Eighteen months on the picket line. Thirty-eight kilos of explosives. Nine men dead. 20 years passed.
It’s the story that made world news and changed a mining town forever. The Giant Mine strike stands as one of the longest and bloodiest in Canadian history, punctuated by one of the worst mass murders the country has ever seen. For those who lived through September 18, 1992, the scars have never healed. Here are their stories …
On May 22, 1992, a company called Royal Oak Mines Inc. locked out its workforce at Giant Mine in Yellowknife. The union, the local 4 chapter of the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers, and management couldn’t reach a settlement. Before the strike, it was a good, if finite, time to be a gold miner.
The average worker at Giant was pulling in $77,000 a year, and those clocking overtime were making more than $100,000. But the strike got dirty quickly as rumours swirled of Royal Oak CEO Peggy Witte’s intent to break the union. One thing she did break was an unwritten labour rule in Canada: you don’t bring in replacement workers. No mining company had done that in 45 years. Nevada-born Witte flew them in by helicopter the next day.
From there, things got scary. Profane strike posters littered the route along the highway to the mine. An underwear-clad Miss Piggy doll was mounted on a stake, her neck circled by a noose, head dangling and blond curls blowing in the wind. Both sides hurled vulgarities across the gate at the mine entrance. In June, a riot broke out, as RCMP and Pinkerton guards – hired to act as the mine’s security force – clashed with strikers who tore down the mine fence and swarmed the grounds.
Nearly 30 people were charged. Two months later, a group of strikers calling themselves the Cambodian Cowboys began to break into the mine, spray-painting anti-scab graffiti on its underground walls, blowing up a satellite dish on the townsite and later using explosives to shut down one of the mine’s ventilation shafts.
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