From the heart

Pic­tou County man au­thors book on his Westray ex­pe­ri­ences

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEVIN ADSHADE

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.

KEVIN ADSHADE/THE NEWS

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.

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