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FALLEN WORKERS: First of several multiple-fatality accidents on the canal

 Brian Narhi, special to Postmedia Network

Profile of a lock’s filling culvert on the Welland Canal, May 27, 1915. (Madelein Muntz, St. Catharines Museum, 2006.73.471)

Profile of a lock’s filling culvert on the Welland Canal, May 27, 1915. (Madelein Muntz, St. Catharines Museum, 2006.73.471)

Between June 1914 and November 1924, there were 44 accidents on the Welland Canal that resulted in worker deaths. All of these were single-fatality accidents.

The failure of a hoisting chain in this tragedy would cause two deaths, the first of seven multiple-fatality accidents that would take 25 lives between 1924 and 1930.

In addition to Wilfred La Croix, who was profiled in last week’s column, this accident also took the life of his cousin, William ‘Gorman’ Larocque.

Larocque was born in January 1899 in Calumet, Que. He was the eldest son in a family of seven children who were born to Alexander Larocque, shantyman, and his wife, Sarah Jane Purdy.

Gorman was married in August 1919 to Marie Juliette Marier, and they had two young children at the time of the accident. Larocque had been employed on the Canal since work on it resumed following the end of the Great War. He had been promoted to the position of “foreman of concrete forms.”

The newspaper accounts of this incident reported that several men employed by Peter Lyall Co. were at work in a tunnel at Lock 5 in Thorold between 9 and 9:30 in the morning.

A steel concrete form, weighing approximately eight tons, was being lowered into position. Without any warning, one of the links in the chain block suddenly snapped. The tackling gave way and “the immense weight smashed down, killing outright two men.”

An inquest was called for the following Friday by Coroner Herod. It convened in the public library in Thorold.

According to witness statements from George Roberts, mechanical superintendent, “The block weighed 20 tons and was guaranteed to carry an overload of 50 per cent. The chain was tested and sworn to by the manufacturers to carry 3,360 pounds. The tunnel weighed 15 tons. The blocks had been on the job for a number of years.”

Roberts also suggested that the chain broke due to “expansion caused by dampness,” a defect that went unnoticed despite frequent inspections.

One worker, quoted in the newspaper, boasted that the chain was so strong that it could “lift the whole town,” and that it had carried heavier loads on previous occasions. The equipment was considered “perfectly safe,” and chain breakage was “never heard of.” The broken link was submitted as evidence that indeed any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, in this case a flaw with fatal consequences.

Larocque’s obituary described him as “ever polite and honourable,” a man of the “strictest integrity,” who was a “loving husband, kind father and exemplary citizen.” His funeral service was held at Holy Rosary Church, and was attended by his father-in-law, brother, cousins and many friends of the family. His body was afterwards shipped by rail to Ottawa for burial in Notre Dame Cemetery.

The Thorold Post newspaper noted that this calamity “cast a gloom over the town,” in which Thanksgiving and Armistice observations were “saddened instead of brightened.” This was an especially poignant statement with regard to Herman Larocque, the brother of the deceased, who had been married in Thorold just two weeks later.

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. 45

William (Romeo) ‘Gorman’ Larocque, 25

Born: Jan. 28, 1899 (Calumet, Grenville Twp., County of Argenteuil, Quebec)

Died: Nov. 8, 1924 (Section 3, Lock 5, Thorold)

How: crushed by steel form

Job: foreman, Peter Lyall Co.



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