Excerpt from Until the End – by Adelle Larmour (The Story of John Gagnon-Health and Safety Union Activist)

Adelle Larmour is a journalist at Northern Ontario Business and Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal. Contact her at  untiltheend.larmour@gmail.com  to order a copy of Until the End.

Chapter 3 – A Change of Heart

The months that followed John’s first day of work formed a period in his life he could not have anticipated, yet it was one he chose consciously, despite the odds stacked against him. 

A good-natured, easy-going guy who always wore a smile on his face, John worked alone with his thoughts and the cacophony of machinery around him. The work was the same and the environment remained a nickel oxide dust-ridden death trap, particularly for those who chose not to wear their masks.

Sleepless nights began to take their toll as he continued to shovel the nickel oxide onto the conveyor along with some of the other fellows with whom he started. He would yawn and then automatically check his mask to make sure it was snug. As one of the few who wore breathing protection, he struggled to understand why more didn’t worry about the dose of nickel oxide ingested daily into their lungs.

None of it made sense, because it all seemed so obvious. Clearly something wasn’t adding up. Even the foremen who’d been there for many years were blinded to the inevitable. And then there were the guys who smoked on their breaks. Nothing like adding fuel to the hot burning flames.

No matter how many times he tried to convey the seriousness of their work situation and the importance of wearing their masks, John couldn’t seem to get his point across. It only took a couple of weeks before they began to call him crazy. He had heard the men talking. “Don’t worry about him, because he is small and he’s good natured. He even smiles, you know,” they had said. “He’s a nut, but he’s not dangerous.”

So they laughed him off, along with his incessant warnings about the dust and its danger. “Wear your mask, boys. This stuff is not meant to be in your lungs. The mask will help keep it out.”

“It puts hairs on your chest,” they joked, thumping their chests. 

John shook his head. How could they turn a blind eye when the danger was all around? It was that lack of common sense from his co-workers which was the turning point in his decision to stay at the Sinter plant. Until they understood the dangers of their environment, he would stay put and preach to them about wearing their masks and not smoking on the job.

Vancouver would have to wait, because it was clear these guys were in trouble. They didn’t have a clue that this could be their last place on earth.