Northern Ontario’s mining memorials tell a tale of hard-fought labour protections – by Bill Steer (Bay Today – January 19, 2022)

Back Roads Bill Steer is the founder and remains the GM of the Canadian Ecology Centre. He teaches part-time at Nipissing University (Schulich School of Education) and Canadore College. His features can be found across Village Media’s Northern Ontario sites.

With the help of the region’s scholars, Back Roads Bill recounts the struggles and horrific working conditions endured by early miners and the reason we should all remember them

It is part of a history lesson we know little about, so perhaps we need a little schooling. Envision hard rock miners, once toiling far underground in dark, cramped and dangerous conditions; it was arduous and risky work.

They emerged tired and dirty at the end of their shifts, walking back to small wood-sided homes and their immigrant families. Mining, along with forestry, created what was then called ‘New Ontario,’ — what we know as Northern Ontario.

Indigenous mining in the north began after the last period of glaciations, people of the Plano culture moved into the area and began quarrying quartzite at Sheguiandah on Manitoulin Island. Mining is an important economic activity in Northern Ontario. It has been since the first copper mines at Bruce Mines in 1846 and Silver Islet in 1868.

Monuments are structures that pay tribute to the achievements, heritage, or the ideals of a person, group, event or time in history. Memorials are different. Like cenotaphs, they are built to honour and remember those who die for unselfish reasons; their names are present.

Not sure why I thought of this story. There have been many cemetery stories and story links to the natural and cultural heritage of the north. At the Canadian Ecology Centre we have staged, for more than a dozen years, free Teacher’s Mining Tours, bringing awareness through the lens of “seeing is believing,” and to the four pillars of contemporary mining: jobs, technology, safety and the environment. We know “if it is not mined, it is grown and if it is not grown it’s mined.” Maybe there is an appreciation of what was to what is? We learn every day.

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