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Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial

Niagara memorial honours the work of 137 fallen workers

An 85-year-old promise to honour 137 men who died building one of the greatest engineering marvels in Canada was fulfilled with the unveiling of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial in St. Catharines, Ont. on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

Gates of Remembrance, Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial

 The Gates of Remembrance, inscribed with the names of all 137 fallen workers at the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial, unveiled on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

Memorial unveiling livestream

Watch the unveiling ceremony from Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

History of the project

A promise was made when the Welland Canal was opened on August 6, 1932 to create a memorial honouring 115 men who died while building the Welland Canal. Then Minister of Railways and Canals, The Hon. Dr. R.J. Manion spoke eloquently the day the canal opened. A war veteran himself, he knew that "Peace has its heroes as well as war..."

The reminder of his words, that "we should give a thought to the men who lost their lives during the progress of the work..." was what sparked the memorial we unveil today.  Local historian Arden Phair and journalist Grant LaFleche, brought the story to life in a series of articles published in The St. Catharines Standard. The community of Niagara responded and more than 2,000 residents signed a petition demanding a memorial to honour the fallen workers. Elected officials from Niagara's four canal communities heard the call and joined together with representatives from local labour and business. A Task Force was born and their work began in spring 2013 to select a site, design a memorial, and begin fundraising.

A national competition selected Dereck Revington Studio Inc. of Toronto as designer for the memorial The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation expedited approvals for the selected site. St. Catharines City Council agreed to undertake ownership of the memorial and responsibility for its future care and maintenance.  A small group of passionate researchers dug deep to ensure historic information was accurate and complete. Greg Wight, just retired as President of Algoma Central Corporation, was asked by St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik to chair the fundraising campaign. He agreed and the project had its final champion. Grants were written, presentations were made, and cheques were written by the marine and shipping industry, labour, local and national businesses and many individuals, including family of the Fallen.  In the final phases of the project, Plant Architect Inc. undertook landscape design and Stevensville Lawn Services completed construction as general contractor in fall 2017

Every step of the way, the people behind this project have had one goal: to honour the 137 men who died while building the Welland Canal.  Every donor, family member, volunteer, elected official, designer, administrator, researcher and worker has cared enough to honour the lives of those 137 men and to work together to fulfill a promise made 85 years ago.

The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial was unveiled on November 12, 2017.

Memorial Design

The Veil in the grove, north view of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial

The Memorial, design by Dereck Revington Studio Inc., has four primary elements: the Gates of Remembrance, the Veil, the Timeline and the Lock, all within a contemplative grove.

The Veil: from the north, visitors will see a large blackened steel wall. This side of the Veil is sombre and shadowed, looking back in time. From the south, the veil is a mirror-polished stainless steel, reflecting the surrounding trees, visitors and the Gates of Remembrance.

The Gates of Remembrance rise from the Lock bed of the site, their shape inspired by the lock gates of the canal. Their steel panels are inscribed with the names of the Fallen, their ages at death and places of birth. 12 countries, 8 provinces, 137 men.

The Timeline is embedded on the floor of the site, set below ground level. Each year is marked by a line, its length reflects the number of fatalities in that year. From 1914 to 1932, from the Gates to the Veil: the longest line is 1928, the worst year of fatalities. 29 men fell that year, 10 in one accident, when the crane and gate fell at Lock 6. The shape of the site reflects the deaths within each year of construction.

Lost Sons, Fathers, Husbands and Brothers

Lock 6 crane and gate collapse - Aug. 1, 1928.

 

Extensive research is being undertaken by Task Force volunteers to ensure that all the men who died during the construction of the Welland Canal are remembered. In 1932 the count was 115. Today it has reached 137.
Construction projects of the time assumed one man would die for every $1m spent. The Welland Canal cost $130m. Here are just a few stories of some of the Fallen Workers: each man of the 137 has a similar story behind him.
William James Gordon was crushed by a construction train in 1924. He left behind six children to mourn his death. They were raised by the eldest son as their mother had died two years earlier of tuberculosis.

William James Gordon and family 1923c.

Francis Fernley Bassett and William Francis BassettThree families suffered the loss of fathers plus sons. Two of these events occurred on the same day near the same location, August 1st at Lock 6, but separated by three years (Elzéar & Leo Lynch 1925; James & James Campbell McArthur 1928). The third father-son fatalities died in Port Colborne in 1929 (Francis Fernley Bassett and William Francis Bassett - 1929). The father witnessed his son's death when his body was crushed between the arm of a crane and the car at the Clarence Street lift bridge. Six months later, the senior Bassett was crushed to death by the bridge's huge concrete counterweight, only fifty yards from where his son met his untimely death.

Onyschuk, MichaelOne of the last killed, 7 days before the Canal's Official Opening in 1932, was Michael Onyschuk. It was his first day on the job and he died within an hour of arriving at the job site. They were clearing trees that were too close to the Canal channel near Allanburg. The very first tree fell the wrong way, crushing the fleeing victim. Despite having a fractured spine, broken leg, internal injuries, and severe shock, Onyschuk made it to the General Hospital, but died just as his wife arrived. Originally from the Ukraine, Onyschuk had emigrated in 1928, seeking a better life for his family. In 1930 he brought over his wife and children to share in this dream. The job on the Canal was welcomed as it was his first work in two years. His widow was left with no money, little English, and six children to provide for, from a baby in arms to ten years old. Despite their loss, she persevered, keeping the family together and raising her two girls and four boys in their new home of Canada.

The Welland Ship Canal has played a key role in the Canadian economy, and has had a profound influence on the local community: on Niagara's culture, way of life and economy. This amazing feat of engineering, which carries more than 3,000 vessels each year, is an economic driver for two nations. It's time to build A Place to Remember, to honour the men who lost their lives during its construction.

The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial is set to be unveiled in 2017, the year of Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. Please check back for project updates.

Historical images from top to bottom: Lock 6 crane and gate collapse - Aug. 1, 1928. Photo courtesy of St. Catharines Museum - John Kennedy Collection, 1986.131.7 | William James Gordon and family 1923c. Photo courtesy of Maggie Parnall. | Francis Fernley Bassett, 23 (middle) - d. April 6, 1929, crushed by locomotive crane and William Francis Bassett, 43 (left) - d. Oct. 11, 1929, crushed by bridge counterweight. Photo courtesy of Gail Fritshaw. | Onyschuk, Michael - Steel Radiation Co. 1930. Photo courtesy of A. Connon.

Triumph and Tragedy:  The Welland Ship Canal commemorative book

 

Triumph and Tragedy:  The Welland Ship Canal is a publication that will profile each of the fallen workers.  It will shed light on the construction work, its immensity and diversity.

Touching upon the communities impacted by the works, the construction railway, and the problems of health and safety, this book brings together in one source the many aspects of this engineering marvel. This book will ensure that the men who lost their lives during the course of the work will not remain just nameless, forgotten workers. The stories of their lives provide an insight into the past.

The limited edition book will be published in early 2018 for $39.95 at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

Project support

Thank you to our major donors.

With a budget of $1.2 million, the memorial has been made possible with funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, Niagara Region, the City of St. Catharines and significant donations from the marine industry, local businesses and the labour community.

Platinum Crane Sponsors ($25,000+)

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada. Ce projet est financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.

 

Thank you Donors - Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial

 

Gold Hard Hat Sponsors ($15,000+)

  • EMS-Tech Inc.
  • Great Lakes Pilotage Authority
  • Kirkpatrick Monuments
  • Letko, Brosseau & Associates
  • Lower Lakes Towing and Rand Logistics
  • St. Catharines Rotary Club
  • Sterling Fuels Limited

Silver Pick Ax Sponsors ($10,000+)

  • Niagara Community Foundation
  • Hilliard and Dawn Radford

Bronze Glove Sponsor ($5,000+)

  • Anne Connon, in memory of Michael Onyschuk
  • Deloitte
  • Marine Clean Ltd.
  • Merritton Lions Club
  • Redpath Sugar Ltd.
  • Seagulf Marine Industries
  • Stikeman Elliott LLP
  • Walker Industries
  • Walter Hiltebrand Marine Services

Iron Spade Sponsors ($1,000+)

  • ADM - Agra Industries
  • Allied Marine and Industrial Inc.
  • Aon Reed Stenhouse Inc.
  • Bell Marine & Mill Supply
  • Canadian Canal Society
  • Corporation of Professional Great Lakes Pilots
  • Dilts Piston Hydraulics
  • Eckler
  • Hamilton Port Authority
  • Historical Society of St. Catharines
  • International Shipmasters Association, Lodge 20
  • Italian Canadian Fallen Workers Memorial
  • Sheri Laekman
  • Latcham PLC Foods
  • Lundy's Lane Historical Society
  • The Marine Club
  • Marsh Canada
  • Brian McMullan
  • Pen Financial Credit Union
  • Ontario Construction Company
  • Norris Ormston, in memory of Alex Ormston
  • Arden & Erika Phair
  • Port Weller Marine
  • Rigel Shipping Canada
  • St. Catharines Professional Firefigheters Association, Local 485
  • Snider Dock Services
  • Greg & Anne Wight
  • Keith Wood 

Thank you to the individual donors and family members who donated to the project. 

News Releases

e-newsletter

The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial e-newsletter provides regular updates progress, news and upcoming events related to the project.

The newsletter is prepared by the City of St. Catharines on behalf of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial Task Force. Sign up to receive regular updates.

Archives

Donations still accepted

The Task Force is still accepting donations to support future maintenance of the memorial. There are many ways to donate:

  • www.stcatharines.ca/donate
  • at St. Catharines City Hall
  • at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre
  • 1.800.305.5134 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST

Your donation will honour the fallen.

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