Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

"And There's Nothing Goes Wrong": Industry, Labour, and Health and Safety at the Fluorspar Mines, St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, 1933-1978

Document type Thesis
Author Rennie, Richard Charles
Degree Ph.D., History
Publisher Memorial University of Newfoundland; St. John's, NL
Date 2001
Pages 511 pages


In 1933, an American entrepreneur offered the people of St. Lawrence, a small town on the south coast of Newfoundland, the prospect of escaping rampant unemployment and meager public relief by starting a mine to extract the area's vast deposits of fluorspar, which is used in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, and various chemical products. Coming in the context of the Great Depression and the collapse of the fishing industry, the mining industry was eagerly embraced by residents of St. Lawrence and surrounding communities. Several mines were subsequently established, by both the original American company, the St. Lawrence Corporation of Newfoundland, and later by the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan). The fragile prosperity that accompanied the industry from the 1930s until closure of the last Alcan mine in 1978, however, exacted a heavy price. Many St. Lawrence workers lost their lives to industrial diseases caused by dust and radiation in the mines. -- This thesis explores the history of industry, labour, and health and safety at the St. Lawrence mines. This study focuses on the struggle by workers and their union for recognition of workplace hazards, improved working conditions, and adequate compensation for industrial disease victims and their families. The thesis argues that, rather than being passive victims of an unavoidable tragedy, workers at St. Lawrence were aware of the adverse health impacts of their work from the very early years of mining, and fought constantly over several decades to have their concerns addressed. Furthermore, the thesis argues that the disaster which ultimately unfolded at St. Lawrence was primarily the result of industry and government authorities ignoring or downplaying legitimate concerns and thereby shirking their moral and legal responsibilities.