When the clock struck midnight on February 14, 1949, the normally quiet streets of the small town of Asbestos, Quebec, were packed with nearly 2,000 workers from the Jeffrey Mine who were ready to go on strike.
Later that Valentine’s Day morning, 3,000 more miners from the neighbouring Thetford Mine joined the walkout, and what followed was one of the longest and most brutal labour disputes in the province’s history.
Since the late 19th century, Quebec, and especially Asbestos, was the largest producer and exporter of the eponymous mineral. Asbestos was popularly used for insulation, soundproofing and fireproofing, and American and English-Canadian owned companies, such as Johns-Manville, Asbestos Corp., and Flintkote all set up operations around Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
Meanwhile, the French-speaking miners did their jobs dutifully, until an investigative report by journalist Burton LeDoux, published in March 1948, unveiled some haunting truths.
Miners were dying of silicosis, a lung disease caused by breathing in asbestos dust. LeDoux blamed the provincial government, led by Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis and his Union Nationale party, and the mine employers for their recklessness and continuous denial of the problem.
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