and all very, very funny. They knew it, too, and I think they continually tried to crack me up…and it usually worked. They were good boys. They grew up into good men. I know this because I often run into them around town and they’ll remind me of some of the pranks they pulled back then. But then they tell me that they are happy, that they have great jobs, fine wives and young families. Usually, I want to cry. It’s always so nice to see your students grown up. It’s a gift to be able to see how they’ve grown and flourished. It’s one of the best parts of being a teacher, I think.

The inquest this week has made me think of Jordan and his crew at SCC. Those were good days. They must all have cherished memories of their time there as students, and of the lifelong friendships they made. I feel so horrible for those boys, those men, this week. I know how I felt when I first heard Jordan had died in that accident in 2011, but the inquest details in the paper this week has made me think of those young men each and every day. I hope and pray they’re all okay. I know they’re likely thinking of Jordan, and missing him. I think of his family, too, and of how their lives have changed. It is, quite simply, heart breaking. I hope they know that there are a lot of people praying for them….including me.

We forget, too often I think, where we come from….or maybe we try to forget it. I’m not sure which it is. We shouldn’t think Sudbury is “just a mining town”, as so many have tried for so long to diversify its economy and market it to the world beyond the mining sphere. Still, I don’t think we should ever forget that, at its heart, Sudbury will always be a mining town. We owe our miners, and our mining families, a great debt of gratitude. I know that much. Every time I feel the earth shake with a rock burst, so that the foundation of my house shakes and my dogs bark, well, I am reminded that I am living on earth that is mined each and every day, in mines that are often over one hundred years old. That is an amazing thing, when you really think about it. We live in an amazing place, with amazing people. Jordan Fram was one of those people, so we can’t ever forget him.

On this National Day of Mourning, I think of Jordan, but of so many other miners we may not know personally….and not just here, but also out east, in Springhill and Westray. They all just went to work one day, thinking it was just another day, not knowing it would be their last. You see, this week in particular, reading all of these inquest details, I will never forget where I’m from, or what people here have sacrificed. Our miners deserve our support, our prayers, our love….and our promise to remember and honour all of their lost ones…for they are all ours as well.

peace and prayers,

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