Working on the tunnel, the men were required to climb down 35 feet into a cramped, dimly lit tunnel with barely enough space to move around. The tunnel itself was 6 feet in diameter, with a 36 inch watermain running through it. To pass each other, the men were forced to crawl into a ball underneath the pipe.
As they worked, they wore no hard hats, carrying only their work tools. They had no flashlights.
“DISASTER ON THE DON” - Toronto Daily Star, March 18, 1960
When a flash fire suddenly hit the tunnel, the men became trapped in choking smoke, and were unable to see their way out. Their passage to safety was blocked: by smoldering cables to the east, and by a cement tunnel support wall to the west.
For these five men, the dream of a better life died in a cramped, slimy tunnel beneath the Don River.
The official cause of death was ruled acute poisoning by carbon monoxide and suffocation due to the inhalation of smoke, sand and water.
It took 3 days of digging to free the bodies of these men from the tunnel as they were completely buried in silt and trapped under the 36 inch watermain that lined the tunnel. The bodies of the Mantella brothers were found kneeling beside each other in the posture of prayer.
Imagine the terror and the horror that these men experienced during their final hours - trapped in a swirl of water, quicksand, and choking smoke!
“TUNNEL DEATH TRAP” - The Telegram, March 24, 1960
According to newspaper reports at the time, these workers were sent down into a virtual death trap. Investigators stated that no fire extinguishers, resuscitator masks, or flashlights were present in the tunnel, nor any telephone system set up.
Had proper equipment and training been made available, the workers would most surely have survived!
“TREATED LIKE ANIMALS” - The Telegram, March 25, 1960
The official Coroner’s Report states that almost all the safety regulations governing the tunnel project were violated continuously, and that the attitude of the management towards the safety of the workers could be described as no less than callous.
A former foreman on the Hogg’s Hollow tunnel project told the coroner’s jury that he was fired from his job after requesting that safety measures be implemented. Another had quit after insisting that the tunnel was inadequately shored against quicksand, the timber support beams were weak, and that there were no fire extinguishers underground. In fact, they had both felt that it was the worst project they had ever been asked to supervise!
The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster stands as a woeful reminder of the widespread exploitation of workers, particularly immigrant workers, that existed during the early 1960s - a turbulent time for this city’s labour movement.
DEATHS NOT IN VAIN!
Following the tragic deaths of these men, workers across Ontario were mobilized to form stronger unions, and to organize around important industry safety issues.
In response, the government announced a royal commission to study and modernize all worker safety regulations, paving the way for a modern labour act in Ontario. It also initiated a programme to combat labour exploitation and to educate immigrant workers about employment practices. This soon resulted in significant changes being made to Ontario’s workplace health and safety laws - changes that continue to protect the lives of workers today!
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