A frigid north wind bearing down from Horne Lake on the Miners Memorial in the City of Elliot Lake set the tone for Saturday morning’s Day of Mourning ceremony held at the Memorial alongside Highway 108 at Hillside Drive North.
Despite the brutal cold on one of the last days of April, the event attracted one of the largest turnouts in years. Some 150 people braved the elements to hear the names of this year’s five honourees announced publicly and to remember all miners who have lost their lives working in the mines of Elliot Lake. The five new names, as selected by a City of Elliot Lake committee, are Paul Joseph Drouin, Jean-Marie Marceau, Lucien Simon, Robert Earl McLean and Leo Paul Audette. After the ceremony, many in the crowd took time to examine the added names as their letters sparkled in the morning sun on the newly-chiseled granite of the Memorial.
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha joined the First Nations drumming ceremony at the start of proceedings. Mantha spoke of the need for better protection by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for current and former miners. He said it has been a tremendous struggle for miners and their families to receive the benefits they deserve.
He also spoke of the need for improved health care for all residents of northern Ontario, and miners in particular. He said “two successive governments have permitted changes to legislation that have seen benefits to injured workers become more difficult to access and even (are being) denied.“ He said his office receives calls for help in dealing with the WSIB from miners and their families every day. Mr. Mantha noted that those submitting claims to the WSIB, “are going under attack from all sides.” He added, “It is important that every day we remember workers who have suffered occupational injuries and even death.”
Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella followed Mr. Mantha at the podium and pointed out that every workplace mining injury impacts the lives of not only the miners, “but also their families, friends, co-workers and the entire community.” He said, “Those we lose are fathers, mothers and their sisters and brothers. We realize that death and injury affects everyone, changing their lives forever.”
The ceremony on the Day of Mourning 2018 took place in the wake of an on-going swirl of controversy over the city’s Memorial Wall Selection Committee criteria for deciding the names of those to be honoured on the Wall. Terry Whitehead and former Elliot Lake resident Nicole Cook, now of London, spoke to members of city council on April 23, about the issue.
Whitehead, a former Elliot Lake miner and now a City of Hamilton Councillor and Cook, whose father died from work-related injuries and poor health after a career as miner, both told council the city needs to stop relying on WSIB criteria for deciding who is included on the Memorial Wall. They argued the WSIB government standard, accepted by Elliot Lake in 2015, is unfair and excludes many deserving deceased miners and their families from receiving the recognition they deserve.