Archive for October, 2008

Mining the Metro

October 13, 2008

This is strictly a personal account of what I heard about the Montreal Metro and I welcome any corrections and additions to this anecdote.

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada November 1961~ Mayor Jean Drapeau revealed the plans for a subway which had been under discussion for fifty years. The work began in May 1962 and the Metro opened to the public in October 1966, just in time for Expo 67!

I moved to downtown Montreal in July 1963, so there I was right in the cusp. Again.  It seemed all too familiar- The construction, concrete & granite, the novelty, the excitement. A beautiful city, getting ready to take on the world.

Thousands of workers came to Montreal to work on the Metro. Many were immigrants, and very few had the kind of “safety-based” mining experience practiced in Canada.  Mines in Canada were being “raided” for their engineers, and miners, but not many came out of the north, where they were making good salaries, bonus, and had subsidized housing.

Some did. A young friend of ours (we were all in our early 20’s at the time), came to Montreal from Chibougamau, as we had, with the intention of applying at a major airline, as a pilot.  In the meantime, he decided to put his mining experience to work, so he applied for work at the Metro. Of course he was hired immediately…he had worked a few summers underground with engineers, so he was “pure gold”.

Every day, when we got together after work, he told stories of what was happening underground. He couldn’t believe his eyes. No safety practices were in place, tunneling, blasting, push, push, push. The last straw was the day he was ordered to go into a tunnel that had just been blasted. He said to his foreman that he didn’t see a crew go in to scale and rock bolt. (scaling: removing loose rock from the walls & rock bolting: securing large chunks of rock in place). His foreman said “what the hell is a rock bolt?” He quit. Thankfully, he didn’t perish in the Metro, he flew bush planes in the North in hair raising conditions and probably considered it child’s play by comparison with being a Metro worker.  He finally had a very successful career as a pilot for a major airline.

When I researched the building of the Montreal Metro, I couldn’t find any statistics on deaths and injuries but I remember an old saying “a man a mile” which referred to bridge building.

It was the 60’s and a Public Inquiry was unheard of. These were golden years of progress and we were not programmed to question authority, yet.

It is a beautiful Metro ~ Bright, artistic, safe, and a source of pleasure and convenience to the many thousands of travelers and commuters every year.