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Trailblazer: One of the first women hired by Inco in the 1970s pens memoir

Cathy Mulroy was 19 when she started working for Sudbury miner 

Cathy Mulroy was 19 years old and in a bad marriage in 1974 when she heard a television news report that would change her life.

She heard Inco would be hiring women in hourly-rate jobs.

This was ground breaking news indeed. Women had worked at Inco during the Second World War, but when the war ended, they were laid off. There even used to be laws against women working in the mining industry.

Keen to earn enough to support herself and her two kids and leave her marriage, Mulroy applied at Inco and was among a handful hired.

Retired from Inco since 2004, Mulroy outlines her 30-career with the company in her new self-published memoir, My View from the Blackened Rocks.

Mulroy started in anode casting, working with furnaces and molten metal. Standing 5-1, with tiny size four feet, she often couldn't find work clothes and safety equipment that fit her small frame.

“There were no laws,” she said. “The men could talk to you any way they wanted, They could call you names. They could write graffiti on the walls. It didn't matter. It was all acceptable behaviour.”

And then there was the danger associated with the job. Her coworker Sally Matthews — one of the few other women working at Inco at the time — was killed in an accident at the plant in 1980.

“She worked on the other shift, same job as I am,” said Mulroy. “I remember that day clearly. It was pretty sad. She had eight children.”

Mulroy herself was badly injured on the job in 1986. “I took a fall,” she said. “I pushed my spine in, landed on the hub of a truck. Somebody had left it there on the walkway. That sort of changed everything.”

She couldn't return to hard labour, so Mulroy, who had married at age 16 and never graduated from high school, started taking evening classes at Cambrian College.

Eventually she began teaching health and safety courses to Inco's workers, which she continued until her retirement in 2004.

Mulroy's memoir also covers a historic period in Inco's history — the nine-month-long Inco-Steelworkers strike.

While it wasn't easy living on $30 a week in strike pay, Mulroy said she found a group of sisters in the strikers' wives. They're still friends to this day.

In 1984, Mulroy met her "wonderful" second husband, Merv McLaughlin. Between the two of them, they have five kids, and are also now grandparents.

They also helped to raise one of Merv's nieces — at one point, there were six teenagers in their house.

While Mulroy didn't always get respect from the men she worked with, she said that changed.

“It's wonderful now,” she said. “There's a maintenance party every year — about 1,500 men that go, and five women. The respect I have now from the men, you can't ask for better.”

And she did have many great male coworkers. They include a man she calls her best friend, the late Bruce McKiegan, who was her Steelworkers union steward.

Mulroy said she was actually inspired to start writing down incidents that happened on the job after McKiegan wrote up her first grievance.

When she retired, she had several bins filled with written materials — dayplanners, calendars, and just notes scribbled on paper towels or cigarette packages.

“Looking back, it was a healing experience,” Mulroy said, adding this material is what became the basis of her memoir. “Throw it in a box, cover it.”

In sharing her story, Mulroy said she wants to encourage young women to enter the trades.

“I would really like to push how important the trades are,” she said.

“We are so short of tradespeople … You could be an electrician, you could be a plumber, you can be a carpenter, you can be a heavy duty equipment mechanic, industrial mechanic. The sky is the limit, and the pay is fantastic.”

Mulroy recently held a launch party for her book at the Steelworkers Hall.

If you'd like to purchase a copy, they cost $25, and are available through online retailers such as Amazon, or by contacting Mulroy at [email protected] or through her website at


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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