From the heart
Pictou County man authors book on his Westray experiences
At the memorial in Parkdale, Vernon Theriault places his hand on the names of those killed at Westray and one by one says aloud where they were from.
He can’t quite remember all of them, but he knows the Pictou County natives who died there and the places they called home.
“He was from Westville ... he was from Westville ... and he was from Westville,” Theriault says, touching the monument.
Theriault has a story to tell and he’s kept on telling it over the years, only now in book form. Westray: My Journey from Darkness to Light is being released by Nimbus Publishing.
“For 16 years I’ve been working on this book,” says Theriault.
He told his story to his cousin Marjorie Coady, who put Theriault’s memories and thoughts on the page.
“I’ve got 26 years of my life in there.”
Theriault began working at the mine six months before it blew up on May 9, 1992, taking the lives of 26 men. He joined the draegermen who were valiantly trying to rescue the miners, but days after the mine explosion, hope vanished; a total of 15 bodies were recovered but the remains of 11 others are forever underground, somewhere below the Parkdale memorial.
Theriault, along with numerous others would later receive a Medal of Bravery for their efforts in trying to rescue the trapped miners, but the story didn’t end there, and it might never end — it may always be with him.
“There’s still times that I sit at night and have a cry over it — it never really goes away.”
Theriault later battled the Worker’s Compensation Board, struggled to upgrade his education (he would be diagnosed with dyslexia in 1997), fought constant bank and leg pain and would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), five years after Westray.
The survivor’s guilt and nightmares that invaded his sleep in the aftermath of the disaster would not go away easily.
But neither did Vernon Theriault.
He spent years lobbying the federal government, a determination that would pay off in 2003, when the so-called Westray Bill (now Bill C-54) became law, meaning that companies whose negligence (and other offences) resulted in work place injury or death would be held criminally responsible.
“I had a chance to help make a change, and it took years, but at the end it was well worth it.”
He also hopes that by chronicling his struggles with PTSD and his issues with reading and writing, it might inspire others.
“It might help them, show them that there’s something you can do. This story comes from my heart. Telling the story, you are kind of re-living it, but this was something that I had to do.”
Copies of Westray: My Journey from Darkness to Light, are available now at Cole’s book store at Highland Square Mall, as well as the Museum of Industry.
Theriault will also hold a book signing on Aug. 30 at the Museum of Industry, starting at 6 p.m.
Vernon Theriault, standing next to the Westray monument in Parkdale, authored a book that’s been 16 years in the making. Westray: My Journey from Darkness to Light chronicles his experiences at the coal mine, where 26 men were killed in an explosion in May 1992.