You think you have a tough job? Try fighting a fire in a match factory. That job and others are highlighted in his easy-to-miss monument to those who perished while performing their everyday duties.
You could easily walk right past the public artwork, even though it’s on a busy thoroughfare in downtown Toronto. One hundred small, bronze plaques are laid out unobtrusively atop a waist-high red granite wall. It’s a sobering, if not macabre, ode to the men and women who were crushed, electrocuted, drowned, and met other unpleasant demises while on the clock.
The monument was an initiative of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. It was erected in 2000 as part of a millennium project to shine a light on workplace safety and is comprised of two parts. The first, called 100 Workers, features 100 plaques designed by John Scott & Stewart H. Pollock that describe an actual fatal on-the-job accident from 1901 to 1999. A final plaque was left blank to represent future tragedy. Off to the side is a statue of a kneeling worker in safety gear, chiseling into the wall. It’s titled The Anonymity of Prevention and was created by Derek Lo and Lana Winkler.
The text on the plaques is straightforward, listing the name, cause of death, and date of the accident. The first, William Brindle, died of a crushed skull while fighting a fire in a match factory on January 26, 1901. From there, walking from west to east, you can observe the history of the dangers of industrial North America. In the 1920s, several people died in train accidents or in coal mines. By the 1970s, it was asbestosis that would get you.
While some of the deaths are mundane (falling off ladders is common in any era), others are quite gruesome in their specificity, like that of Aart VanWyk, who died in 1965 by “steel punch penetrated throat and cut jugular vein.” The various causes of death are a sobering snapshot of how quickly everyday jobs can turn deadly.