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Neelon Casting names added to workers’ memorial wall

Ten workers with now-closed car parts manufacturer have been recognized by WSIB as having lost their lives to occupational disease

Ten more names have been added to the memorial wall at Leo Gerard Memorial Park.

The Val Caron park is a place where those who have died due to their employment are commemorated. The 10 workers recently added to the memorial wall are those who were employed by the Sudbury firm at one time known as Neelon Casting, all of whom have been recognized by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) as having died from occupational disease.

The car parts manufacturing company opened in 1975 as Neelon Casting, and later changed ownership to become Dana Brake Parts and finally Affinia Canada Corp., finally closing in 2007. 

Steelworkers Local 2020, which represents the affected workers, has been helping them file for compensation with the WSIB.

An investigation is underway by the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW).Since 2020, 200 diagnoses have been claimed, and to date, 10 claims by the estates of deceased workers have been recognized by the WSIB.

Diagnoses included asbestosis, silicosis, COPD, mesothelioma, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer, with a few of the workers having multiple diagnoses.

The full list of workers added to the memorial wall are as follows: Lawrence Raymond (died 2019), Alfred Labre (2007), Yvon Ranger (2010), Roger Raymond (2011), Arnold Crumb (2020), Patrick Vaillancourt (2001), Gerard Cote (2017), Brian Woodcock (2005) and John Ross (2020).

As stated above, one of the deceased Neelon workers whose name has just been added to the memorial wall is Alfred Labre.

Several of his family members, including his son, Rheal Labre, attended a June 12 ceremony at Leo Gerard Park to honour those who have passed away from occupational disease.

Rheal said his father, who died in 2007, had health issues including prostate cancer and trouble with his lungs that he says go back to Alfred’s time at Neelon, where he worked for more than three decades.

He said he worked there himself between 1977 and 1979, and remembers the conditions as being dusty and black. 

“It was bad,” Rheal Labre said, adding the carpal tunnel in his hands is a souvenir of his own time at Neelon. He also remembers a worker being killed during his time at the plant in an accident involving a forklift.

Rheal said it means a lot to his family to have his father recognized on the memorial wall in Leo Gerard Memorial Park, especially his mother, Laurette.

Daryl Park, who worked for Neelon and its successors for more than 23 years, before becoming a Cambrian College instructor in 2005, said he has been able to stay healthy himself. 

He said he thinks that’s because he was fastidious about wearing his PPE (including a respirator) and adhering to health and safety protocols. But there was no doubt that conditions in the plant were hazardous, with a lot of particulate matter in the air because of the sand used in molding, and many of his fellow workers were not so lucky.

“It was a dirty, hot place to work,” said Park, who likens it to Dante’s Inferno. “I mean, that's the nature of the work, you know. And unfortunately, though, there's a lot of people hurting because of health and safety issues.”

Later in life, many of Park’s former coworkers have ended up with health issues related to their work.

“That's why this group was started, because of the people that actually came to the Steelworkers and said I have COPD, and I believe it was caused by working in this environment, and then they did the research," he said. 

“And we had a lot of deaths, a lot of young fellows in their forties and fifties and early sixties that died. I know people that I worked with, whole crews, that are not here anymore. I see their wives here, and their sons, and that bothers me.”

Sudbury MPP Jamie West, who attended the June 12 event at Leo Gerard Park alongside Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, said it’s good that the affected workers’ claims are being recognized by the WSIB.

“I’ve worked with people with occupational disease, back when I was a Steelworker,” he said.

“There’s that sense of the person who knows that they're getting closer and closer to the end of their life, hoping that their family is going to be taken care of or hoping that it's not all for nothing.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.