The Welland Canal is a critical economic and cultural corridor that played a critical role in shaping the Niagara region and the nation. The government of Canada promised in 1932 to build a memorial to the 124 men who died during construction, but so far that promise has not been kept. The men who died working on the construction of the canal deserved to be remembered for their sacrifice.
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The political and cultural leaders Niagara
“It cost about $130 million to build (Over $2 billion in 2013). At least 124 men died, so they were pretty close,” says Arden Phair, the retired curator of the St. Catharines Museum who has taken up the cause of the men who died building the economic heartbeat of Niagara.
All he and a handful of other historians and researchers who have looked into the past of the canal want is for Ottawa to make good on a promise to recognize the fallen.
“A minister of the Crown said, when the canal opened, there would be a memorial to these men,” Phair says. “It was one of the largest losses of life on a public project in Canadian history. I think it’s a promise that should be kept.”
For a time, a potential memorial was front-page news soon after the canal opened in 1932. It was due in no small part to the rhetoric of Robert James Manion, then the minister of railways and canals, who called those who died heroes.
A promise not kept
In 1932, Minister of Railways and Canals Robert James Manion said a memorial would be erected to honour those who died building the canal. At the time, official records said 115 men died. Over time, that number has been amended to 124.
This is what Manion said when the canal opened: “Peace has its heroes as well as war, and in a construction job of this magnitude, with its daily risk and hazard, the sacrifices of human life seems to be unavoidable. It is only right and proper that we should give a thought to the 115 men who lost their lives during the progress of the work. In due course we shall see that the names of these workmen are suitably preserved and made an enduring portion of the great structure that rises not only as a monument to their effort and their lives, but to the efforts of the thousands of working men and engineering helpers whose unremitting toil, often in the face of difficulty and discouragement, made possible the triumph of the present hour.”