LIFE March 19th, 2015

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Hoggs Hollow Disaster led to labour reform

March 17 marked 55th anniversary of fatal construction accident

While most associate March 17 with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, that date is also the anniversary of the Hoggs Hollow Disaster, a construction accident near Yonge and York Mills that claimed five lives and spurred labour law reform in Ontario.

On March 17, 1960, five Italian immigrant workers died of smoke inhalation in a tunnel 35 feet underground near that North Toronto intersection while working on construction of a water main. A wire overheated and caught fire, sending smoke through the narrow space and trapping the workers.

Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni Carriglio, Giovanni Fusillo and brothers Alessandro and Guido Mantella died in the tunnel. Their bodies were recovered the following day.

A coroner’s jury ruled two weeks later that the deaths were “the inevitable result of the failure to implement and enforce regulations made under the Department of Labour Act governing the protection of persons working in compressed air.”

Then-premier Leslie Frost ordered a report of the Royal Commission on industrial safety, which led to dozens of regulations on fire protection and worker safety in tunnels. Included were fire extinguisher requirements and the banning of smoking.

The Department of Labour Act was also updated to include sweeping changes regarding work site inspections and compliance with labour laws.

In 2000 the City of Toronto placed a plaque on the west side of Yonge south of the intersection to mark the area where the five workers died.