News

FALLEN WORKERS: Dangerous job conditions on the canal

By Kathleen Powell, Special to Postmedia News

Rock drilling in winter, ca. 1925. Betsy Foster / Special to the Standard

Rock drilling in winter, ca. 1925. Betsy Foster / Special to the Standard

Spring in Niagara can be unpredictable. With the shift between warm and cold, the conditions working around ice and snow can be treacherous.

As we have already witnessed, David Kennedy, whose story appeared in last week’s article, was killed when unstable ice fell and crushed him. Only three weeks later, on March 24, 1924, a similar incident occurred in the deep cut at Lock 5.

Otto Monsson was working as a driller on the east wall of Lock 5 at around 10 a.m. when a large boulder of ice came loose from the embankment above, slid down the bank and hit him on the head.

He suffered major injuries to his head and shoulders. Some of his fellow workers drilling nearby came to his rescue and within minutes moved the ice away. Monsson was unresponsive and seems to have been killed instantly.

A coroner’s inquest was convened to look at the details of the case. Four witnesses were called to provide evidence: Dr. George Publow and three workers - E. Griffiths, F. LaPierre and C.L. Sergnese.

Dr. Publow stated the injuries to the deceased were severe around the head and lungs, and a fractured skull would have caused instant death. Monsson’s three co-workers all gave similar descriptions of the falling ice striking him and of their efforts to rescue him.

The weight of the ice was estimated to be three to five tons.

It is interesting that on the day the inquest results were released, the headline in the St. Catharines Standard stated: “Conditions of Employment on Canal Not Always Safe.”

The coroner’s jury brought down the following verdict: “That Otto Monsson met accidental death on the morning of March 24th, 1924, by being crushed under falling ice while drilling on the east wall of the Welland Ship Canal. We the jury recommend that all foremen be charged with seeing that men be not sent to work under dangerous conditions, without conditions being made as safe as possible.”

Otto Monsson was buried at Thorold’s Lakeview Cemetery. Several wreaths were sent by his co-workers, and efforts were still underway to locate family. He was variously described as being of Swiss and Swedish descent, was single, and seems to have had no relatives in Canada.

This article is part of a series highlighting the men whose lives were lost in the construction of the Welland Ship Canal. The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial Task Force is a volunteer group established to finance, design and build a memorial to recognize workers who were killed while building the Welland Ship Canal. For more information about the Memorial or to contribute to the project visit: www.stcatharines.ca/CanalWorkersMemorial

PROFILE NO. 36

Otto Monsson, 38

Born: c. 1886 (Sweden)

Died: March 24, 1924 (Section 3, at bottom of the cut at Lock 5, Thorold)

Struck by falling ice

Rock driller 



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