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February 1, 2011

New push for a memorial to Italian workers killed on the job in Ontario

Ontario’s construction industry is being asked to remember its fallen Italian immigrant workers over the last 60 years and make a memorial to them a reality.

“When my generation of immigrants will no longer be around, their ultimate sacrifice will be completely forgotten,” said Marino Toppan. “New generations of Italian-Canadians and other citizens will never know or will soon forget the enormous sacrifice made by hard working immigrants.”

Toppan, a veteran of Toronto’s labour movement and author, has spearheaded an initiative to have a memorial created with the names of fallen Ontario Italian construction workers on it.

Hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants came to Canada after the Second World War seeking a better future, said Toppan. Most of them found employment in construction, establishing a better life for themselves and their families, eventually “integrating into the Canadian mosaic.” Some, like the five Italian immigrant workers who died in the March 17, 1960 Hogg’s Hollow tragedy, never got the chance to establish their new lives.

“Instead of a better place in which to raise their families they found tragic deaths working in mines, on railroads, factories but mostly in the construction field of this country,” said Toppan. “A memorial with hundreds of names of these victims will serve as a warning to the new generations, who enjoy a much safer work place now due to the ultimate sacrifice made by these victims.”

Toppan’s initial attempts to secure a list of names of the deceased workers through Ontario’s labour ministry and the WSIB were thwarted by privacy act regulations.

He then struck an ad hoc committee to try and collect the names through research and public outreach.

“We started to launch appeals via radio, television and newspapers asking to hear from community members who have lost a relative, friend or acquaintance to work-related accidents or diseases, in the last 60 years or so, to contact us with names or the names of the next-of-kin,” Toppan said.

The response to these appeals for information has been remarkable, said Toppan. The committee has collected just over 200 names so far. The names of the victims have come in from Ontario cities including Hamilton, Sudbury, Timmins, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Ottawa and Toronto.

“In fact, the vast majority of names collected so far are from the Greater Toronto Area and 905-area,” he noted. “Sadly, we know that there are many more out there.”

Comites, an organization affiliated with the Italian Consulate, has made its office available to the memorial’s cause and the Columbus Centre, an Italian cultural centre in Toronto, has made available an area on their grounds for the memorial. Giannone Petricone Architects have volunteered their services to help design the memorial. Final costs for the project have not yet been determined. The committee realizes it will be difficult to get all the names and that is why the memorial will have the flexibility to have names added to it in the future.

To provide information on fallen Ontario Italian construction workers or to find out how you can help or donate to the project write to: Comitato Caduti Sul Lavoro, c/o COMITES, 3010 Dufferin St. Unit 2, Toronto Ont. M6B 4J5. You can also call 416-746-5674 or e-mail comites@yahoo.ca.

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