Feb. 5, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the seventh in a series of eight feature articles prepared for Heritage Week, Feb. 8 - 15. Entitled Spotlight on our Heritage, the series is a reflection upon the people, places and collections of New Brunswick's past. This article was prepared by Nicole Lang, a member of the Labour History in New Brunswick project research team. For more information on Heritage Week activities throughout the province, visit the Heritage Week 2010 website.
Day of Mourning: A New Brunswick tradition
New Brunswickers have often honoured the memory of colleagues who died at sea, in the forests or mines, on the railroads, or in other workplaces, and numerous monuments have been erected throughout the province for this purpose.
Since the 1980s, New Brunswick workers have also participated in the International Day of Mourning, a commemorative event that was started in Canada at the time.
In 1984, the Canadian Labour Congress proclaimed April 28 a Day of Mourning in memory of workers killed or injured on the job. In 1991, the Government of Canada designated April 28 as a day of national commemoration, and in 2000, New Brunswick passed the Workers Mourning Day Act.
The Day of Mourning monuments are some of the most important labour landmarks in New Brunswick. To date, district labour councils, in cooperation with municipalities and community agencies, have erected monuments in six New Brunswick communities: Bathurst, Edmundston, Miramichi, and Moncton in 1995, Shippagan in 2001, and Atholville in 2006.
Those monuments often incorporate two key symbols:
The number of workplace deaths in Canada and New Brunswick is still too high. According to data from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada, 1,097 individuals died on the job in 2005, including 12 in New Brunswick. Two years later, the province reported 9 workplace deaths, while the national total was 1,055. In 2008, 11 New Brunswickers died while at work.
Each year, on April 28, ceremonies are held at the Day of Mourning monuments. As well as paying tribute to the men and women who died or were injured on the job, these ceremonies help raise public awareness, especially among young workers, of the importance of health and safety in the workplace.
The ceremonies are usually held at noon and are similar from one community to another. Representatives of labour and of the different levels of government give speeches. Sometimes, a person injured in the workplace or a loved one of an individual who died on the job may give a personal account. The ceremonies end with a minute of silence and the laying of flowers at the base of the monuments.
New Brunswick will soon have a seventh Day of Mourning monument, which will be erected at the entrance to the Hatheway Labour Exhibit Centre (Lily Lake Pavilion) in Rockwood Park in Saint John. The mock-up was unveiled at a ceremony in October 2009. The monument will take over a year to complete, and the official unveiling is planned for the Day of Mourning commemorative ceremonies on April 28, 2011.
For further information on the Day of Mourning monuments and other labour landmarks in New Brunswick, visit the Labour History in New Brunswick website.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Elizabeth Joubert, communications, Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport, 506-457-6445; Nicole Lang, Université de Moncton, Edmundston campus, 506-737-5191.