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Tragedy at Hogg’s Hollow

For the week of Monday March 11, 2013

On March 17, 1960, around 6:00 p.m., a fire broke out on an underground construction site and claimed the lives of five Italian immigrant workers in Toronto, Ontario. The city’s Italian community was devastated by this accident that would come to be referred to as the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy.

The headline of the Toronto Star on March 18, 1960.
© Parks Canada
A group of five Italian immigrant workers and their supervisor were installing a water pipe in a tunnel at the intersection of Yonge and York Mills in the Toronto neighbourhood of Hogg’s Hollow. In the early evening on March 17, 1960, a fire erupted and began to spread rapidly. Heavy smoke blocked the tunnel exit. Without extinguishers or an emergency telephone, the workers were trapped 10 meters (35 feet) underground, except for the supervisor, who managed to escape.

Ill-equipped firefighters attempted to rescue the workers by putting out the fire, but were unsuccessful. Water accumulated and flooded the tunnel. Three days later, rescuers made the grim discovery of the bodies of Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni Battista Carriglio, Giovanni Fusillo, Alessandro Mantella and Guido Mantella. The autopsy on the bodies revealed that the construction project did not comply with provincial safety standards and that the underground work standards were outdated. Ontarians were in a state of shock. They could not believe that such an accident had happened here!

In the weeks following the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy, the Telegram, the voice of the working class, repeatedly criticized the lack of safety standards on construction sites. The newspaper also denounced the exploitation of Italian immigrants, who represented nearly a third of Toronto’s construction workers. Realizing the seriousness of the immigrants’ situation, Toronto workers and Ontarians held two major strikes in 1960 and 1961.

“Breaking Ground,” a commemorative quilt made by Laurie Swim hanging in the York Mills subway station.
© Rémi Carreiro / Torontoist

In the aftermath of the Hogg’s Hollow tragedy and these strikes, the province updated its work and safety standards and created a provincial safety council to enforce them. In addition, immigrants’ working conditions improved and progressed toward employment equity.

In 2000, a plaque was installed in the entrance of the York Mills subway station by the City of Toronto to commemorate this tragedy. Then, in 2010, on the 50th anniversary of this accident, a quilt representing the five Italian immigrants who died in the tunnel was hung in the York Mills subway station. The Hogg’s Hollow tragedy was declared a national historic event because it raised public awareness about work safety and the exploitation of immigrants in the construction industry.

For more information on the Italian community and Canada’s labour history, read the following articles: In Defence of Montréal's Italian Spirit, Violet McNaughton: Rural Reformer, Winnipeg on Strike, On to Ottawa! and The Fight against Racial Discrimination in the This Week in History archives.

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