Design plans and major funding were announced on August 6, 2015, bringing closer to reality a memorial to honour 137 men who died while building the Welland Ship Canal. The Department of Canadian Heritage has confirmed $150,000 for the project through its Legacy Program funding. June 15, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the first worker who died in what is believed to be the largest loss of life on a federal government infrastructure project in Canadian history.
Co-chairs of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial Task Force, Mayor Walter Sendzik and Rick Dykstra, unveiled the Memorial design by Dereck Revington Studio Inc. at an event that included dozens of family members from the Fallen. The Task Force has set a goal of $450,000 to pay for the design, build and installation of the Memorial. Greg Wight, former CEO of Algoma Central Corporation, is the newly announced Campaign Chair for the project. He announced a $25,000 contribution from Algoma Central Corporation at the August 6 event.
The memorial is scheduled to be unveiled in 2017 on a site along the Welland Canal north of Lock 3 in St. Catharines.
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 to the words of the Hon. R. J. Manion, Minister of Railways and Canals, who spoke at the opening of the Welland Ship Canal in 1932: "Peace has its heroes, as well as war. . ." 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.
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.
Three 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.
One 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.
Thank you to our major donors.
This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada.
Ce projet est financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.