A Haunting Litany of Death in the Deep
By Naomi Lakritz
The Calgary Herald
May 5, 2001
Eerier than any ghost story, Lamps Forever Lit will haunt you in those
moments of dark reverie when you think of the dead, of the countless
ordinary folks who lived, loved and worked in another time, people whose
memory is lost to all but a handful of their descendants.
Bernie Jaworsky has seen to it that these 310 Ontario miners, killed in
some of the most ghastly accidents imaginable, will not suffer
anonymity. Lamps Forever Lit is the work of Calgary – based Cambria
Publishing, a company formed by photographer Lawrence Chrismas, whose
own work includes the remarkable book, Alberta Miners – A Tribute.
Jaworsky’s new book is a series of mini-biographies of the miners and he
has spared no pains researching them. He lovingly furnishes the tiniest
details wherever he can, even if it’s only the name of a sister in
Toronto or the priest who presided at the funeral.
The effect of such minutiae is profoundly moving. To describe Lamps
Forever Lit as just a collection of obituaries would be unjust. To read
it is to attend a wake, where the sweet stirring strains of Amazing
Grace are heard through the vignettes of these lives, even as we recoil
in horror at the descriptions of the men’s final , brutal moments.
And what a litany of terrible ways to die – falling down mine shafts,
being crushed by tons of rock, suffocating in mountains of sand, blown
up in dynamiting accidents, impaled on steel or horribly mangled in
“…underground there is constant darkness. What you usually see is what
your lamp reveals. Dangers from the side, above or below, are as a
consequence unknown to you,” Jaworsky writes.
Murdoch Lloyd, the first man to die in one of the areas mines, was
scalded with hot water when a tube blew out on a boiler he was
repairing in the summer of 1914. In October 1922, Kent Englehutt fell
lout of a bucket, plunged 300 feet down a shaft and landed in 200 feet
of water at the bottom. Shattering his skull and most of the rest of his
bones. The smashed body of this 38-year-old father of two had to be
retrieved with grappling hooks.
Henry Melong’s new boots made him slip and he fell backwards onto some
machinery, dying with his head bumping on the hub of a revolving
wheel. Jaworsky has reproduced Melong’s photo from a tiny one the
miner’s grandsons found on a cufflink.
And so it goes, year after year, right up until the last death, that of
Robert Owens, 34, a “free spirit” pictured holding up a four–leaf
clover, who was killed in 1996 when the tram he was driving fell through
a hole in a tunnel. “Hard rock, steel and blasting powder are not
considerate of soft flesh,” Jaworsky says. “ Death… is gruesome,
lonely, painful, bloody or suffocating. Death in a mine is not gentle.”
Many of the men were eastern European or Scandinavian immigrants working
to bring families over. Their grainy headstone photos dot the pages of
the book along with snapshots of children soon to be fatherless, sports
teams that would lose a player to some horrendous underground accident,
and even a Polish Christmas party where the miner playing Santa Claus
was destined to die six months later, his face blown to bits by a freak
Jaworsky has sagely refrained from intruding on the dead. He does not
comment on their stories beyond offering the bare minimum of necessary
historical information on Kirkland Lake gold mining. In the early days,
he writes, production was the sole concern: “As one miner left in a
stretcher, another was hired at the front gate to take his place.”
Jaworsky makes us mourn for men we never knew. What greater triumph for
a writer than to know he has moved the reader to share his deepest
sorrow and highest respect for those who, in the words of miner S.
Mahovlich: “during their life they dig their grave / Passing their
entire life in darkness.”
Too often in the history of mining we forget the men who most made it
possible. Certainly the glamour of discovery and the techniques of
development happened first, but at the heart of a mine were those who
broke and moved rock underground: the machine men, the scalers, the
muckers, the trammers, the cage tenders. Bernie Jaworsky's important
book reminds us of these praiseworthy men, especially those of Kirkland
Lake who died doing work so fundamental to the growth of northeastern
Peter Fancy is a Canadian Author/Historian presently living in Orillia, Ontario
"Lamps Forever Lit is a first for Kirkland Lake. It looks beyond the
story of Kirkland Lake to discover the men who anonymously contributed
to that story with their labour and ultimately with their lives. By
writing this timely work Bernie Jaworsky allows future generations to
know and contemplate their sacrifice."
Robin Ormerod (Director/
Curator - Museum of Northern History)
"This book will make an important contribution to the history of
Northern Ontario and to Canadian mining history."
(National Archives of Canada - Ottawa)
"Bernie Jaworsky puts a human face on the sacrifices Northern Ontario
miners made to build a better life for their families. His poignant
chronicles breathe new life into long-forgotten stories about life
and death in the Kirkland Lake Gold Camp."
Walter Franczyk, Editor, The Gazette
"Mining history rewards great people and events, but passes over smaller
stories of personal courage and sacrifice. We applaud Mr Jaworsky for
bringing some of these to light".
Robert Murdoch, Sponsor
"A pensive reminder of the tragedies and hardships endured by the mining
families of this ethnically diverse area of Canada"
Joe Mavrinac (Mayor
of Kirkland Lake 1980-1997)
"I know that my husband, brother and brother-in-law will live on
forever, not only in my mind but in the mind of every person who reads
this wonderful tribute to these men."
"One cannot read this book very long without being almost overwhelmed by
the amount and the quality of work that went into its preparation. It's
incredibly moving, the more so because it details the usually abrupt and
lonely end of perfectly ordinary men with no attempt to fix blame or
responsibility or to describe the impact on the victim's families. This
is not a book 'you can't put down.' You'll find, from time to time,
that you have to."
Thomas Drew-Brook (History Teacher)
"Jaworsky, a quiet, self-effacing man, found himself in a quest that has taken him over four years and opened up a history that has never really been documented before in the north"
Charlie Angus, Highgrader Magazine.
"The most important aspect of his book-in which there are no 'happy' endings - is that these men are not merely statistics. Each and every life is a story."
Lawrence McBrearty, United Steelworkers.
"I appreciate that someone (Jaworsky) has come to give a face and story to what otherwise would just be a name on a monument."
Retired Kirkland Lake gold miner