Mohawk Iron Workers Mourned 99 Years Later
by Cheryl Cornacchia CanWest News Service; Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
LEVIS, Que. - It was supposed to be one of the world's great engineering marvels but instead the Bridge of Quebec became a graveyard for 76 men.
The first riveted steel bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River, from Quebec City to south-shore Levis, collapsed 99 years ago Tuesday, exacting a heavy price in human life.
But none was higher than the price paid by Kahnawake, the Mohawk community across the river from Montreal.
A total of 33 of the 76 men who died August 29, 1907 in what became enshrined in history books as the ''Quebec bridge disaster'' were from Kahnawake.
The Mohawk men who lost their lives were pioneers in a trade that has made Quebec Mohawks world-renowned as skywalkers and put their skills in demand throughout the 20th century on bridges and skyscrappers across North America.
Tuesday, a group of 60 Kahnawake Mohawks travelled to this town to honour those men and to set in motion a year devoted to commemorating them and the disaster.'
'This is like a pilgrimage to Mecca,'' said 60-year-old Glenn French, a descendent of two men who died. ''You have to come here at least once in your life if you are from Kahnawake.''
Dozens of French-Canadian and Irish men from surrounding villages, and American ironworkers, also perished when the original bridge collapsed just minutes after a foremen's whistle announcing quitting time.
Many of them are buried in a mass grave in a Catholic cemetery in St. Romuald, which is today part of Levis.
But the bridge tragedy left a mark on Kahnawake like no other.
Four family names were totally wiped out. Of the 33 men who died, 24 were married and left families behind. The youngest victim was 18; the eldest 44.
So Se O Ri, the 44-year-old victim, left 11 children and a pregnant wife.
''After the disaster, the woman gathered,'' said Kahnawake grand chief Michael Delisle, who attended Tuesday's ceremony.
''We are a matriarchal society. They decided that never again would all our men work on the same job.''
''Just about every Kahnawake family lost someone here.''
Helen Morris-Montaur, a 74-year-old who travelled here with her sister, said she lost her great-grandfather, John Morris. Putting her hands to her ears, she said, ''You know the noise of a car crash. Imagine. This would have been about 1,000 times worse.''
That image of twisted metal was the one that Billy Two Rivers evoked during a traditional tobacco-burning ceremony to honour the victims. Descendants of the men placed tobacco in a fire to lay to rest their spirits.
Remi Giasson, an 88-year-old Kahnawake man who made the trip, said it was a sad day. At the time, Kahnawake had a population of only 1,500. His grandfather, Napolean Antoine, was the Kahnawake postmaster at the time of the disaster and, as such, owned the only telephone. He took the call.
''People were outside the house (i.e., Antoine's) for days waiting for news,'' said Giasson, who now lives in his grandfather's house.
Despite the disaster, Mohawks continued to work in high steel, and went on to become renowned in 20th-century North American construction history, for their role in building some of this continent's most prominent skyscrappers and bridges.
The U.S. Smithsonian Institute has put together a travelling exhibit to mark their contribution. It shows Mohawks high up on the Empire State Building and other major northeastern U.S. landmarks.
A decade ago, one in every four Kahnawake men was employed as an ironworker. Despite a slowdown since then in commercial construction, employment is expected to rise again as New York City sets out to rebuild the World Trade Center site, and construct new stadiums for the Yankees and Giants.
Hundreds of Kahnawake men are currently members of ironworkers unions in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Detroit, Kentucky and Montreal.
Floyd Bright Sky Brooks, 71, remembered how his mother Ida Lahache lost her father, uncles and brothers, 13 men in all, in the Quebec Bridge Disaster. But despite those losses, he said he couldn't help but become an ironworker himself.
''l loved it,'' said Brooks, who is retired.
© CanWest News Service 2006
INDNs List Candidate, John Sparks, Wins Runoff - Completing OK Sweep
John Sparks, a member of the Cherokee Nation, won his bid for the Democratic nomination in the state’s 16th Senate District, moving all four INDN candidates of Oklahoma into the victory column. Scott BigHorse and Chuck Hoskin will join John Sparks in vying for seats in the Oklahoma House and Senate. Al McAffrey, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is uncontested in the general election and will be seated as District 88’s representative.
“This is yet another big day in a huge year for INDN’s List,” remarked President Kalyn Free. “Our success is in our candidates and their vision. They are proving that voters recognize and affirm the bold, positive vision that Indian candidates and the Democratic Party have put forward in states across the nation.”
Sparks, a married father of two, is the founder of a small business that widens healthcare access to children, the elderly, and those living with mental illness. He works tirelessly to serve the residents of Cleveland County, and his victory Tuesday moves Sparks a step closer to gaining a voice for Oklahomans across the state, from the panhandle to Green Country.
The voters of his district have spoken, but Sparks’ vision and campaign must continue to be heard as he works his way to the general election. To learn more about the forward vision of each of our candidates, read their profiles by clicking here.
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