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New artwork in York Mills Station commemorates tragedy

On Thursday, March 17, 1960, five immigrant Italian construction workers lost their lives underground while helping to build a new watermain in suburban north Toronto.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, Laurie Swim, “one of Canada’s most esteemed artists”, City of Toronto and TTC officials, members of the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA)’s Local 183, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)’s Local 113 and the Central Ontario Building Trades will unveil a permanent art installation in York Mills Station to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Although the men did not die while helping to build the subway, York Mills Station is the perfect permanent home for piece. The subway station sits in Hogg’s Hollow, a few meters from the site of the accident, which trapped the men 35 feet underground in a cramped, dimly lit tunnel, beneath the west branch of the Don River. Their deaths sparked a public outcry over the lack of safety standards in construction. Ultimately, that led to better conditions for men and women working in hazardous construction sites.

Laurie Swim began her memorial quilt, “Breaking Ground: The Hogg’s Hollow Disaster 1960”, while she was living in Toronto in 1998.

The work immortalizes the five men who died that day: Pasqualle Allegrezza, Giovanni Battista Carriglio, Giovanni Fusillo and brothers Alessandro and Guido Mantella. Swim was fortunate enough to meet with some of the descendents of the five men and incorporated personal details from their stories into the scene. An open wallet near the centre of the work, for example, includes a representation of a photo of Giovanni Fusillo’s 8-month-old son — whom he had never met — which rescue workers found in his wallet when they recovered his body.

(Subways first started operating through York Mills Station almost exactly 13 years after the “Hogg’s Hollow Disaster”, on March 31, 1973.)

COSTI Immigrant Services (formerly Centro Organizzativo Scuole Tecniche Italiane) and financial contributions from businesses, corporations and hundreds of individuals supported Laurie and dozens of volunteers from the community, as they created the 7-by-20-foot (2-by-6-metre) mixed-media fibre memorial. The volunteers joined Laurie in sewing for about 4,000 hours during the nine months they required to complete the quilt.

The quilt serves not only as a memorial to working men and women who lost their lives lost while on the job, but also celebrates the spirit of community — the volunteers, City officials, organizations and corporations who worked together with a number of individual donors to create this commemorative portrait of an important moment in Toronto’s history.

The City of Toronto Archives’ virtual exhibit, “Pipe Dreams”, contains an excellent history of the “Hogg’s Hollow Disaster” here.

From Transit Toronto’s own archives, read

  • Eli McIlveen’s article on Art on the TTC here. (Note that this article first appeared on our site in 2002, before the Sheppard Subway opened, and when, originally, the quilt was going to appear at York Mills “within a few weeks”.)
  • James Bow’s history of the Yonge Subway extension between Eglinton and York Mills Stations — and beyond to Finch Station — here.

From the Transit Toronto Newspaper Article Clippings Archive, read:

  • National Post article, “Commuters get first look at ‘Hogg’s Hollow’ quilt”, here.