Missing Worker Memorial returning
Day of Mourning ceremony set for April 28
The Missing Worker Memorial, the traditional setting for Sarnia’s annual Day of Mourning ceremony, is set to return to Centennial Park in the coming weeks.
Created approximately 16 years ago by Sarnia artist Shawn McKnight for the group Victims of Chemical Valley, the sculpture was removed from the city park during the $11-million remediation project that began after asbestos, lead and other contaminants were found in the soil in 2013.
The memorial includes metal figures set in concrete which, when viewed from a particular spot, depicted a family and a missing worker set against the backdrop of petrochemical plants on the St. Clair River.
For many years, the memorial was the setting for Sarnia’s annual Day of Mourning ceremony to remember workers hurt or killed on the job, but the event moved to the Firefighter Memorial Garden next to the Clifford Hansen Fire Station on East Street while work was being carried out at the park.
This year’s Day of Mourning ceremony is scheduled for April 28, 6 p.m., at the fire station but organizers say plans are to return to the Missing Worker Memorial in future years.
“I’m sure we’ll be back to the park as soon as the monument is all put back together,” said John Millholland, a member of the Sarnia and District Labour Council and chairperson of the committee that organizes the city’s Day of Mourning.
“The firefighters have always been very supportive of us and they’ve got a nice memorial garden there, so it has worked out very well.”
April 28 was established as a National Day of Mourning by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984, and enshrined in national legislation by Parliament in 1991.
“We’ve got to remember that people died going to work, and we have to fight to make sure these things stop,” Millholland said.
This year’s ceremony will recognize the 25th anniversary of the Westray coal mine explosion that killed 26 Nova Scotia miners, leading to legislation holding managers and directors of corporations accountable for failures to protect the lives of workers.
Along with the labour council, the Sarnia Day of Mourning is supported by the Workers Health and Safety Centre, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers and the Victims of Chemical Valley.
“There’s no doubt about it, this community are leaders in safety,” Millholland said.
“If something goes wrong in an industry like the petrochemical industry it can really go wrong so you have to really cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”
At this year’s ceremony, SarniaLambton MPP Bob Bailey is expected to speak about his bill to ban use of asbestos in Ontario, and Sandra Kinart will speak on behalf of the Victims of Chemical Valley.
“So many people in this community have lost important people in their life, and this gives them a place to come and acknowledge that,” Kinart said.
Dancers from Aamjiwnaang First Nation are also scheduled to take part, and wreaths and carnations will be laid at the memorial by those attending the ceremony.
“We’ve come a long way,” Millholland said about the event.
“I can remember in the early 1990s doing this at city hall with 12 people, and now we haven’t had one in years with less than a couple of hundred people.”
Bryan Prouse, operation services manager with the city, said the contractor has said the Missing Worker Memorial sculpture is expected to be installed back in the park soon.
“We’ve been advised it’s all ready to go and should be done by the end of the month,” he said.
The section of the park closed for the remediation work is scheduled to reopen in early June.
“There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but they’re gung-ho and ready to go,” Prouse said.
McKnight said he met last week with city officials who said the sculpture will be returned to its original place in the park.
“It was a site-specific sculpture, so that’s important,” he said.
“It worked out great, they were really good about it.”
The sculpture was placed to offer a view that includes the natural elements of Sarnia Bay, a playground, downtown and “the Chemical Valley in the background was the most important part,” McKnight said.
“That’s what the piece was all about, our daily lives and the places that we work, and then the sculpture tells the rest of the story with the missing worker.”
Victims of Chemical Valley is made up of widows and relatives of workers who died from workplace disease, and members of the group are excited the sculpture is returning to its place in the park, Kinart said.
But, she added members of the group are still unhappy with the city’s decision to keep and cap contaminated soil in the park, instead of removing it.
Asbestos, one of the contaminants found in the park soil, has been a significant contributor to workplace disease in SarniaLambton.
“They feel it’s a slap in the face to them, because it’s right next to the monument,” Kinart said.
Storing the contaminated soil in a berm in the park, beneath a cap that includes a half metre of topsoil and a geo-textile barrier, avoided the multi-million-dollar cost of disposing of it off-site, according to the city.
Carol McLaughlin, left, and Cheryl Orrange are shown in this file photo standing next to the Missing Worker Memorial in Centennial Park. The memorial is expected to return to the park in the coming weeks. It was removed as part of work that followed the discovery of contaminated soil in the park on Sarnia Bay.
In this file photo, carnations are placed on a stone at the Missing Worker Memorial in Sarnia's Centennial Park during a Day of Mourning ceremony. This year's ceremony is set for April 28, 6 p.m., at the Firefighter Memorial Garden next to the Clifford Hansen Fire Station on East Street.