Labor History in 2:00

March 17 The Hoggs Hollow Tragedy

March 17, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1960. 

That was the day five Italian immigrant workers were killed in Toronto, Ontario in what is known as the Hoggs Hollow Tragedy. 

Referred to as sandhogs, workers sought to connect a pumping station to the water distribution network. 

They were building a water main in a tunnel under the Don River.

The project was already far behind schedule and over budget.

Workers were welding in a compression chamber when smoke began to overwhelm the main shaft.

Some workers made it out.

Firefighters were prevented from releasing water into the tunnel to extinguish the fire over concerns that it would cause a collapse.

There was no backup safety equipment at street level. 

The tragedy shed light on the appalling wage and working conditions immigrant workers faced just outside the city borders. 

The persistent public outcry prompted exposes and investigations that revealed just how bad conditions were.

It was truly a tale of two cities. 

Within the city, union requirements guaranteed breaks and enforcement of safety regulations.

But just outside it was a different story.

According to Jamie Bradburn, who wrote for the Toronto Historicist in 2010, “workers on suburban projects faced conditions that included lack of proper sanitation, poor safety inspections, illegal withholding of vacation pay, unpaid overtime, cheques that often bounced, and groundless threats of deportation. The coroner’s inquest determined that callous management, incompetent foremen, inexperienced workers, a disorganized rescue, and inefficiency at the Department of Labour caused the disaster... Though no criminal charges were ultimately laid, the sacrifice of the five men at Hogg’s Hollow brought about improvements in the conditions that had led to their demise.”


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