In 2000, a plaque commemorating the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy was erected at the entrance of the York Mills Subway station. The plaque serves as a way to remember the five Italian Canadian labourers (Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni Battista Carriglio, Giovanni Fusilo, Alessandro Mantella and Guido Mantella) who died while working in an underground tunnel in order to connect the growing borough of North York with a water-main. The following is an assessment of the commemorative plaque in order to evaluate its effectiveness at interpreting the historical meaning of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy.
In concluding, this essay will examine the pitfalls of the act of commemoration tied to the problems of the commemorative plaque which is discredited by the failure to properly expose the socio-political underlying issues which should be remembered from the event. The historical nature of an event or person in contention for commemoration can sometimes be a controversial issue which partly defines the pitfalls of the act of commemoration itself.
In the case of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy, the underlying socio-political issues that are tied to the disaster are crucial for the understanding of the way it was commemorated, and more importantly, the incredible length of time it took to be considered
Looking over the Vimy Ridge war memorial, it is safe to say that a great amount of time, effort and money was invested in order to build a grand symbol of Canadian greatness. Of course, apart from the obvious necessity to honour the fallen soldiers, the memorial stands as a propaganda tool in order to calm public unrest over the end of one of the most controversial, unnecessary and horrific wars the world had ever seen. Nevertheless, the Vimy Ridge war memorial is supposed to commemorate “the military action and military sacrifice,” as per Hucker, thus capturing a glorious past representing Canadian pride.
On the contrary, the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy is an event which greatly undermines the status of the city of Toronto, as well as the governing body of Ontario at the time. In effect, it does not account for a glorious past, but more of a dark spot in Canadian history. Author of ‘Experts on our lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 20th Century’, Veronica Strong-Boag demonstrates this idea by stating that the push towards commemoration is cautiously made if it interferes with the public image of Canada.
Subsequently, while commemorating the five Italian Canadian workers who died on the job site, the commemorative plaque of Hogg’s Hollow also symbolises the concept of immigrant slavery as well as the backward state of the labour front in Canada. Thus, the event marks an embarrassment for a city that now prides itself at being culturally diverse while maintaining ethnic equality, possibly being a direct reason for the delay of commemoration.
The notion of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy being a national embarrassment is accentuated by the way the event was commemorated. Indeed, other commemorative acts such as war memorials seem like Goliaths as compared to the plaque of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy. For example, the sheer size of the Vimy Ridge war memorial dwarfs everything in its surrounding, which not only accentuates the importance of the commemoration but also reveals that the intent of the Canadian Government is to promote military history at such expensive cost.
Of course, comparing the level of importance of such disasters as the First World war and the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy is inappropriate and would undermine the purpose of this argumentation. Discrediting the Vimy Ridge war memorial would also be wrong because of its initial aim of honouring the fallen soldiers. Nevertheless, the fact that some commemorative acts receive more attention and more funding can be controversial at times, which therefore constitutes a pitfall of commemoration because it would indicate some sort of biased and unequal representation.
In effect, the organisations who are responsible for commemoration gives much insight into how, when and why the chosen event or person will be remembered. In the case of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy plaque, the organisation in question is the ‘City of Toronto Culture Division’. In a way, the will of this organisation in particular to push for the commemoration of the disaster seems plausible, and fits well into the scheme of remembering the death of Italian-Canadian labourers.
Nevertheless, there is a case that maybe this event could have attracted more attention than it initially did. For instance, the commemorative plaque of the Hogg’s Hollow disaster was founded by an organisation based on the locality of the city of Toronto. Surely, the attention of the event could have been at a more important magnitude if it was created by more powerful organisations such as the Historic Sites and Monuments Boards of Canada, at the federal level. The fact that it was dealt by a culture division and not a historical society is also intriguing.
Once again, the idea that the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy was a national embarrassment factors in who is responsible for the conception of the commemorative plaque. As mentioned by Strong-Boag, the decision making of the Historic Sites and Monuments Boards of Canada is a contested issue because of the political pressure to assure that the public image of Canada is not threatened. Therefore, would the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy have been recognised without the intervention of the City of Toronto Culture Division?
It seems highly unlikely that the Historic Sites and Monuments Boards of Canada would have done anything to commemorate this event. Of course, there is some evidence of the federal government redeeming itself of historical embarrassment, such as the inauguration of Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Day that would counter the old Jewish immigration policy which stated “none is too many”, as exposed by Strong-Boag. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy is an event that shouldn’t only be recognised by the city of Toronto.
Thus, Awareness for the disaster should have reached a national level because it isn’t just commemorating the five Italian-Canadian labourers who died on the job site, it also raises the question of immigrant slavery along with the harsh reality of the labour fronts of the time – which was a Canada wide issue, and not only Toronto’s issue. Along with the general problems of the act of commemoration now outlined, it is important to assess the credibility of the commemorative plaque reserved for the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy. Basically, does the plaque do a good job at capturing the historical meaning of the event?
In order to answer the question, it is imperative to study the written text of the plaque. What it is says and what it does not say is critical as it suggests what will be remembered through commemoration. Of course, all plaques must have a limited amount of information given in order to save space, meaning that the text chosen might leave out certain aspects of the event or person commemorated. In the case of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy plaque, the underlying socio-political issues at work leading up to the disaster are missing.
What was the feeling of the general population towards the rising Italian Canadian community in Toronto during the 1950s and early 1960s? Surely, the lack of information on the mass immigration of Italians into Canada after the Second World war is intriguing enough, but the fact that there is no mention of the poor social status of these immigrants discredit’s the historical plaque since it is such an important aspect as to why the event was so groundbreaking. Notably, racist anti-Italian sentiment in postwar Toronto was very commonplace.
As explained by Franca Iacovetta in Such Hardworking People, the era of Italian immigration to Canada coincided with the end of a war where Canadians were fighting the Axis powers. Of course, Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy was at war against the Allies, meaning that Italian Canadians were regarded as enemy aliens. Subsequently, a number of Italian Canadians were interned into camp Petawawa until the end of hostilities. Thus, this anti-Italian sentiment prevailed well into the 1950s, meaning that the rising Italian Canadian community was socially nd culturally secluded from the rest of Toronto, almost to the point of calling it a ghetto. While revolving around the previously explained idea of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy being a socio-political embarrassment for the city of Toronto, it is no surprise that this anti-Italian sentiment is missing on the commemorative plaque. Another important piece of information that is missing on the commemorative plaque are the deplorable working conditions of the Italian Canadian labour front which are crucial for understanding the state of emergency of the working class of Ontario at the time.
Indeed, the bulk of the new Italian migrants were to be labourers in the rising metropolitan cities of Canada. The fact that so many Italian Canadians entered the construction industry at the same time created social problems and further distanced the Italian Canadian community with English Canadian society. As per Iacovetta, the general feeling was that Italians were stealing Canadian jobs because they accepted low wages, subsequently resulting in an inflation of unemployment and a weakened welfare state. Basically, Italians were in the same boat as modern day Mexicans fleeing their economically deprived country.
Marino Toppan, author of The Voice of Labour, and Frank Colantonio, author of From The Ground Up: A Italian Immigrant’s Story, offer great personal accounts of the dire situation of Italian Canadian labourers along with in depths studies of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy and its consequences. Notably, Colantonio states that the construction industry was the most dangerous business in Ontario, while expanding on the terrible working conditions of the non-unionised Italian Canadians with long hours, low pay and no security of any sort.
Both Colantonio and Iacovetta reveal the use of the term ‘sandhogs’ when referring to Italian Canadians labourers . This term not only demonstrates the popular opinion of these immigrant labourers as expendable as swine, but also suggests that they worked on the dirtiest and most dangerous job sites. Nevertheless, the most groundbreaking statements concerning the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy made by Colantonio refer to the questioned safety of the operation. Indeed, as per Colantonio, the labourers of the job site lacked any formal construction safety equipment such as hard hats, safety shoes, flashlights and fire extinguishers.
Moreover, Iacovetta expands on this carelessness of job site safety by stating that the supervisors of the project did not follow labour inspectors orders to take care of the water leaking issue and the poor strength of the wooden supports of the shaft, which possibly factored in the collapse of the underground tunnel. Thus, the fact that all this revealing information is missing on the commemorative plaque greatly undermines the attempt to remember the tragedy in the proper way it should: exposing the arelesness of the Canadian government towards safety regulations in the construction industry and the exploitation of immigrant labourers. Another problem with the commemorative plaque of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy is the way the information is given. Indeed, when speaking of the ‘groundswell of public opinion and unionising for stronger safety enforcement’, there is no mention of the important implication of the English and Italian speaking press which forced a Royal Commission for labour and safety laws.
Notably, the Telegram was at the forefront of exposing the deplorable working conditions of Italian Canadians. As outlined by Toppan, Frank Drea, labour columnist of the Telegram, played an integral part in siding with the Italian Canadians who were getting organised and pushing for unionisation after the disaster. Being of Italian origin himself, Drea’s column occupied a minor role in the newspaper, but was subsequently placed on front page news after the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy. This would prove to be a turning point for the Toronto press.
His groundbreaking editorials not only exposed the dire situation of immigrant labour, but also influenced the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star to support the Italian Canadian labour movement. Of course, these newspapers were extremely conservative at the time, meaning that there are beliefs that the rising popularity of Drea’s columns and the rising public unrest within the Italian Canadian community influenced the decision to side with the Italian Canadian labour movement. Moreover, inspired by the articles of the Telegram, Il Lavoratore also decided to support the Italian Canadian labour movement.
Of course, this was at a time when the idea of the Iron Curtain was well cemented into Canadian society, meaning that any support from Il Lavoratore to the immigrant labour movement would have been labelled as communist, in true McCarthyism fashion. Some of Drea’s most important editorials on the matter were titled as follows: “Sudden Death Under the Don” (March 19, 1960), “Twentieth Century Slavery” (March 26, 1960), “Erase Ontario’s Disgrace” (March 28 1960) and “Clean Out Slavery Labour” (March 30, 2010).
Nevertheless, for the purpose of this essay, another important article by Drea was entitled “Treated like animals” which outlined the coroner’s report of the disaster, stating that the project violated safety regulations. There is therefore a case that the project should have never continued without the correct safety initiatives. Thus, the hard work of the press to expose the issues of immigrant slavery and carelesness of job site security is not surprisingly missing on the commemorative plaque.
In conclusion, in light of the pitfalls of the act of commemoration, along with the failures of the commemorative plaque of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy, what is therefore the best way to remember the disaster? It is obvious that because of the way it was written along with the missing pertinent information, the commemorative plaque fails at properly representing the historical meaning of the tragedy. On March 17, 2010, a quilt entitled Breaking Ground: The Hogg’s Disaster 1960 was erected at the York Mills TTC station in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
After an examination of the quilt, there is a case that commemoration through a work of art has its advantages. Notably, the quilt has no text, meaning that there was no biased process of deciding what to write for commemoration. This is coupled with the idea which states that a picture says a thousand words. Moreover, the power of song, as shown through Smokey Dymny’s lyrical interpretation of the disaster, is a great way to present the event in a more straightforward manner, as opposed to the usual serenity of commemorative plaques: “My name was Giovanni, I dug the water main in the days when construction was a wild west game.
I was raising a family but I paid with my life, cause the companies made profits by playin’ with our lives”. BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Hogg’s Hollow Tragedy (City of Toronto Cultural Division, 2000). Veronica Strong-Boag, ‘Experts on Our Own Lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 21st Century,’ The Public Historian vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 46-68 (2009). Jacqueline Hucker, ‘Battle and Burial: Recapturing the Cultural Meaning of Canada’s National Memorial on Vimy Ridge,’ The Public Historian vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 89-109 (2009).
Frank Colantonio, From the Ground Up: An Italian Immigrant’s Story. (Toronto: Between The Lines, 1997). Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992). Marino Toppan, The Voice of Labour: A Life in Toronto’s Construction Industry. (Toronto: Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian Canadian Studies, 2004). http://unionsong. com/u480. html http://www. cobtrades. com/hoggs. html http://www. torontohistory. org/Pages_GHI/Hoggs_Hollow_Tragedy. html
COMTOIS, Michel 209156050 APRIL 7, 2010 Presented to: William Stos Tutorial 14 THE HOGG’S HOLLOW TRAGEDY: CHALLENGING THE ACT OF COMMEMORATION AP HIST 2500 2009-2010 ———————–  Jacqueline Hucker, ‘Battle and Burial: Recapturing the Cultural Meaning of Canada’s National Memorial on Vimy Ridge,’ The Public Historian vol. 31, no. 1 (2009), p. 90.  Veronica Strong-Boag, ‘Experts on Our Own Lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 21st Century,’ The Public Historian vol. 31, no. 1, (2009), p. 66. 3] The Hogg’s Hollow Tragedy (City of Toronto Cultural Division, 2000).  Veronica Strong-Boag, ‘Experts on Our Own Lives: Commemorating Canada at the Beginning of the 21st Century,’ The Public Historian vol. 31, no. 1, (2009), p. 66.  Ibid. , p. 51.  Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), p. 105.  Ibid. , p. 105.  Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), p. 09.  Frank Colantonio, From the Ground Up: An Italian Immigrant’s Story. (Toronto: Between The Lines, 1997), p. 92.  Frank Colantonio, From the Ground Up: An Italian Immigrant’s Story. (Toronto: Between The Lines, 1997), p. 94  Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), p. 162.  The Hogg’s Hollow Tragedy (City of Toronto Cultural Division, 2000).  Marino Toppan, The Voice of Labour: A Life in Toronto’s Construction Industry. (Toronto: Mariano A.
Elia Chair in Italian Canadian Studies, 2004), p. 10.  Ibid. , p. 28.  Franca Iacovetta, Such Hardworking People: Italian Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992), p. 172.  Marino Toppan, The Voice of Labour: A Life in Toronto’s Construction Industry. (Toronto: Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian Canadian Studies, 2004), p. 11.  Ibid. , p. 28.  http://www. cobtrades. com/hoggs. html  http://www. torontohistory. org/Pages_GHI/Hoggs_Hollow_Tragedy. html  http://unionsong. com/u480. html