Arden Phair, a volunteer with the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial Task Force. told us the story of Welland Canal’s fallen workers. The task force was established to develop and implement a strategy to finance, design, build and install a suitable memorial to recognize workers who were killed while building the Welland Ship Canal between 1914 and 1932.
Arden pointed out that the canal was of vital importance to the Canada/U.S. transportation system and has had a profound influence on the local community. There were many challenges to the completion of the project which took over two decades. The number of workers who were killed during that period was 137. This represented approximately one life for every one million dollars spent. ($130 million to build – 137 died). Besides the deaths there were thousands injured or required treatment. A hospital was built on site to treat injured workers. The memorial has a time line with the number of fatalities indicated for each year. The longest line is in the year 1928 during which 29 men died including 10 in one accident when a crane and gate fell at Lock 6.
Among the fatalities, Arden said that three families suffered the loss of fathers and sons. Two of these events occurred on the same day — August 1st, 1928. There were numerous causes for the deaths including rail accidents 25, being crushed 24, drowning 22, and falls 20. Sites for the deaths included: Thorold 58, St Catharines 36, Welland 23, and Port Colborne 19.
Arden told the stories about a few of the victims who, in many cases, left behind large families who were forced to cope with little money and little knowledge of the English language.
The memorial, to be unveiled this year at Lock 3 in St Catharines, has four primary elements – the Gates of Remembrance, the Veil, the Timeline and the Lock. The memorial lists the names of the fallen, their ages at death and place of birth. They represented 12 countries and eight provinces.